The bus ride from Luang Prabang itself males it worth going to Luang Namtha. The scenery might be the most beautiful I’ve seen in Laos! I had no idea it was so wild only 20 minutes away from LP, I think if I did I would have trekked there for at least a day. We were lucky to have a very nice driver allowing us to stop for photos at the best spots he knew! Being surrounded by those small green hills is pretty great.
Luang Namtha is a small town where people usually go to trek around, not necessarily visit, so finding a trekking agency, even late at night, for the next day was fairly easy. We picked one that was recommended by the Lonely Planet (once again, I wonder how much they make with “recommendation”). The guy at the reception offered that we’d do the Elephant mountain 3 days trek, which was perfect as it was a mix of jungle, home stays in tribal minorities and wildlife (with a chance to see wild elephants). The next day when we showed up, we were advised that the 3 other people of our group changed their minds and there was gonna be one night in the jungle. I negotiated and got us the 2 home stays we were supposed to have. When back in the tuktuk with the others, by hearing them talking I realized that 3 were on a 1 day trek, 2 were on a 2 days trek, and the last couple was on a different 3 days trek that was much easier and had no jungle immersion. I insisted to go back to the agency to talk to the guy we booked the trek with, the guides started to get pretty pissed off, the other ones in our group didn’t understand what was taking so long and I was super upset as the tour they were taking us to was completely different and also a third cheaper. They were not even going to tell us we were not doing the planned trek! After some harsh negotiation, we left with the last couple for the correct itinerary. The guides had to reorganize and the one who came with us didn’t seem very pleased. Once we started walking, he told us that this turned out great for him as he would get much more money than with the other itinerary. He said that they just promise anything in the office, and then group everyone together for what’s more convenient for them. How nice. So we got to spend the next 3 days with our ok guide and Julie and Aurelien, 2 very cool frenchies doing an amazing 1 year world trip. The jungle in North Laos is beautiful, the landscape changes every hour, it’s dense and our path didn’t seem to be used a lot (we didn’t see anyone apart in the villages). It was very cold and foggy, it rained every night, but for once it didn’t bother me. I thought the mist added mystery (Julie said mysticism) and made the jungle even more beautiful. We saw fun insects and spiders, heard a monkey, but no elephant… In the villages, unfortunately our guide was not keen in helping us communicate with the locals. He would just tell us where to put our bags and disappear. We did make friends with the kids though! In the first village where we slept, from the Akha minority, the little boys were extremely playful and loved to be taken in photo! Most of the girls were much more shy and a lot of them were working, or taking care of babies half as big as they were themselves… There was just one group of girls as excited by the camera as the boys, at some point they picked up empty beer bottles and played being drunk, a very funny sight! As for the adults, they only communicate by screaming. They all scream from one home to the other to talk to each other, it’s very fun to see. The women work all day long, the men not so much. They take their time in the morning, smoke and drink in the evening. The next day when we woke up, women were already busy. Talking about gender difference, I had one of the most bizarre experience of my life in that village. There is one very rustic “shower” in the village where everyone goes, it’s entirely open and pretty much everyone sees you. Men shower with a tiny swimming suit but women have to wear a large sarong that covers them from armpits to the knees. Try washing yourself while holding on to that! As if it wasn’t weird enough, 4 of the kids we played with earlier came, sat and stared at me. At some point when I was trying to rinse off my ass (I needed Silvere to help me with the sarong at that point), I let one boobie out. I think I may have scared them for life. Some men from the family of our home stay started talking to us after breakfast, but with no translator and a very different paradigm it’s definitely not easy. We used Silvere’s book “Point it” to learn the name of the animals and discuss geography. The men were very nice, it’s a shame our guide didn’t even try to help us get to know them. The next night we stayed in a Black Tai village, where work seemed to be more evenly distributed between gender. Silvere and Aurelien decided to stay on Akha customs and finished the beers while Julie and I were helping the guide cook dinner (who kept saying we were doing everything wrong…). As during our trek in Cambodia, the guide added insane amounts of sugar and salt in all dishes, but it still tasted awesome! Again, we did not communicate with anyone else than the kids… We passed a school and were pretty impressed at the level of those 8 years old in maths, they learn what we do at 12 in France! That day, we celebrated Silvere’s 31st birthday! I think he had a nice gift as it was probably the prettiest part of the trek. We had some candy bars I secretly bought after our jungle lunch as a birthday cake. The weather kept being terrible as long as we were high in altitude and deep in the jungle, but luckily it didn’t rain or just very lightly, which made the track pretty slippery. We were all pretty disgusting and covered in mud in the end, didn’t see elephants, but it was a very beautiful trek!