Hiking and Kayaking through the Jungle

Trip Start Feb 19, 2010
Trip End Jan 31, 2012

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Where I stayed
Andousiri Guest House
Mountain Village Homestay
Yunanan Guest House

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Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Day 1 - Arrival, Quite Day
Woke up around 4am to find myself in some town. Was told at this point by someone it was my stop. Thankfully kept asking if it was Luanf Namtha and someone eventually said it was so I went back to bed. Were only just over half way at this point since I recognised the name () and had an idea of where I was and that it was another 4hr til my stop.

Wasnt sure at this point if the bus was heading into China or if Luang Nam Tha was its last stop. Guess I wouldnt of had to worry about when to get off if I had asked what the buses last stop was.

Was up again around six and found the bus to no longer be as full as before and with a few new people we had collected along the way. All Lao or at least asian tourists. Looking out the window I couldnt see much of the mountains due to the cloud cover but did see lots small villages along the roadside. Here could see kids playing, people going about morning chores and families sitting around small fires in fromt of their houses warming themselves.

Ended up making it into Luang Namtha around 9am which was over an hour later than expect for what was suppose to be a 19hr journey (at most). After getting the tuk tuk into the center of town wandered down a street where I found a nice enough guesthouse to crash at then hit the streets looking for a tour into the countryside.

Found it was still to early since I needed another group to join if I didnt want to pay a ridiculous price though to be fair even treking by myself for 3 days would have been cheaper then the trek I looked at doing in Pakse. In the end only one tour at the moment which was a 3 day trek with 2 people, though I found out later that they would only go if there were 4 or more people.

At this point could have grabbed the map and wandered around town but was feeling lazy and decided to pass the day at the guesthouse with a book and my laptop. Not the most exciting day but need a quite one once in a while especially after running round a few days.

Headed again in the afternoon after the buses from Luang Prabang and Chang Mai were suppose to arrive and decided on settling for a 2 day Hike/Kayak tour with an overnight stay at a mountain village. With that sorted pretty much had dinner at a restaurant and called it a night to go repack my pack for the trip.

Day 2 - Jungle Trek to Mountain Village
Had an 8am start at the tour office where I met the other guys doing the tour. Large group with K, Evy, Lara, Fien, Melanie and Anne. From town it was onto a bus and the markets where the guide grabbed some food. Had a bit of a wander around here and found the markets to be interesting. Found it a pity that I had wandered here to check them out the day before. Lots of small food vendors here as well as fresh produce so grabbed some mandarins to have as a snack on the trail.

From here the van took us not to far out of town, past the roadside village we would spend the night at and then onto the trail we would be walking to get back to it. Had a pleasant and not to strenuous walk through the jungle at a fairly moderate pace so had time lots of time to stop, take some photos and catch back up to the rest of the group.

Found that along the way there wasnt much (if any) animal life about. Certainly no animals and I couldnt even remember hearing any birds. After talking to the guide it seems that the reason is that the locals have hunted and eaten everything they could find in the area.

By the guide we were introduced to some medicinal and editable plants. Also while chatting to him found out that he was from the village we were staying at and that the reason he was working as a guide was so that he could make some money to get married. Seems the brides family needs him to make a certain amount of money (believe it was for the wedding) within the next 3 years if he wants to marry their daughter.

After a couple of hours walking stopped for lunch and found out the versitility of bamboo. The firewood was bamboo. The table was bamboo, the bowl and spoon were bamboo and most interestingly the cooking pot was bamboo. Found that you can make a cooking pot out of bamboo by putting the food with water inside the bamboo and putting the outer end in the fire. As the bamboo at the fire end starts to burn, the food inside starts to heat up and cook.

Had a nice lunch on out bamboo leaf tablecloth which included the flower from the bananna plant as one of the ingrediants. Before lunch the guide also performed a small ritual of food offering to the spirits. He basically tokk some rice, touched it to the food and and threw it. He ended up doing this four times. One in each of the four directions and told us that it was an anamilistic ritual which is part of the local animilsm religion followed by people in the region. At this point I also recalled people in the markets of Luang Prabang tooking money to some of the goods they were wanting to sell which I assume is a similar ritual but in this case for good luck.

After lunch kept walking a couple more hours which included going up and down a couple of steep inclines. These ups and down were pretty short (at least for me) and at worst I would call it an easy to moderate walk for me. Especially at the pace we were travelling.

Still pretty early when we godd back and after chatting a bit inside the home stay I went out for a bit of a wander around town. Seemed to be to be your typical village for the area as I had seen all along the roadside from the bus a few days earlier. Pretty quite with people going about their afternoon chores.

Near dark found that a duck was going to be killed and plucked for our dinner and the drained of its blood which was then going to be used to make one of our dinner dishes.Should probably of tried this but am not much into eating blood and so gave it a miss.

After dinner played a bit of cards before calling it a fairly early night which always seems to be the case when you do these kind of things. When camping out and going inside straight after dark it always seems later then it really is.

Day 3 - Kayaking Down the River
Woke up just after the sun and since I had to go to the toilet headed outside. Was cold outside but found that a fire was going so decided to stay up rather than crawl into bed and stare at the ceiling. This way I could at least watch the locals going about their morning business.

Ended up feeding the fire to keep it going when our host wandered off in order to keep warm and things boiling. Seems our host was boiling some water for when we all woke up as well as some eggs for breakfast. Could see a number of other fires besides my own with other fmilies warming themselves around them and using them to cook their own food. While here the guide popped out to sit by the fire as well and had a few relatives pop by to have a chat with him.

After everyone else got up we had breakfast and wandered around to the local school for a look. Seems that only primary school is provided in the village. If you want to continue your education you need to go to another village for middle school and to a town for high school.

Also seems to get more and more expensive the further you go and since its not nearby it means the family no longer has you to help them out with the work. As you can guess not so many people continue onto higher education. Seems that the only two unis in teh country are in Vientiane and Luang Prabang.

While at the school the kindergarten kids came out and ended up playing a bit of chassie with them. That is they came close, I chased them away and they had a laugh before trying to get close by once more. Always interesting to see have simply kids are amused.

from teh village jumped into the van and were taken to the river where the kayaks were pumped up. Since we were an odd number asked for the single boat. Twin boats are a bit too stable and I was hoping the rapids (which previously all had been small) would be more challenging and fun in a single kayak.  Besides, the single kayak would give me a chance to get a bit more exercise since they are a bit more work to paddle then the doubles and I could stop to take photos without feeling bad that I was leaving the other person to paddle. Just meant I would have to paddle harder after to catch up with the others.

Definately ended up finding a few of the rapids on this river would be something I would be willing to classify as rapids (even if small) when compared to the last two kayak trips I had done. When not going through the rapids though did find the river current to be a bit slow and had no chance just  to float along in it. Definately had to paddle if you wanted to get anywhere within any kind of reasonable time.

Ended up covering something like 20Kms today though had a couple of stops along the way so didnt have to paddle for very long at any given time. Once again during the trip saw lots of people in the water pulling out seaweed.

First stop along the way was at a local village that was of chinese decent. Here found that a number of people were wearing ethnic cloths of indigo that reminded me of some of the cloths I had seen in rural China. Managed to sneak a few photos in while there of some locals since it feels invasive asking them for a photo.

Ended up going through a few interesting rapids after the village and found it interesting to note have the water tries to through you around. Pretty much found that I needed to lock my legs in the kayak and treat the boat as an extension of my hips. That is the boat became my legs and when the water tried to through me off the boat I needed to use the boats movement to compensate and regain my balance.

Next stop was lunch which was fish on a stick roasted over a fire with a bit of salt along with some veggies, rice and egg. Found the fish to be really good and definately the best meal of the trip. 

After lunch continued down the river through a few more interesting rapids. Had lots of scraps with the boat on rocks and this got me thinking that the river would have been a lot more fun a month or two earlier when it had more water running down it. Pity I ended up being stuck in vietnam so long that all the water seems to have drained out of the river before my arrival. Oh well. Guess next trip I should try to actually plan doing some rafting (rather than just randomly doing it) and pick the right season for it.

Had about another hour of paddling before reaching the end of the trip, taking the boats out and getting the van back to town. On the way back though a short stop due to road works near a village and managed to get a few nice photos from the road.

Once back organised to meet the others for a drink later and to swap our photos of the trip. Next wandered off to get a room but found the place I was previously in was full so chose the cheap option that was on the main road.

After an hour or so headed out for the drink and swapped my photos using the laptop which comes in useful at times like this. Found that one of the girls had met someone who was doing a documentary on lady boys in thailand and learnt that it seems some people start taking hormones at the age of 8. How you know your a lady boy at that age I dont know. Given its so accepted in Thailand guess its entirely possible the parents are making the decision for their kids if they show certain traits at a young age.

Guess this explans why its so hard to tell in some cases. In one case she was telling me about one such lady boy was entering and winning beauty contests and it wasnt until they came out that people knew it wsnt a woman.

Ended up having to call it an early night after a short stop for a final drink at the night market due to the Curfew. Have been finding that at either 11pm or 12am all people must be at their place of residence and the guesthouses close their doors. Am sure that if you are out on the street after this time you would get in trouble with the police though I also think as a tourist you might be given a bit more leniency then locals. Found this regulation strange and in the end wasnt able to find out why this curfew was being enforced in Laos.

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