We have now crossed the Thai and Laos border.
Our first stop was in Luang Nam Tha. This town is not pretty, it is a very dusty small place (population 18,000) but even knowing this it is well worth going to as it is on the edge of the Nam Ha National Protected Area (NHNPA).
The NHNPA is a huge jungle in the northern part of Laos where protected animals such as tigers, clouded leopards and wild elephants still live.
The NHNPA also hosts many outdoor activity companies. We went to Laung Nam Tha intending to hike in the jungle.
We booked our trip with the Forest Retreat. After looking at the options we chose a two-day multi-activity package. The first day was hiking in the jungle with lunch at a local tribes village. The first day ends with a stay overnight at a hut in the jungle and then returning the following day by kayak.
The first days hike was enjoyable and interesting walking along jungle paths still used by local tribes. The jungle was a very dense green mixture of primary (old & untouched) and secondary (less than 40 years old) forest. The trees were a combination of bamboo and other woods densely packed and extremely tall in places. The only wild life we saw during the walk were frogs, a rat, birds and butterflies, as expected. The more exotic animal stay far away from human activity.
We stopped for lunch in the tribal village where we were served sticky rice with vegetables, omelette and chicken. There was the additional option of “ratatouille”, this was a stewed jungle rat. I gave that option a miss.
That evening we arrived at the fisherman’s hut where we had an enjoyable swim and wash in the river. This was followed by a campfire and dinner.
Dinner was sticky rice with vegetables and chicken. This was prepared by our guides and one of local tribesmen who had joined us for the remainder of the trip.
After diner, we were entertained by the local tribesman showing us how he hunted for fish and frogs using his spear gun made of wood and a few large rubber bands. He seemed very effective at this catching three fish and half a dozen frogs in 30 minutes.
The frogs he caught were put in half full 1.5l plastic water bottle still alive which was then tossed directly into the fire. This was quite distressing to see the frogs panic and jump around trying in vain to escape. After they were dead they were then gutted and barbecued on the fire. This was another food option which I chose to skip; food is a lot more appealing when you have not seen it alive.
The fisherman’s hut was a very basic wood and bamboo construction building on stilts. It was cold overnight and we did not sleep very well on the cold wooden floor.
The next day’s activity was kayaking down the river (no photos, still lacking a waterproof camera!). Helen and I started the day sharing a two person kayak; I was in the rear controlling steering and Helen upfront providing momentum.
The first hour was spent trying to get used to the kayak and involved a lot of zigzagging and over steering.
After the first hour we were still having trouble with control but the bends in the river were becoming sharper.
At this point we went into a series of sharp curves. The first curve was a sharp left, followed by a sharp right. The sharp left was handled fine, but caused us to pick up pace and the current positioned us on the far left as we headed into the right curve. We could now see properly into the next curve; a tree that had partially fallen into the river.
The tree was facing down the river on the left side and a thick branch was sticking out 2 metres into the river hanging over the water at chest height. We needed to move towards the opposite bank. We turned quickly and paddled to avoid it.
As we reached the branch, the kayak had been turned to be parallel to the branch; our full effort was put into trying to go forward to escape the reach of the branch but the current took us sideways into it regardless.
The front of the kayak containing Helen made it out of the branches reach with Helen’s arm getting bashed by the branch. The rear of the kayak passed under the branch. I was grabbed from the kayak by the branch; suspended in the air and left hanging from the branch. I watched the kayak slowly move away down the river without me.
I held on to the branch for 20 seconds or so to see where Helen stopped at the end of the rapids. Once she stopped, on one of the banks, I let go and ducked under the branch and floated down feet first downstream to be reunited with the kayak. I got back into the kayak and continued kayaking with a few additional bruises from rocks just under the surface but nothing too bad.
At lunch, we stopped at the swimming hole which had a rope swing. We had fun swinging out over the water and jumping in.
While we were playing on the rope swing the guides prepared lunch, a bamboo stew. They had brought some chicken and rice from the village but collected all the other ingredients, dishes, firewood and cooking utensils from the local area within a few minutes.
Bamboo is an extremely useful plant and used frequently to meet almost any purpose. The pots, cup and spoons were simply cut bits of bamboo. They cut down a few bamboo trees and cut it into sections. Bamboo is a hollow wood with vertical disks at each notch. So it naturally forms cups or pots when cut. The bamboo is also made of strong fibres so it can also form string when cut. This is used to bind the bamboo together into furniture, buildings or rafts but will rot in a matter of months. It burns well and is used as firewood. It also grows extremely fast so there is not a shortage of it.
The guides then prepared the stew inside the bamboo pots placed directly on the fire. The bamboo pots don’t burn as the moisture from the stew keep it below the burning temperature. The stew was prepared with herbs and mushrooms found along the riverside. It was delicious.
It was clear from watching the guides prepare the meals that the local area was so rich in plants and animals that someone could easily survive in this jungle without the need for much more than a knife, a few rubber bands, and some local knowledge.
After lunch the river was quite gentle but we still got very wet! In the weaker part of the river, we had a water fight in the kayaks and enjoyed floating down stream in the sunshine.
The whole experience was great and highly recommended.