As we planned a short visit to Laos, trekking with Tiger Trail seemed to be an appealing idea to see a bit of the country’s rural life and at the same time enjoy some stunning landscape.
Tiger trail organizes various outdoor adventures, eco-tours and ‘fair treks’ – part of the money you pay goes to development funds aimed at local villages where ethnic minorities (the so-called hill tribes) live. Tiger Trail was the first of its kind in Northern Laos and it was founded 10 years ago by a German man, Markus Peschke, who first came to Laos on holidays in 1998. As he travelled, he fell in love with the country and decided to quit his government job back in Germany to re-locate to Laos. When he moved to Luang Prabang he founded various companies including Tiger Trail Outdoor Adventures and, a few years after, the ‘Elephant Village’, an elephant training centre where tourists can attend Mahout courses.
Tiger Trail offers various options, ranging from one day up to three or four day treks, some of their packages include kayaking, bicycling, etc… After careful consideration, we thought that taking a two-day trek was the most suitable option for us, based on our interests, the time we had available, and our level of fitness.
The whole thing was a little too expensive for our long-term traveler’s pockets, but since these are eco-tours and, as I said before, part of the money goes to development funds, we didn’t think too much before deciding to give it a go. The employee at Tiger Trail’s office also explained that to take the price down considerably it is possible to take the trekking on Saturday, so that’s exactly what we did.
On Saturday morning we met our guide Phoui near Joma café, on the main street in Luang Prabang and took a van to the Elephant Village. We didn’t stop there much, but we had enough time to sort out our provision of water – with 35 degrees out there, we needed to carry at least 7 litres of water between the two of us.
The first day’s trekking lasted about 6 hours and it was quite challenging, mainly due to the strong sun and some up-hill parts. But what a beautiful set of landscapes we got to see! Of course the 6 hours included some breaks – the longest break was in a Hmong village where we had lunch, eating fried rice with chicken in banana leaves. Soon after lunch we had an opportunity to interact with the villagers, buy some of their crafts and ask our guide some questions. We found out that that only 7 families live in that village and their main activity is trading and growing cows, pigs and chicken. It looks like many families who used to live in this tiny village moved to some bigger and less isolated villages in the region, but the 7 families still living here are happy about it and won’t leave their home to move away.
In the evening, just before sunset, we finally arrived in a remote Khmu village where we were supposed to stay for the night and where our host family was waiting for us. In fact in this village the only available accommodation is a so-called homestay, meaning that you stay with a family in a house. The village was very simple, with bamboo shacks dotted along dirt roads, plus there was no electricity. Our rooms were at the back of the house in a shed made of wood. No real beds were there but a wooden structure with some thin mattresses, a couple of pillows and a mosquito net on top.
Bathroom facilities were just outside the house and they had squat toilets and a sort of bucket-shower. Once we used the shower to get some relief from a very long trekking day, we went out for a walk and took some pictures of the locals and interacted with them. Soon after dinner we went to bed as we were wrecked. But before going to bed we took some time to look at the sky. In this remote village, with no lights around except the candles, and most importantly with no clouds in the sky, the stars’ light appeared so strong and intense.
In the morning we ate breakfast and got to spend some more time with our hosts. Eventually we left for a three hour trekking and ended up in the Nam Khan river, where we took a boat to the Sae waterfalls. During the dry season, meaning now, these waterfalls are not worth visiting, as many of the pools are dry. A better place to go is the Kuang Si waterfall (we went there yesterday and had a nice time, plus a swim in some of the pools).
When we left the Sae waterfall we took the boat again and went to another village for lunch. After lunch a tuk-tuk came and picked us up to give us a lift in town.
We’re happy that we made it and it was worth every cent. Tomorrow we will take a two day boat trip down the Mekong, slowly making our way to Thailand. Hopefully we wil be able to visit and photograph more minority villages there as well.
Keep in touch through Facebook, because we’ll post more pictures soon.