Hill Tribe Trekking In Luang Namtha, Laos
Hill Tribe Trekking In Luang Namtha, Laos
The highlands of Northern Laos are absolutely gorgeous and if you’re looking to keep your budget in South East Asia down, Luang Namtha is one of the most affordable places to have a proper off the beaten track adventure. We hadn’t originally planned to go there while in Laos but when some other travellers told us how awesome the trekking was there, we had to go.
Despite only being small in number, the population of Laos is incredibly diverse and has over 68 different ethnic groups, so it’s one of the best places in South East Asia to have an authentic cultural experience. In Northern Laos, the main hill tribes that you will have the opportunity to interact with are the Hmong, Mien, Karen and Akha, tribes.
On our first day trekking in Luang Namtha, we headed into the jungle, so lush and dense that our guide, Mr Singh, was literally having to cut a new path with his machete. After a whole day’s trekking we settled by a river, built a shelter out of bamboo and banana leaves, collected wood for a fire and Mr Singh went into the river to catch fish for our dinner.
We felt like proper explorers and sleeping beneath the stars in the middle of the jungle is just something you have to do in our book (even if we did get pretty wet). The second day of hiking started with a bit of a tricky river crossing due to the rainfall during the night and we had to skip breakfast to make it across before it got any deeper.
It continued to rain so much that we were unable to light another fire for lunch so by the time we reached our second night’s stay and were welcomed by the village Shamen and his family into their wooden home, we were so hungry. They made us an incredible dinner as we dried off and told us all about their way of life, our guide happily translating for everyone.
We learned about the types of healing rituals he performed, all about the tribe’s family structures and how they support themselves living in the middle of the Laotian jungle. The last day we trekked back into town via a stop at our guide’s house for lunch, where he introduced us to his family and we chatted some more about the different types of cultures and traditions in Laos.
It really was one of our favourite experiences of our entire travels so far and if you are heading to Laos, and love the outdoors and learning about different cultures, you should definitely make doing a hill tribe trek in Luang Namtha a priority.
SEE – Photos & Videos
GO – Getting There
Despite its remote location in the highlands of Northern Laos, Luang Namtha is well served by transport links. The interprovincial bus station serves Huay Xai, Udomxai, Luang Prabang, Pak Mong and Vientiane. It’s 10 km south of the town so you will need to hop in a tuk-tuk.
The district bus station is more or less in the town centre and has buses to and from Muang Sing, Muang Long and Boton. From Vientiane, there are also daily flights to Luang Namtha airport which is 5 km south of the town. The flight takes around an hour.
It’s also really easy to get to Luang Namtha from Northern Thailand. Just take a bus to the Thai border town of Chiang Khong, a tuk-tuk to the border and then cross into Huay Xai where local buses into Luang Namtha leave 2-3 times per day, or alternatively, you can get a minivan.
Do – Activities & Attractions
Stay – Accommodation
Eat – Restaurants
Time – Seasonality & Schedules
You can do trekking all year round in Luang Namtha, however in the rainy season (May – September) you should take extra precautions and there may be some days when the guides deem it unsafe to trek. We were there in late August and the river crossings were quite treacherous due to the amount of rainfall on our second day.
Safety – Possible risks
The terrain can also be particularly muddy during the rainy season and there are a number of steep slopes, so expect to slip over a few times even with the sturdiest of footwear.
You also absolutely have to go with a guide. First of all the jungle is incredibly dense and our guide was constantly having to carve out our route with his machete, so you need someone who knows the area. And second of all, most of the hill tribes use only their local dialect and do not understand even Laotian so you need a guide to communicate and translate.
Please note Travel inherently comes with an element of risk (just like crossing the road does). You are putting yourself in elements that are unfamiliar and foreign to your usual lifestyle and with that, become more susceptible to fall victim those who try to play off those unfamiliar to their local scams. There are also potential dangers in the environments to which you may not be accustomed to.
Please take extra care in travelling, ensure that you have adequate medical insurance (accidents seem to happen when you least expect them), and have let a trusted colleague, family member or friend know your whereabouts and activities.
Where Sidewalks End travel advises you to travel at your own risk, and to be extra aware of your surroundings (without letting it spoiling your time).
Pay – How much does it cost?
The hill tribe treks in Luang Namtha are typically 1 to 3 days in length and you can choose between trekking only, or a trekking and kayaking combo. There are lots of tour companies to choose from. We went with a company called Ethnic Travel Eco Guide but other recommended ones to check out are Forest Retreat, The Hiker, and Into The Wild.
The price of the treks depends on how many people are doing them. We paid 600,000 KIP for our 3-day trek with 2 other people, which included sleeping bag hire, accommodation for both nights and all of our meals. Depending on which company you choose and how many people are joining you, you can expect to pay between 600,000 – 1,000,000 KIP or $70 – 120 USD.
Responsible Travel – Best Practices
Each hill tribe in Northern Laos has their own specific cultures and traditions and your guide will direct you on what is and isn’t appropriate behaviour. They are very protective of their way of life and not so used to western culture or tourists so it is very important to be respectful at all times and listen to what your guide says.
In general, you should show respect by greeting people with your palms pressed together in front of your face, a smile and a small bow. You should dress modestly with your arms and legs covered, which will also offer more protection against leech bites, mosquitos and the sun. Also always ask permission before taking photographs of people or the inside of their houses.
Leave out public displays of affection and don’t gesture with your feet or touch people on the head. Also, do not inquire about or purchase drugs – apart from it being illegal, it is irresponsible for tourists to encourage such transactions. Do not encourage children to beg either by giving them money or valuables.
Reality Check – Be Aware
Okay so here’s the thing, the ‘facilities’ on hill tribe treks in Luang Namtha are so basic they are pretty much non-existent. We’re talking no toilets and no showers. So if you can’t cope with pooping in the bush and getting washed in the river, this adventure isn’t for you. There are also leeches and mosquitoes.
If you opt to do a multi-day trek and spend a night in a jungle camp you will be sleeping amongst some creepy crawlies and maybe even the odd frog. Our trekking company provided a mosquito net but you are essentially sleeping on the jungle floor and it had all sorts of bugs in it by the morning. Expect to get wet in rainy season too.
If you spend a night in one of the hill tribe villages, you will still only have basic provisions such as a wooden bed to sleep on and a bucket of water to wash with. There is no electricity so you go to bed when it gets dark and get up when it gets light.
The trekking is physically challenging with some steep inclines and 8 hour trekking days. We thought the food was incredible, fresh fish and chicken with plenty of vegetables and sticky rice. However there are no options, so if you have specific dietary requirements you are going to need to bring food with you.
What To Bring
● Small backpack with rain cover
● Loose, light clothing that will dry easily
● Something warm and dry to wear at night
● Trekking trainers or walking boots
● Trekking sandals for river crossings
● Basic first aid kit
● Travel towel or sarong
● Mosquito repellant
● Hat or head scarf
● Poncho or raincoat
● Dry bags to keep belongings dry
● Filtered water bottles
JOIN US! WSE Travel Packages
This sounds like quite the adventure, right? We thought so too! Though we realize it can be pretty intimidating to get out there into the world on your own, especially when travelling to some of these off the beaten path locations. We love it when our readers give it a shot and try it for themselves! In fact, please leave us feedback if you do!! If trying something ‘this’ adventurous on your own is just a bit outside of your comfort zone, WSE Travel is here to help!
Follow this link for our ‘Choose Your Own Adventure’ Tours – packages that are highly personalized and tailored at your request.
Have you ever been to a city that had a really unique historical or cultural feature? Where was it and what made it so unique?
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