Our plan is to enter NW Thailand by Huay Xai so a stop in Luang Namtha, Laos is perfect as we'd like to do a jungle trek in the Nam Ha preserve before departing. Sitting as a passenger you observe the lack of traffic rules and regulations so while on the bus, came upon a horrific site with wailing women and a huge crowd gathered around a destroyed truck and a motorcycle with a body pinned underneath the truck. Our bus stopped and we looked helplessly as the locals tried to pull the man from underneath the truck with the road soaked in blood. They finally managed to get him out but even from a few feet away I could tell he was dead. They took him inside on of the houses, we got back on the bus, said our prayers, and started off again.
The Nam Ha is a huge swath of virgin jungle and has lots of wildlife such as tigers, elephants, monkeys, and many tropical birds. The town itself is small and boasts a night market with some exotic items such as birds and lots of different kinds of bugs. We tried a few grubs as a sampling and found them delicious with a nutty taste.
After talking with a few outfits about trekking options decided on a first trek to a remote waterfall, which was offered to us more as a survey as no one except a few villagers have ever been there before. We agreed both for the adventure and the cheap price as they couldn't promise what kind of experience we would have. The next day, a van came to pick us up, we made a stop at a market to buy some fish for our lunch and started driving towards the jungle. The outfits have told us that they will rely on a local hunter from the Khamu tribe who has been to the waterfall to serve as our guide. We drove to his village, our guide and the hunter who is also the chief of his village discussed the route and we started off with the two of us, the hunter, the guide from town, another villager and his skinny but strong dog.
Many of these tribes used to live in the jungle but due to government regulations for sustainability have been moved from the forest to settle on the fringes and instead gave up hunting except for some small animals and instead work with guides for eco-tourism. The villages are complete with schools and have electricity.
The trek began easy enough, hopping over rice paddies with the hunter taking the lead. He stopped to point out some medicinal bitter berries good for upset stomach. Shortly entering the jungle, the trail disappeared and the guides began hacking their way through with machetes. Walking, we spotted some of the hand made traps they had set and checked for animals such as rats or squirrels, which they often sell at the market for food. As our trek continued it was hard going with slippery rocks, stream crossings, and hopping over piles of rotten tree trunks. Everything in the jungle decomposes quickly due to humidity so logs that look stable enough to step on instead break right as you put your weight on them and I tumbled a few times and was mud covered. The hunter and his friend however never took a misstep and instead gracefully walked over everything setting a brisk pace. Stopping for lunch was a welcome respite and after making a fire the guides disappeared into the forest to return later with perfectly cleaned and seasoned fish to grill over the fire. In the meantime, Sabeen and I along with the town guide proceeded to find other food when our guide cut down a Banana tree and took the Banana heart, which when roasted is delicious. We also made food of something I would have never guessed; Rattan. He found a few trees, cleaned the thorns, and took the long wooden pieces and threw them also on the fire to cook. Our guide also showed us how to make a hunters lodge with banana leaves and in 20 minutes put together a temporary shelter that was waterproof and could hold two people. Lunch consisted of delicious fish, sticky rice, Banana Heart, Rattan, Pumpkin, and tomato chutney. We sat on Banana leaves with the jungle canopy overhead and ate our fill with our fingers. We gave the scraps to the dog and got walking again to make use of the daylight.
The second part of the hike was even more strenuous and after crashing a few times through dead pile and hopping over slippery trees finally made it to the waterfall, which wasn't much but was a rewarding feeling. We cleaned off in the water and found out the bigger fall was still a three hour hike, which given our desperate condition and the diminishing daylight decided to walk out. The walk to the main trail was brutal climbing straight up a mountain holding onto tree limbs and roots to make our way on the slippery path with burning legs and sweat covered. Couple of times, we came close to tumbling a long way down but the guides would come and pull us up. The hunter of course walked up the mountain never grabbing on to a thing. Often times the skinny dog would be way ahead of us and were surprised at it's energy, which would out do any spoiled dog from the US. We made it up and got on a trail, which led us out passing mountain vistas and back to our van in darkness with sore muscles. We thanked the guides, got back in the car, got dinner, and took our tired bodies to bed.