When people think of SE Asia, they usually think of Thailand, Vietnam or Cambodia. But few people think of Laos. And in a lot of occasions, people are puzzled about Laos asking: Where is Laos? What is Laos? Why is Laos? Well, its that little country sandwiched between the three popular SE Asian countries. And it’s a country that has had its share of sad history which its still reeling from (Google: America’s secret war in Laos). But in my not so humble opinion, it’s the best country in SE Asia! Beautiful landscapes and farmlands, wonderful people and a cuisine that’s a lovely concoction of Thai and Vietnamese food with the best sticky rice in the world! Part of its beautiful nature are the Nam Ha jungles in Northern Laos which we trekked in and had a blast!
GETTING THERE: Part of Laos’ beauty is that its still relatively untouched compared to its tourist heavy neighbors which also unfortunately means that its a bit of a pain in the ass to get to places within the country due to the lesser tourism infrastructure. One such place is Luang Namtha, the starting point of our trek into the Nam Ha jungles. It’s a grueling 8-10 hour ride from Luang Prabang to Luang Namtha in a small tiny little minivan that’s overflowing with people going down an endlessly winding and twisty road at a crazy speed that leaves you with a constant feeling of wanting to puke on the person next to you. This is only exacerbated by the local people who love to eat a ton before the journey because there’s a lot of puking going on around you leaving you with the sweet aromatic smell of regurgitated Laos cuisine in the air throughout the journey.
THE TREK: But all this pain seemed worth it once we started heading into the jungle. Our guide through the jungle was Pheng, a dude who was there to make sure us amateurs won’t kill ourselves and a dude who I came to admire for his curiosity and ability to survive on almost nothing. This feeling of awe lasted the first 10 minutes after which I realized this wasn’t exactly an easy trek. Now, I’m no athlete but nor am I a damn walrus. So I was honestly surprised at how difficult the trek was. The slopes were insanely steep as well as quite slippery from the fresh rainfall. And it was even more embarrassing when you’re wearing a tank top with the words “BEAST” on it but huffing and puffing along behind your relatively relaxed girlfriend. Pheng set the pace which was pretty fast and hard to keep up. The only times we stopped were when we wanted to remove the plump leeches full of red juice or when we came across some nicely camouflaged venomous snakes. But I loved it! I’ve been to jungles before but never one this luscious, green with dense foliage and tall thick trees that cover the sky above leaving little sunlight to permeate through. And I never lived in one either which is what we did.
FOOD: What do you eat in a jungle? Well it’s a jungle, so there’s food everywhere around you. You just gotta cook it! Which is easier said than done in the middle of a jungle. But Pheng was the man! His methods of cooking in the wild with things lying around us really was an awesome learning experience for me. Better than all that organic grass fed free range bullshit. Its probably just easier to show this part in pictures.
SLEEP: There are no fancy tents or sleeping mats. You just grab some banana leaves from the trees nearby, throw it on the ground and throw yourself on it. Its no memory foam but it works.
This experience turned out to be one of the highlights of our trip. This was no Man vs Wild episode, but I learned a ton about what it takes to survive in the wild. And Pheng was just an awesome guy!