At 8 am I went to Green Discovery to meet my trekking group. Two middle-aged Belgian men and an English girl my age and our guides Pot and Lot (their real names). After picking up lunch and getting supplies we started somewhere around 9:30. We began in a Khmu village off of the main road, the route we were going to take was used by the villagers to make it to that town by the road to sell and trade what they had for what they needed. Most of them made the journey three or four times a week. Our guides socialized with the villagers like they were family. Pot told us that during the tourist season he is out leading treks almost every other night, the relationship he formed with the people was evident. Most tribal villages do not speak Lao, they have their own dialects of Khmu or Akha or whichever tribe they belonged to.
Walking through the first village we saw that each family had their own rice store as well as their house. The village we were going to stay in for the night was not nearly as big. I had no idea what to expect from the village when we arrived so the whole way I was trying to picture what it would look like in my head.
We wouldn’t reach the national protected area until the following days hike. The tribe’s land was not in the NPA. They were given land by the government that was for their use only, but they were not allowed to farm inside the NPA. In recent years the NPA has lost a lot of land due to farmers planting rubber trees to sell to the Chinese.
The forest itself was beautiful, the first hour or so was at a steady incline, after it leveled off we stopped for lunch. We set some banana leaves down for a table-cloth and ate with our hands.
We arrived in the village around three PM with the shouts of “Falang! Falaang!” (Foreigner!Foreigner!) It was a clearing a few acres wide with about 20 structures, and a few animal pens and gardens. It was a Khmu Akha tribe village with about 17 families, they had a wedding the day before so there was loud music coming from one of the houses and we were told they had been drinking since the wedding and still were. It was a very idyllic little town, with the rattan made huts on raised stilts and pigs and chickens and dogs and children roaming around everywhere. I felt like I was in one of the historical villages where you take a tour and show you how people used to live, a living museum.
When we first arrived it was a little awkward they didn’t exactly greet us and just kind of carried on with their day and we wandered around a little bit. Pot and Lot were talking to some villagers, they just walked right into their houses. And then finally showed us to the little hut where we were staying and the “kitchen” and “bathroom”. Our accommodation was a big hut then we had tatami mats and blankets (and mosquito nets later in the night). They had some electricity in the village, they used some solar panels and had a generator from the river, so they were able to play the music for the wedding celebration over speakers. I saw one hut with a satellite dish. They had just gotten running water only two years ago through a program supported by a German NGO. The next village we went to also received running water from the same NGO.
We ate dinner Lao Lao shots included then we walked up to the village to socialize with whoever was still sober from the wedding celebration.
It was only about 7:30 but it was pitch black, and it was a cloudy night so we weren’t able to get any light from the moon or see the stars. We were using our headlamps to find our way around. I accidentally left mine there so I hope one of the villagers found it and gets a nice brand new headlamp.
Pot found some villagers awake-ish and we all barged into their hut. They had a friend from a neighboring village visiting for the wedding who was passed out drunk on the mat in the corner. It was a little awkward at first, we passed around the lao lao and Pot told us about the homemade jar liquor they make out of rice that they just let it ferment for a long time and stick a bamboo straw in the top and drink it like that until it’s gone. We all tried it, it was actually really sweet it tasted almost like apple juice.
One of the ladies brought in a dried rat and started to cook it over the fire. The matron of the house set out a large plate and mixed a bowl of spices and put it in the middle of our circle. Someone else came in with some rattan and started to cook that over the fire as well. We were all just kind of looking at each other like holy sh*t they are going to serve us that rat. And they did, it cooked for a long time then the woman who brought it in took it off the spit and started to hack it to bits and came back with a bowl of chopped up rat and set it on the plate in front of us. I looked at my cohorts and the villagers looked at us, none of us moved. Luckily Pot went for the rat right away and started crunching on it. None of us tried it. I claimed vegetarian on that one and got a get out guilt free card, but I think they were a little disappointed and maybe even offended that nobody tried the rat. The rattan we all did try. They cracked it open and the inside came out in like a long soft tube, it wasn’t too bad, it almost had the same texture as like a potato. We hung around for a while and the villagers finished off the lao lao and the rat.
The next morning after breakfast we continued on our trek. The next village, a Lanten tribe, known for its traditional dress and use of opium (though I did not see any of the latter when we arrived at 8:00 in the morning). However, when we got there, the shamans of the village were doing some kind of prayer and in the community kitchen they were preparing a pig. Every single part of it, the blood, the intestines, the tongue, the ears… I couldn’t watch for too long.
In this village they still wore the traditional dress. Women and girls wore earrings that were strings threaded through their ear lobes. Married women wore while leggings under their black tunics trimmed with a blue and pink pattern.
After visiting we headed into the Nam Ha NPA. The forest got more dense and the trail got thinner and more difficult to follow. We went through thick jungle with strangling fig trees and evergreen forest. The last hour or so was a direct descent It was steep and narrow and we took our time before appearing in an open valley of dry rice fields.
Though the park is home to several endangered species; tiger, leopard, guar, elephant, and the Assam Macaque, we didn’t see any wildlife, not even a snake or a lizard. I was really disappointed, but Pot told me animal sightings were very rare, because of rampant deforestation and tribes farming the lower levels and hunting and letting their domestic animals run free, wildlife is hard to come by.
I was thoroughly satisfied with my experience with Green Discovery and would recommend their tours to anyone interested in trekking in Laos.