Wednesday, November 13, 2013

8 reasons why Laos is a lovely country!

For the past 5 days or so I have been exploring Laos, first visiting Luang Prabang followed by a trip up north to visit remote villages and see some spectacular scenery. It is been an utter joy to be back in Laos, and I have re-fallen totally head over heels in love with this amazing place. Below you will see my top 8 reasons why I love Laos!

1: The colorful & varied markets:


2: The delicious food:


3: The lovely people:


4: The simple lifestyles & rural villages:


5: The Amazing scenery:


6: You can choose to relax or be adventurous:


7: The staggeringly beautiful ‘Wats’ and temples:


8. The beautiful plants!


There are fewer than 7 million people in Laos, and the landscape is mostly jungle covered mountains and rivers with  small villages and a few towns sprinkled across the land. Some places are difficult to get to and if you visit you will undoubtedly experience a bumpy road or two, but the country is amazing and well worth the extra bit of effort to get off the main tourist trail to explore!
Source: InsideVietnam

ACTIVETRAVEL ASIA would like to recommend Luang Prabang Trek tour.This tour takes you into forest and several villages of the most prominent ethnic groups in Northern Laos: the Khmu and Hmong. The Khmu are also called "Laos Theung" and settle at a medium altitude, the latter, sometimes called "Laos Soung", live in high regions along the mountain ridges.

Highlights:
  • Awesome scenery
  • Combination of jungle trails and village roads
  • Home-stay in tribal villages
  • Cruise on the mighty Mekong River

Thursday, October 24, 2013

Walking through northern Laos

Written by Stephanie Choate

The town of Luang Nam Tha in northern Laos is perched along the fringes of Nam Ha National Protected Area - 2,224 square kilometers of rolling jungle-clad mountains. Many companies offer guided treks through the jungle, and though we had avoided the more popular trekking scene in Thailand, we wanted to get further into this amazingly beautiful countryside.

Mist fills the valleys of Nam Ha National Protected Area.
The three-day more challenging trek took us across about 25 kilometers of jungle. Four guides came with us and three other trekkers—two guys from England and another from Sweden.

Banmi, our exuberant 24-year-old lead guide, kept us thoroughly entertained with hilarious exclamations and questions about whether we had certain plants and animals in our countries. This was his last trek before getting married next week, and he often referred to “my darling.” Gang, one of the founders of the company, has been leading treks for 10 years, and was quick to find edible plants, hack down low-hanging branches and give beaming smiles. Kahm, one of the local villagers, was extremely curious in what we were doing and his wife, Pung, probably carried more weight slung across her forehead than anyone else. (Sidenote: I have no idea how they would spell their names, this is my best guess!)

Banmi (red jacket) and Gang (orange jacket) purchase our food at the morning market.
The trail started at Kahm’s and Pung’s Khmu village, passing shy children, countless chickens, and vibrant green rice fields before entering the forest.

Rice field
We hiked for about six hours each day, up and down hills, across fallen logs, through dense patches of vines. Throughout the three days, we caught glimpses of Nam Ha’s rolling blue-green hills through the dense jungle branches. Ignoring the foreground, the layers of faraway mountains looked remarkably like Vermont, or perhaps somewhere in the southern Appalachians. It was a bit surreal to see a small slice of home on the other side of the world.

Far from the basic hiking fare we had expected, every meal brought an elaborate spread of tasty Lao dishes, arranged across a banana leaf table. We dipped small balls of sticky rice into fried young morning glory, garlicky tomatoes, mixed vegetables infused with ginger, eggplant and chilies, and buffalo meat bought from the morning market. In particular, dinner on the second night consisted mostly of food our guides had collected as we hiked through the jungle—banana flower, young ferns, bitter eggplant, greens. Everything was delicious, and not just because we had been hiking for hours!

A stop for lunch.
After a full day’s walk on the second day, we reached camp in a small valley next to a river, and everyone enjoyed a much-needed swim. At night, we all sat by the campfire after the guides, who rose and slept with the sun, had gone to bed. The full moon crept above the forest and illuminated the camp, almost eliminating the need for a flashlight.

Early the next morning, mist filled the valley and shrouded the mountains, until the sun cleared the tallest peaks and melted it all away. Soon, the sun blazed down on us as we made our way through a more open section near the end of the trail. We followed the river, crossing it in our flip-flops again and again.

Looking back towards camp on the last day.
The trek finished at a village on banks of the wide and deep Nam Tha (meaning Green River). Our bags were ferried across while we swam— very welcome after the long, hot third day. Nearly a dozen village kids swam too, barreling down the hill and leaping into the river as recklessly as they could, with plenty of yelling.

Everyone enjoying a swim in the Nam Tha.
Aside from three leeches (me, gross), two ticks (me as well), an incident with a bare foot and a huge, fresh buffalo patty (Banmi), and some very sore legs, the trek was a definite success.

ACTIVETRAVEL ASIA would like to recommend Trek Nam Ha Forest Camps, Luang Namtha tour. This trek is entirely within the Nam Ha National Protected Area, an ASEAN Heritage Site. The 3 days trek is entirely in the forest. This is a trip for those who want a true forest experience. The villagers of a Khmu village will host us at our first forest camp deep in the forest. At the second camp Akha villagers will be your hosts. The camps, built out of bamboo and wood by the villagers themselves, are places to immerse oneself in the beauty of the jungle. Along the way, local Khmu and Akha guides will explain the forest products used by villagers for food, medicine, materials and religious ceremonies. Rise early on the third day for the sunrise and go with an Akha bird caller to learn how the Akha can call wild birds in.


Tuesday, September 17, 2013

The Laos Motorcycle Diaries

Writen by Richard Waters

Reclining Buddha at monastery in Vientiane
Landlocked Laos, fortressed by mountains and dissected by the mighty Mekong River, is best travelled by road; its dramatic routes twisting sinuously through jungle, paddy fields, mountains and karst country.

Normally seen from one of the country’s wheezing buses, there is an exciting alternative for those eager to drive through Laos’ stunning panoramas. Over the last 10 years – in a voracious desire to create speedy supply routes to trade neighbours Vietnam, Cambodia and Thailand – China has invested heavily in widening and sealing the Laos’ roads. This, combined with affordable satellite navigation technology, has made the country a new favourite for amateur motorcyclists. After all, wouldn’t you rather be the architect of your journey with the wind on your face, than stuck in the back of a decrepit bus beside a cage of bats?

In 1975, after the Vietnam War and parallel Laotian Civil War, the communist country slammed its doors to the outside world until 1991, meaning that Laos has had far less exposure to the West than some of its neighbours. Beyond its main cities – Vientiane, Luang Prabang and Savannakhet – four-fifths of the population live off the land, including its more than 100 ethnic tribes; and the country is still thickly carpeted in forest that harbours tigers and leopards. To best explore this mysterious world, hire a speedy motorbike to tackle the rough trails and mountain roads. You can arrange to have your bags forwarded to your destination and even drop the bike off at the end to avoid doubling back on yourself.

Start your journey in the languid capital of Vientiane, where The Midnight Mapper (ask for Don Duvall) hires handheld Garmin GPS devices to help you safely find your route in the most remote of Laos’ backwaters. If you already have a device, an excellent digital GPS map is also available via sim card. Thanks to Duvall’s slavish obsession to detail – taking 10 years to map every corner of the country – the possibility of getting lost in the jungle is now nearly impossible.
  
Laos is a new favourite for amateur motorcyclists
Before you leave Vientiane, spend a few days soaking up its French restaurants, bakeries and spas, before heading to Jules Classic Rental, a Western-run outfit in the centre of the old town. They have well-maintained heavy-duty dirt bikes for hire and a solid reputation to match.

From Vientiane it is an easy 340km ride south on Highway 13 to the pretty colonial town of Tha Khaek. The road is generally flat, with Thailand on your right across the Mekong River and dramatic jungle rearing up like a dragon-green tsunami to the east. Given that dusk comes around 6 pm, try to travel early, before the vampish dangers of night increase your chances of colliding with an errant water buffalo. Also many Lao lack bike lights, and dogs have a suicidal leaning to sleep in the centre of the road. An hour of this nocturnal Russian roulette will fray your nerves.

In Tha Khaek, stay at the delightful Inthira Hotel, the town’s only boutique accommodation. While this former colonial outpost is pretty enough with old French houses, Chinese merchants shops and locals playing pétanque under the tropical sun, its main purpose is as a base for travellers who come to tackle the jungle-rich, three-day, 500km odyssey known as the Loop; the highlight of which is the country’s most spectacular cave, Kong Lor.

Up until now, travellers attempting the Loop had to rely on unreliable narrow-wheeled scooters to take them over demanding terrain, from passing trucks throwing up thick dust to sheer mountain roads with gravel surfaces. Not surprisingly, fatalities occurred and casualties were myriad. 

Day one of the Loop heads 140km northeast from Th Khaek toward Vietnam, surging through lush jungle and along unsealed roads past lunar landscapes of flooded valleys. From there it rears west from the logging town of Lak Sao back into Khammouane Province. Lak Sao might not be much to look at, but you will be glad of its acceptable hotels, street food and ATMs to accommodate your first night.

Motorbike crossing in Vang Vieng
The second day sees better conditioned roads as you motor 100km west to Kong Lor Village through extraordinary karst country, the triple canopy rent  by forbidding charcoal-black cliffs, visible for miles around. Amid this surreal topography are lethally tight switchbacks that snake through clouds of fluorescent butterflies and past roadside tribal folk with antique guns slung over their shoulders. It is best to overnight in Kong Lor village and see the cave early the next morning, giving yourself plenty of time to ride back to Tha Khaek before it gets dark.

Less than 1km from Kong Lor Village, your first view of Kong Lor cave is that of a dark mouth leering at you from the base of a towering limestone mountain. From its ragged teeth flows the Kong River, which you have to board a stuttering longtail boat to navigate. With its stalactites and stalagmites twisting in the church-high darkness, Kong Lor cave looks like a backdrop from a Star Trek movie. As the river flows quick and dark through the heart of the mountain, it is just you, your feeble torch and the boatman, puttering into the Stygian gloom.

The trip through the cave takes about 40 minutes, the boat emerging mole-like into the sunshine where you stop by a small ban (village) for a cold drink. The relief is short-lived, however, as you have no choice but to return back the way you came. At 7.5km long, this eerie cave is surely one of Laos’ most unforgettable experiences.

After the cave, grab some lunch before travelling the last 180km of the Loop, back to your pressed linen sheets and rain shower at the Inthira Hotel.


ACTIVETRAVEL ASIA would like to recommend Vietnam-Laos Adventures tour. Laos is the least populated of the Indochinese countries. The landscape is dominated by mountains, jungles and of course the Mekong River, which runs for 1800km along the western border of the country. A devoutly Buddhist nation, Laos has opened up to provide travellers with an opportunity to experience the diversity, tradition and natural beauty of the country. This trip offers adventurous travellers a great opportunity to discover the combined beauty of northern Vietnam and northern Laos.

Highlights :
  • Sea kayaking in Halong Bay
  • Trekking and home stay in Mai Chau and Pu Luong
  • Plain of Jars in Xieng Khoang
  • Ancient city of Luang Prabang
  • River kayaking in Luang Prabang Area 

Tuesday, August 13, 2013

Trekking Luang Prabang

Written by Julian and Sarah

After catching a flight to Luang Prabang we spent the first day finding an agent to trek with the following day and in the evening we headed out to the night market to scoff our faces before our trek.

Trek Luang Prabang
We set off on a bumpy and dusty road in the back of a van with two other men (Tony from Switzerland and Migon from Argintina). We also had two local guides, Nick and Tim. Two hours later we arrived at the start of our adventure! We were told to carry as much water as we could as it had to last us two days as the village we were staying in didn't have any drinking water. We squeezed as much as we could (10 litres between us) into our small rucksacks and headed off across a bridge and up a steep hill. The trek was up hill for the first two and half hours with no shade in the mid day sun!

Trek Luang Prabang
We had drank quite a lot of our water at this point and decided that we had best start rationing if it was going to last the two days. 
The start...The start...
Trekking Luang Prabang
The start...made our first stop at a Hmong village   consisting of 100 or so people. We visited the school within the village which had lots of children and only one teacher. We bought writing books and pencils at the market the previous day to give to any children we saw whilst trekking, so we donated the majority to the school. We stayed for a while helping the children and listening to them sing songs. Although our time their was short, It was one of the things we enjoyed the most. After that it was back to the trekking and 6 and half hours in total in the blazing sun we arrived at our Kamoot village, hurray, very thirsty and absolutley knackered!


The village was very poor but the people were really friendly. We were staying with the chief of the village and his family and they made us feel very welcome in their home. We were told each family in the village had roughly eight children, babies everywhere :0). We were then shown to our room (4 of us in a bed) very cosy! We were told that we could rest untill dinner so in desperate need of a clean Local women putting us to shame.Local women putting us to shame.

Local women putting us to shame.we headed to the shower/ pots and pans washing/ animal watering and bathing area. There was a bit of a que for the hose pipe in the middle of the village. But everyone quite happily sat watching the other get naked and have a scrub down. It was eventualy our turn although Julian opted to keep his pants on I decided I didnt smell that bad after all :-) 

Trekking Luang Prabang
We played with the children in the village and then were invite in for dinner, sticky rice and soup. Lots of the kids had gathered around at this point waiting till we finished eating so we could play games and sing songs together. Julian broke into song and statrted with "Old Macdonald" whilst I followed with ''Head shoulders knees and toes'', Julian then went on to show them how to play thumb wars and a hand slapping game, we had a great night. 

The following morning we were up at 5am to the sounds of the animals and the men of the village getting ready to hunt or farm in the fields. After an early breakfast we had started the trek by 8am. We walked mainly through jungle.

We'd pretty much ran out of water after another 2 hours of walking but luckily enough we had reached the end of our trek. We had stopped for lunch at the river, where we had a cool off and caught a boat to our pick up point. An hour or so waiting for the bus we were back on the dusty road to our hostel.

Hope your well, 

Recommend Luang Prabang Trek tour by ACTIVETRAVEL ASIA:

Highlights: 
  • Awesome scenery
  • Combination of jungle trails and village roads
  • Home-stay in tribal villages
  • Cruise on the mighty Mekong River

Wednesday, July 17, 2013

Homestays: Experiencing The Real Laos

The following is a guest post by Cindy Fan

Ban Dong Muong (Photo credit: Sheila Rivera)
Sharing photo with the children
The children huddle together in awe of the giant 6’3” figure looming over them. The giant spreads his arms, threatening to devour them in one swoop. The kids are giddy, their excitement palpable; they know what’s coming next.

“My…name…IS….BAZZA!” the giant roars. The kids squeal with glee and eagerly wait for the giant to do it all over again.

We’re in the small village of Khmu people in southern Laos, known for its sacred “Monkey Forest” and small temple monastery overrun by wily, thieving rhesus macaques.

We’ll be staying in someone’s home tonight—no hotels here. Our accommodations will be the floor of a simple home. Village life is an integral part of Lao culture and society, and this homestay will allow us to experience how the majority of people in this developing country live.

The home is a hive of activity. Old women—petite and wiry—are busy setting out mattresses and sheets for us. The men are outside chopping the vegetables for dinner while pounding back potent lao-laowhiskey infused with the earthy herbs that are said to increase longevity (wink wink, nudge nudge). They take turns pouring and drinking, pouring and drinking, the task of cooking becoming less and less important as the shot tally increases. I pray that the women will come rescue this cooking operation gone awry or else we’ll never have dinner.

Children from the entire village have come to observe the giant falang named Bazza. Bazza accidentally smacks his head on a low Lao-sized doorframe. We play games with the kids. Neighbours drop by to chat. Baby chicks—bright peeping puffballs—roam freely about the yard but scurry to the safety of their mother when the black puppy appears. The pup sniffs my dusty ankles with a wet, inquisitive nose. The sun sets behind the rooftops. Cows mosey on down the dirt road. . Ban sabai sabai, I think: peaceful, peaceful home.


For those who are new to the idea of homestays or have reservations about trying it, remember this: Homestays are not about you. Homestays are not about you “roughing it” or seeing how well you can cope without a hot shower or internet. It is not about seeing how The Other live as if you’re visiting a museum, and it is not an appeal to pathos; it is not an invocation for pity from you, the audience.

On the contrary, homestays are about your host’s experience; you are immersing yourself in their way of life. What you’ll gain is an appreciation for their challenges, the simplicity and hard work of rural living and the feeling of family and community in a village, the legs on which the country stands. This is Laos.

The Facts

A homestay is one of the highlights of Activetravel Asia’s 7-day “Luang Prabang trek” tour

Village stays are also an integral part of hill tribe treks in Luang Prabang. This tour takes you into forest and several villages of the most prominent ethnic groups in Northern Laos: the Khmu and Hmong. The Khmu are also called "Laos Theung" and settle at a medium altitude, the latter, sometimes called "Laos Soung", live in high regions along the mountain ridges.

Tips for your homestay in Laos

  • Have an open mind and relax. They’ve welcomed you into their home and are probably anxious to please you. They will be sensitive to your reactions. Try the food they’ve offered you. Compliment the chef.
  • Ask permission before taking a photo (note: you’ll get better responses if you smile when asking). Then share. Show the photos you’ve taken of them, of your trip, and even photos you’ve brought of your family and country.
  • Give a small gift to your host or the village chief (ask your guide what’s appropriate). Avoid giving gifts to children directly as it can encourage begging. Instead, interact with them: play games, sing a song, learn their names and show them a dance or magic trick.
  • Communicate! You may not know the language but gestures and facial expressions can go a long way. Engage and show you’re enthusiasm. You don’t need words to exchange names, ask their age, etc. The ensuing charades can be great fun.
  • Learn! This is a great opportunity to learn a few words. Point at objects and find out what things are called. A phrasebook can also be handy.

Both men and women should dress modestly.

You’ll almost certainly be offered a shot of lao-lao, homemade rice whiskey. While you can politely decline, if you can handle the firewater, have a few. You’ll be lauded and make instant friends.

Don’t forget to thank your host and leave no trace. Take all your rubbish with you.

WHAT TO BRING

  • A sleeping mattress and blanket will most likely be provided, you may want to bring your own sleep sheet ư
  • sarong, for bathing at public taps or rivers
  • travel mosquito net; flashlight
  • arplugs, if you don’t want to wake with the roosters
  • pictures of your country and family
  • enthusiasm & smiles

Sharing photos with kids in Ban Dong Muong (Photo credit: Cindy Fan)
Have you done a homestay in Laos or elsewhere in Southeast Asia? Share your experience in the comments.

Friday, July 5, 2013

Trek Luang Namtha - An Authentic Village Experience Like No Other

Many people who come to South East Asia seek to find that unique cultural experience of an idyllic little village tucked away in the misty jungle clad mountains where people still live the way they have for thousands of years…living in bamboo and grass huts, hunting and gathering in the forest and growing seasonal crops…

A way of life that can no longer be found in the west
Many people go to northern Thailand or Vietnam or Malaysia to try to get this insight into a traditional way of living before Facebook, media saturation and Smartphones cluttered up our lives.  Disappointed travellers have told me that in these places the villagers hurriedly put down their ipads and turn off their plasma TV’s and don costumes to put on a “touristy” show about a life they have long left behind…not exactly an authentic hill tribe experience is it?

If you really want to experience people living in misty forested mountain villages exactly as they have done for thousands of years you should come to Luang Namtha in northern Laos!  Unlike Thailand who has had tourists for 100 years northern Laos has only had tourists (and electricity!) for 10 years, it is much less developed than its wealthier neighbours, more densely forested and is also the most ethnically diverse part of South East Asia, a real cultural melting pot with over 20 different minority tribes; which means you can go to numerous tribes’ villages in a single day and witness the striking differences in culture, tradition, belief system, architecture and agricultural practices.

 Why should you choose Luang Namtha for your hill tribe experience?

1.  Because these local people really do want to be  gain a sustainable income from arranged homestay visits and handicrafts such as silk weaving.  To even stay the night at a village the entire village agrees, via a village meeting, to apply to become part of the eco-tourism project.  If the government approves them, then they will be given some training and then you will be able to stay. This eco-tourism empowers them to preserve their tribal culture and encourages them to protect and preserve their natural environment. The original model homestay is the Khmu village of Ban Nalan another amazing jungle village on the river is the Tai Lue tribe’s Ban Sin Oudom.

2. Many of these tribes live in the Nam Ha national protected area (NPA) for example Khmu, Ahka, Tai Lue and Lanten minorities and so have become the caretakers of the national park. This means you can tie in an amazing cultural immersion experience with a trekking/kayaking/rafting tour in the national park.

3. The UNESCO sponsored Nam Ha NPA eco-tourism initiative ensures that a hefty proportion of the tour costs go directly to the villagers themselves and to conserving and protecting the national park.

4. Because it really is untouched! The nature is stunning and the villages and their inhabitants really are authentic minority tribes living in a self-sufficient way that is relatively unchanged for thousands of years.

5. Luang Namtha province is ideally situated close to the overland border crossings of Vietnam (Muang Kwa), Thailand (Huay xai) and China (Boten). Making it very easy to get to, It also has the best roads in all of Laos!

As one of the most Adventure and Responsible tours available in Indochina and Asia, ACTIVETRAVEL ASIA's trips are designed for all levels of outdoor enthusiasts, real people seeking real fun and adventure. So  you find one that is the “real deal” and gives a good percentage of the money directly to the local community,  you can refer Trek Ban Nam Lai Village, Luang Namtha tour at: http://www.activetravellaos.com/trek-ban-nam-lai-village-luang-namtha.html

Luang Namtha - Nam Lai Village - Luang Namtha
2-day trekking tour
Trekking grade: Moderate

This 2 days trek through the Nam Ha Protected Area takes you into a mountainous forest camp and the world of the Akha people where you will spend time learning about the lives and culture of these famous woodsmen. Learn about the rich fauna and flora of the protected forest. Walk along a stream to a refreshing little waterfall. Spend the night with your Akha hosts and taste their special forest spices.

Highlights 
  • Jungle trails
  • Akha forest camp
  • Guided by the Akha people

Thursday, July 4, 2013

Free Eating Guide in Laos

Things you can eat: always ask, because local recipes can vary.

Rice
Rice- brown, black, steamed, sticky, or as noodles, rice is your friend. It is eaten by Lao people with every meal of the day.  I know that that the other term for sticky rice is glutinous rice, but never mind- it does not contain the same protein that causes you problems. Spend enough time in Asia and you will be sick of the stuff, but you will always be able to eat something

Lap
Lap- (also spelled lab, laarb, or some variation) The national dish of Laos!  It is made up of crumbled meat (beef, fish, chicken or pork) and sometimes tofu or bamboo mixed together with galanga, lemon grass, mint cilantro, lime, sugar and fish sauce.

You can find it in a multitude of forms here- red, thick and spicey, with chunks of tofu, mild and made from eggplant, green chilis, or with some kind of pork.  Usually listed as an apetizer, the Jeows are served with steamed carrots, kale or cabbage and sticky rice.  May contain fish sauce, and always double check that soy sauce, mushroom sauce, or oyster sauce is not an ingredient.

Sticky rice with coconut and mango- not as sweet as the Thai version, but still good.
Papaya Salad



Papaya Salad- wicked spicey, and full of fish sauce.  If you are buying from a street vendor, watch which sauces go into it, and if it looks dark brown stop them from using it.

Omelets and Fried Eggs- almost always available, see the paragraph on MSG










Things you MIGHT be able to eat:
Spring rolls

Spring rolls- in Northern Laos, they seem to use rice noodle sheets instead of wheat wrappers, that they then deep fry.  If you are sensitive to cross-contamination, stay away from these.

Soups- Pho, Khao Soi, noodle soups, vegetable soups. . . the Lao people really like to eat soup.  I personally only get soup if I can get it made to order and stay away from street vendors.  I make sure to ask for the white rice noodles, with NO soy sauce, NO oyster sauce and NO mushroom sauce, and pray for the best.

Curries- yellow, green, red, tofu. . .  most will use either soy sauce or fish sauce to give it a salty flavor.  I usually ask for just salt instead.

Stir Fried Anything-  whether you want fried rice, fried noodles, or some combination of veggies and/ or meat, they will automatically use soy/mushroom/oysters sauce unless you ask for something else.  If it comes out with a brown sauce, they might have used tamarind but probably didn't follow your instructions.
Fruit Smoothies- although I didn't drink them often, and when I did they weren't an issue, I read another blog that warned against smoothies because they might mix in some sort of wheat or barley powder in with the sugar.

Here is more good news: if you get tired of Lao food, almost every tourist town will have an Indian restaurant run by a family from Tamil Nadu that serves up curries, pakoras and dosas, all (most likely) safe for your consumption.

Although a food allergy creates a more challenging travel experience, I hope it doesn't hold you back from visiting.  With research, patience, and a lot of restaurant conversations traveling while celiac is entirely possible!

Are you looking for a tour holiday exploring south-east Asian country? Take a look through all our trips to find the one that blows your hair back. Look no further, you've found the right spot. This is where it's at for a  touring holiday in Asia with Activetravel Asia at: http://www.activetravellaos.com/tour.php?op=listByCategoryId&catId=9.

About Activetravel Asia(ATA): ATA is one of the Indochina's leading adventure travel companies. ATA offers a wide selection of Vietnam, Laos, Cambodia and Myanmar adventure tours, including hiking and trekking, biking, motorcycling, overland touring and family travel packages. ATA’s packages and tailor-made private itineraries will take you through exotic destinations to really experience the culture, history and nature of Asia.

Thursday, June 20, 2013

Luang Prabang Trekking - The great outdoor side of the ancient city

 By BARRY

Northern Laos is famous for its natural beauty: rolling green hills and mountains interspersed with rice fields and countless water buffalo. From the moment we arrived in South East Asia, a trekking adventure through the countryside and staying with a local tribe family was top of our list of things to do. Once we arrived in Luang Prabang, we knew this was the place to do it.

Luang prabang, Laos
 Luang Prabang sits at the intersection of two mighty rivers: the Mekong (which we sailed down for two days) and the Khan, providing the lifeblood to this quaint, french colonial town. Luang Prabang also nestles itself within a range of lush green hills and mountains, surrounding the town and its twin rivers.

 We had heard that there were villages and tribes in the mountains surrounding Luang Prabang, and we decided on a two day trek with an overnight stay with a local Khumu family. What followed were two of the hottest and sweatiest days we have experienced yet, with hours of ascending (and then descending) a mountain, fighting off wild horses and pot bellied pigs, and seeing some of the most incredible views of Northern Laos. The highlight of our trip so far was about to begin.


 After a hearty breakfast of banana pancake and fresh fruit, we packed a day bag loaded with high factor sunscreen & mosquito repellent and set off on our adventure. As it later transpired, we had our own personal guide ‘Cha’. We jumped into a boat, and sped up the river towards the beginning of our trek.


 The first part of the trek took us through pristine rice fields, where we spoke with local farmers as they harvested their crop. It was one of those jaw dropping moments, hundreds of rice paddies melting away into the distance as rolling hills and mountains filled the skyline. We stood and marvelled for only a few minutes, but we’ll never forget it. It was one of the best moments of our trip so far.

Rice field in Luang Prabang
After an hour or so we stopped at the first of three villages on our trek. It was a small village of 10 families, but with the school holidays in full swing, we were excitedly greeted by shouts of ‘falang falang’ by many curious children. They were far more curious of us than we were of them, and followed us round for the short time we were there. We were sad to leave them, even after a brief stay! 

Children in Luang Prabang
 The village was of basic construction as you may expect, but it had a calm and serene feeling as villagers went about their daily lives of planting and harvesting the rice crops. 

 After leaving our new friends behind, we walked for an hour through more rice paddies and jungle, arriving at another small village of 4 families and a beautiful lake for lunch. Afterwards, we would begin the assault on our everest. 

 And so came our attack on the summit. The backpack was tightened. All talking ceased, the fun was over for now. Upwards we went, sometimes quite literally as we clambered over boulders, under fallen trees and along precipices and ravines. Three hours later after the darkness of the jungle, we started to see the sun again, the vegetation began to clear, we reached the top and had our reward. 


We stood in awe at the miles of rolling green mountains and ravines. We would have sat and marvelled but the track we were walking along wasn’t wide enough even to perch on. After a few fleeting moments, our time to descend came. We were already tired from the ascent, but what followed was a further two hours of gruelling trekking, descending and ascending in blistering heat. On came the factor 50 cream, hats and long sleeves top to protect us from the intense sun. That day the thermostat peaked at 40 degrees, it was hot.

Trekking Luang Prabang
Two hours later we completed our descent, we’d made it! Our guide told us the village was on the other side of a field. In the UK that means perhaps 10 minutes or so across a well cultivated field. In Laos, it roughly translates as ‘an hour through 10 foot high jungle with only the faintest hints of a track to follow’. 

At this point the sweat was running down our faces and backs, reeds and plants were constantly hitting us in the face, arms and legs and we were almost out of water. We assume this was the point where Laura accumulated over 20 mosquito and bug bites on her legs (lesson learned to wear trousers next time!).

And then finally, a clearing, and civilisation. We could hear children playing in the distance, and as we got closer hear cries of falang falang drifted on the breeze. We had made it, and boy were we glad. 

 We were staying with a Khumu tribe for the evening. The village itself was home to about 400 people, and we were again blown away by it. Bamboo huts on stilts, dried dirt throughout the village, and an assortment of hens, chickens and pigs wandered around as the villagers went about their daily business.

The local families welcomed us with a nod and smile, with the children in particular intrigued by our pasty white skin and long noses (their words not ours!). Our mother for the evening made our dinner, and as usual with our experiences of homestays, she cooked up some of the best food we’ve had in Asia: Pumpkin soup, followed by cabbage and spinach stew and sticky rice. Delicious; we wolfed it down after our arduous journey. 

 Over the two days we visited three villages, all of which seemed authentic despite our concerns of over tourism. We saw no tourists on our trek and homestays, no one tried to sell us anything whilst there, and aside from children running around us shouting ‘Falang’! Falang’! (their term for tourist), we were left to our own devices. 

Almost all of the villagers were universal in their greeting to us…a smile and a ‘sabaidee’. Our impression was they didn’t mind us coming to stay for a night, and seemed more curious, intrigued and slightly amused by us. The village also receive a donation for our stay, ensuring they are compensated for our experience. 

We booked through ACTIVETRAVEL ASIA(ATA), who offers a wide selection of Laos adventure tours, including hiking and trekking, kayaking, biking, motorcycling, overland touring and family travel packages. ATA’s packages and custom itineraries will take you through exotic destinations to really experience the culture, history and nature of Laos. Outdoor enthusiasts will enjoy an unforgettable active vacation. And we’d happily recommend them!

Wednesday, June 12, 2013

Laos selected as World Best Tourist Destination for 2013

Laos has been selected by the European Council on Tourism and Trade (ECTT) as the World Best Tourist Destination for 2013.
Travel Laos
Minister of Information, Culture and Tourism Bosengkham Vongdara hosted a press conference on May 8 to announce the award, according to the Lao News Agency KPL.

The World Best Tourist Destination is the world’s highly privileged award, which is granted on an annual basis by the ECTT to only one country, the minister told the conference, adding that an official presentation ceremony will be held on May 9 in Vientiane Capital.

“This award is offered to a country that complies with the United Nations Tourism Division, UNESCO and the European Union Council on Tourism and Trade principles on fair tourism, ethical tourism and safety standards and the preservation of cultural, historic and natural tourist sites,” Bosengkham said.

Countries previously awarded with the title included Syria in 2007, Turkey in 2008, the United Arab Emirates in 2009 and 2011, the Republic of Korea in 2010 and the Republic of Trinidad and Tobago in 2012.

(Source: VNA)

Learn more about Laos package tours at: http://www.activetravellaos.com

ACTIVETRAVEL LAOS(ATL) is member of ACTIVETRAVEL ASIA offers a wide selection of Laos adventure tours, including hiking and trekking, kayaking, biking, motorcycling, overland touring and family travel packages. ATL's packages and custom itineraries will take you through exotic destinations to really experience the culture, history and nature of Laos. Outdoor enthusiasts will enjoy an unforgettable active vacation. ATL runs the most adventure tours available in Laos and Indochina

Sunday, June 9, 2013

5 Tips for Planning Southeast Asian Motorbike Tour

Many adventure travelers says there’s no better way to see a country than getting on a motorcycle and going on a tour.
Gettng on a motorcycle and going on a tour
There is a silence on a motorcycle, even amid the low rumble of the engine. The wind on your face and the new smells. A leisurely pace through the countryside and the ability to stop when the impulse strikes and see things on your own terms.

Driving conditions can be dangerous in many South East Asian countries, so there is certainly some risk involved, but traffic is much slower once you get out of the cities (although you do need to still watch for people passing carelessly on blind corners in your direction). At any rate, I personally find the rewards worth the risks; though, you’ll have to make your own decision in this department.

Whether in Vietnam or LaosCambodia…or anywhere else in the world, for that matter, getting on a bike opens up a whole new world of possibilities. Here are some tips for planning your own biking tour. 

1. Make sure you’re legit
Before you plan your trip, find out about the laws in that country. You might need to get a license for the specific country you’re in, or you may be able to get a permit for your stay. In other cases, the occasional fine paid to a policeman who stops you is enough.

2. Know how to ride
If you’ve never ridden a motorcycle before, take a safety course in your home country before you go, as standards are usually higher. Even seasoned riders learn a lot that is counter-intuitive when they take a rider safety training class. You’ll still need some actual riding experience, but if you start off your journey slow and give yourself some time to adjust, you’ll learn as you go and come out the other end a seasoned rider.

Motorbiking in Vietnam
3. Plan your trip
Planning a trip is usually not too difficult as you will be hard pressed to find a place where people have not gone before you. Get on the Internet and start your Googling. Think about the destinations you definitely want to see, and feel free to mix and match them a little bit to come up with a route that appeals to you.

You might want to do a loop so you can bring the motorcycle back to the place you rented from and fly out of the same city, but if not, you might be able to ship it across the country for a fair price. Do your research on shipping costs ahead of time or speak to the people at the shop to see if they have options for you (keeping in mind that some may not want to rent to you when they find out how far you’re going).

4. Rent a bike
The Internet is your friend once again because renting from just any shop you see is a good way to overpay, get a shitty bike, and possibly get ripped off in the process. So, find out which bike shops in your departure city are reputable, and then check out the bike thoroughly before signing anything. Make sure gears shift smoothly, test all the breaks, and experiment with all lights as well. Take note of all the big dents or scratches and include them on the contract so you have both confirmed which ones were already there.

Also, never leave your passport with the bike shop! If they won’t take a cash deposit and a copy of the passport, go somewhere else.

5. Take your time
Once you’re on your road tour, take your time. The more open your schedule, the more you get out of the experience. You can take detours on small one-land roads and cruise off through endless rice paddies or stay in a charming mountain town for a week or two—this is what motorcycle touring is really all about.

Just make sure you stay current on your visas, and if you have to hop on a visa run or stop by the embassy in a bigger city you pass through on the way, so be it.

Whoever said traveling was more about the journey than the destination was surely referring to motorbike tours; there is nothing like the pace of a bike down country roads on the other side of the world. The vivid jungle colors, the sunsets as you drive along lost tropical coasts, and the simple things you see along the way that you surely would have missed on a tourist bus.

And indeed, the destination is so much sweeter when you get there for all you’ve put into earning its rewards.
Dreaming of a South East Asian escape? Are you looking for that great motorcycle tour holiday in an exotic south-east Asian country? Take a look through all our trips to find the one that blows your hair back. Look no further, you've found the right spot. This is where it's at for a brilliant motorcycle touring holiday in Asia with ActiveTravel Asia at: http://www.activetravel.asia/different-side-of-siem-reap-and-homestay-t326.html

About Activetravel Asia(ATA): ATA is one of the Indochina's leading adventure travel companies. ATA offers a wide selection of Vietnam, Laos, Cambodia and Myanmar adventure tours, including hiking and trekking, biking, motorcycling, overland touring and family travel packages. ATA’s packages and tailor-made private itineraries will take you through exotic destinations to really experience the culture, history and nature of Asia.

Got any tips of your own? Leave them in the comments section below, or post them on Google Plus and Facebook.

Tuesday, June 4, 2013

Laos: A beauty spot to rival our own

Pure water, bears and elephants make the waterfalls of Laos well worth the trek, writes Yvonne van Dongen.

Bathers at Kuang Xi waterfalls near Luang Prabang, Laos.
Over the years I have learned to be sceptical about claims of outstanding natural beauty in foreign parts. I have been to the Lake District in England and heard the guide whisper, "Oh, but New Zealand lakes are so much more beautiful". I have travelled eight hot, bumpy hours in a van to get to a spectacular watering hole and tropical jungle spot in Guatemala only to find it was - well, okay. And I've gone barefoot on so-called pristine beaches in Asia with piles of rubbish behind me and scraps of floating plastic in the tepid water.

So when my friend suggested we visit the waterfalls not far from the World Heritage city of Luang Prabang in Laos, I greeted the idea with lukewarm enthusiasm. But eventually, after visiting every temple and every wat in the city, after walking the cobbled streets over and over and after becoming so familiar to the shopkeepers they were calling me by name, I gave in.

There are two major waterfall sites within an hour or so of Luang Prabang and each requires a day trip. They can both be reached by minivan or bicycle if you're particularly fit and don't mind becoming a waterfall of sweat yourself.
Kuang Si waterfall near Luang Prabang, Laos.
We opted for the Kuang Si waterfall first, because it's the largest and most well-known waterfall in Laos, and because it's also the closest, only 30km from the city.

The first thing we saw at Kuang Si was not a cascade of crashing water but the mournful shapes of caged black bears. They're probably pretty happy bears since they've been saved from the poacher's knife and live in a refuge at the foot of the waterfall.

It's their paws the poachers are after, essential ingredients for bear paw soup. So these are very lucky bears indeed, no doubt giving thanks daily to Perth woman Mary Hutton, who in 1993 was so moved by a television story about bears being milked for their bile that she began to campaign to free bears all around the world.

She's since established the world's largest sanctuary for Sun bears in Cambodia and been involved in numerous bear saving projects throughout Southeast Asia, including the refuge at Kuang Si.

There's a charge for walking to the waterfall but that's probably why the walk is so wide and well-groomed. It's not unlike entering a beautifully landscaped tropical resort with fluttering butterflies and preternaturally green and shiny foliage all seemingly polished to perfection.

Soon, we are passing the milky turquoise pools leading to the waterfall and before we see it, we can hear a crowd of young, fit thrill-seekers flinging themselves across the foaming water from a rope tethered to a tree. HQ for these folk is the tourist-oriented village of Vang Vieng where for not much money you can get stoned and go tubing down a frothy river and, when you're done, watch endless reruns of Friends on giant screens. For sheer mind-numbing boredom I couldn't think of anything worse. But it was fun to watch their bodies arc and fall as I lay on my back in the warm water.

Tad Sae water fall
Tad Sae's waterfalls, where we went next, do not attract the same crowd and getting there is slightly more complicated. There's a longer minivan journey followed by a boat trip across a fast-flowing river with such a strong current that the boat seems to glide across like a leaf and bump into the opposite bank purely by accident.

We were hauled out of the rocking vessel, scrambled up the muddy bank and the first thing we saw through the trees were - by golly - elephants. It seems waterfalls come with added extras in Laos.

Tad Sae offers elephant rides and a swim in the water, which looked like fun until the elephant tried to drown its rider, which then became a lot more fun for everyone else. It's awful how much you can laugh at someone else's misery.

There are also displays of old implements such as rice crushers and a water wheel. But really Tad Sae doesn't have to try so hard. It is truly spectacular. Gentle tiers of blue-green water rolled toward us and in the middle of the water, clumps of saplings and trees rise up through the dappled light. There are dragonflies everywhere. Up one gnarly big tree is a tree house. Here, there is a wooden board, walk over the water and you find a seating area.

The water is soft and dreamy and an ideal spot to imagine future trips with friends and family who will thank us profusely for luring them to this magical spot.

Even New Zealanders - who generally do have the corner on natural beauty - will be awed. I was.

CHECKLIST

Getting there: Fly to Vientiane and then either fly to Luang Prabang (expensive) or take a bus (12 long but tolerable hours). Any tuktuk or minivan will take you to the waterfalls for about US$6.
Where to stay: Guesthouses are plentiful but, increasingly, so are guests. Luang Prabang has been cited as one of the hot destinations of 2012. Prices are climbing accordingly. 
When to go: October and November are relatively dry and cool.
How to take a trip: You can choose the local agencies, who understand deeply destination you came. I recommend you an agency I know: ACTIVETRAVEL LAOS.

Contact Details:

ACTIVETRAVEL LAOS (ATL) is member of ACTIVETRAVEL ASIA offers a wide selection of Laos adventure tours, including hiking and trekking, kayaking, biking, motorcycling and family travel packages. Our packages and custom itineraries will take you through exotic destinations to really experience the culture, history and nature of Laos.

Address: Level 2, No 17/167, Tay Son Street, Dong Da district, Hanoi, Vietnam
Website: http://www.activetravel.asia/
Tel: +84-43-633-9576
Email address: info@activetravel.asia

Thursday, May 30, 2013

Real jungle trek and culture experience in Luang Nam Tha, Laos

In Luang Nam Tha, the premium ecotourism destination in Laos, the Mekong and even Southeast Asia, you can choose from gentle day trips to strenuous hiking and rafting in an area known for its ethnic diversity.

What to experience ?
With its incredible diversity of tribal peoples, forested mountain ranges and wild, scenic rivers Luang Namtha with the Nam Ha National Protected Area is a must see for anyone in search of a bit of adventure, spectacular landscapes, dense forests, and people; more than 20 different ethnic groups (Akha, Lanten, Kamu, Hmong, Tai Leu, etc.) live in the surrounding area, many only accessible by walking trails and seldom visited.

Ethnic groups in Luang Nam Tha

You have a wide range of trips from gentle day walks or bike trips through the villages and rice paddies of Luang Namtha valley to four-day trekking and rafting adventures: Trek Nam Ha Forest Camps(3-day), Trek Ban Nam Lai Village (2 day), Trek Nam Ha (7day), Trek Old China Road (2day)…
Challenging Trek Nam Ha, Luang Namtha

On your way, you will be hosted by the Akha, Lanten, Khmu, Leu and may become an actor of their daily life by taking part in activities such as animal feeding, rice planting, cotton spinning, etc. Boating along the Nam Tha River is also a great opportunity to be immersed in the fishermen’s way of life.

How does it help ?
Lao ecotourism was first started there as a UNESCO project in the Nam Ha Protected Area, then supported by several organisations among which ADB, as well as the private sector. All of the tours operated are designed to ensure local communities and service providers are involved and benefit as much as possible to create an incentive to stop hunting, poaching and deforestation.

Support by local guide 

The locally run Eco Guides Services provide pre-departure orientations to their guests on safety, what to expect and how to behave in a culturally sensitive way when they visit villages. Additionally, all visitors to the Nam Ha Protected Area are required to purchase an entry permit which goes toward the management of the park. The use of trained guides, policies for minimizing waste and carrying out rubbish, and limits on group size all help to minimize environmental and cultural impacts.

The project has become a worldwide known case study; studies have shown that for a typical two- to three-day trek approximately 30% of your total payment for the tour stays with the villages while 25% goes to local drivers and guides. Your tour will spread the benefits of tourism to remote communities and encourage biodiversity conservation.

Contact Details

ACTIVETRAVEL LAOS (ATL) is member of ACTIVETRAVEL ASIA offers a wide selection of Laos adventure tours, including hiking and trekking, kayaking, biking, motorcycling and family travel packages. Our packages and custom itineraries will take you through exotic destinations to really experience the culture, history and nature of Laos

Address: Floor 12th, Building 45 Nguyen Son St., Long Bien Dist, Hanoi, Vietnam
Website: http://www.activetravellaos.com
Tel: +84 4 3573 8569
Fax: +84 4 3573 8570
Email address: info@activetravel.asia