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



Wednesday, May 15, 2013

Cycling through the Countryside in Vang Vieng, Laos

By Dean Wickham

Vang Vieng in Laos is one of those places that you hear mixed reviews about. Some people have the time of their lives while others can’t wait to get out of there. The general apprehension is that if you’re a twenty year old backpacker wanting to get drunk and go tubing down a river, you’ll love it. If you fit into any other category, you’ll hate the place. I wanted to find out for myself.

I decided to head across the river and make my way to Poukham cave, which I had heard was interesting to explore and had a nice swimming hole nearby. I hadn’t ridden a bike for quite some time but I soon got the hang of it again.

Biking in Vang Vieng, Laos
Riding down the dirt, potholed road I soon entered the surrounding countryside, dominated by beautiful green rice fields that stretch across the flat areas of land between the huge limestone karsts that rise up above them. Farmers tended to their fields while chickens scratched in the dirt and cows grazed on the side of the road. I stopped often to take photos and just enjoy the stunning scenery.

A small village and limestone karsts in Vang Vieng
As I continued along the road I passed through several small villages, with their basic bamboo houses sitting amongst bunches of banana trees and little vegetable gardens. It was a Sunday and all of the local kids were out playing, riding their bikes, swimming in streams and chasing dogs and chickens. Women bathed and did their laundry in the small fresh water streams that came down from the mountains, while other people went about their daily chores, chopping wood and preparing food.
Friendly Local women in Laos
I decided to stop in at a small swimming hole, as I had built up quite a sweat from the bike ride. Some local kids ran beside me as I made my way down to the stream, and soon joined me for a swim in the lovely cool water. They couldn’t speak a word of English but a simple “Sabai dee” was enough to get a smile out of them. As I rode away they ran beside me to show me how fast they could run, and then waved goodbye with a big smile on their faces.

I was fascinated by the peacefulness of the typical life in the Laotian countryside. It was so good to be having a true local experience, away from the hordes of tourists that can take away that something special from a certain place. This was a place where I could be on my own, and truly see what life is about in this amazing country. Here, life is simple, people have very little and yet they are so happy. Here kids don’t need video games and brand named clothes to be happy. All they seem to need is their imagination.

Children 
When I got to the entrance of Poukham cave I paid the 10,000 kip ($1.20) entrance fee and crossed the bridge where I parked my bike, before climbing up the steep path and exploring the large, dark cave on my own, an adventure in itself. By this time the heat and humidity of the tropical climate had me drenched in sweat, and I was ready to cool off in the Blue Lagoon, located near the cave where I had parked my bike. The cool fresh water was a lovely blue colour, coming from a small mountain stream, with schools of fresh water fish swimming against the current. Some locals were also enjoying a swim in their local swimming hole, floating around on tyre tubes and enjoying the rope swing, while I just floated in the cool clear water, relaxed and enjoying the natural scenery.

Swimming hole in Vang Vieng
I was cooled off I began to make my way back to Vang Vieng, stopping for some lunch at a little local restaurant in one of the villages.

I had passed only a handful of other tourists throughout the day in the local area, and overall it was an extremely peaceful and rewarding experience. It goes to show, you need to explore a place on your own to really experience what the place has to offer. As I found out about Vang Vieng, there is always more to a place than what you may hear or read. For me, this type of experience is exactly what travel is all about. You can learn so much about life from the local people, even without any words being exchanged. From that moment on I would seek out these kinds of experiences everywhere that I travelled.

Finally I can really recommend making a bike tour in Vang Vieng. You can not only experience and explore the great outdoors of Laos but also get in contact with the local people and involve yourself in the Lao culture. Truly, a bike tour in Laos makes any visit a true adventure.

Biking tour in Laos
If you wish to set up your personal bike adventure in Laos, please contact us for further information:
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 in Laos and Indochina.

Wednesday, May 8, 2013

Trekking in the hidden land of Phongsali, Laos

Traveling in Asian cities is an undeniable thrill. The food, the nightlife, the chaos and the people make wandering through Asia’s big cities like Hanoi and Bangkok an endless maze of discovery. But, for many of us, experiencing the true soul of a country means getting out of the cities and getting into the more rural places.

Especially for countries like Thailand and Laos, which house vast hills and deep jungles, experiencing these places means further understanding the country. A fun and exhilarating way to experience the hills, jungles and forests of Asia is to trek through them. Being able to communicate with other locals through an interpreter makes the experience all the richer.

Scenery Phongsali, Laos
Communicate with locals
One of the main starting points for a trek Northern Laos is the city of Phongsali. Phongsali is a tiny town nestled high in the hills near the Chinese border. The town has a distinctly sleepy vibe: there are few cars or motorbikes, dogs wander around the streets and the few restaurants in the town close around 9 pm (a warning to late-night snackers!) The town, due to its proximity to China, is home to many Chinese settlers who came to Northern Laos to start businesses. Chinese snacks and beer have an equal representation to Laos foods in the restaurants.

There aren’t many things to do in Phongsali. The town’s main tourist draw is trekking and the opportunity to visit hill tribes about 50 kilometres away near the town of Boun Neua.

Valley of cloud near Phongsali
The view from Phou Fa of Phongsali.

A top spot to watch the sun set and a fantastic spot at any time of day to see Phongsali from above is the mountain just to the east of the town called Phou Fa. This road leads to a set of stairs through a dense forest, which pop out at a stupa overlooking some majestic scenery. From here the views stretch on forever with mist-shrouded hills and valleys on all sides. The view of Phongsali town is great too and you’ll get a good feel for its size. 

Getting to Phongsali:


Road to Phongsali

Getting to Phongsali is not easy and is not for the faint of heart or the weak of stomach. The journey entails a 9 hour+ bus ride from Oudomxai, a busting and slightly-mediocre Chinese trading town. The local bus station is close by most of the guesthouses, so catching transport North is easy and cheap. Be aware that if there aren’t enough passengers who buy a ticket, the bus company will simply cancel the route until the next day. This means you should be ready to spend a day or two in Oudomxai.

The bus ride from Oudomxai takes a full day, with several stops included for restroom breaks and food. The road is mostly un-paved, which makes for a very bumpy ride. The roads are very windy, but the scenery is spectacular. The road passes by dozens of tiny traditional Laos villages dotted with small thatched-roof huts. The rest stops are quick, but the small vendors are equipped to satisfy hungry travelers. Most sell packets of sticky rice (white and black), grilled meat (anything from chicken to rat) and soft drinks.
Once you arrive in Phongsali, you’ll need to take a motorbike taxi into town, or else walk with your bags for about 30 minutes.

Arranging the Trek: 
Trekking 



There aren’t many tour agencies (maybe one or two) in town, so you should arrange a trekking tour before you depart. Hiring a trekking guide is highly recommended for treks in this area.

Trekking solo in this region would be extremely difficult and is only recommended for highly experienced trekkers and mountaineers. The trails are often not clear because of the light foot-traffic and getting lost in Northern Laos would be easy, and would likely have disastrous results.





Boat from Hadsa to Muang Khua.
Most need to be accessed by a boat, which is difficult to figure out without a guide. The guides know the best starting and stopping points for the boat and can arrange for a boat to pick you up and take you back to town after the trek is over.








*Travel Tip:  Treks can be arranged through the ACTIVETRAVEL ASIA offering a wide selection of Vietnam, Laos, Cambodia adventure tours, including hiking and trekking, biking, motorcycling located in Vietnam. The treks are from about 5-7 days adventures through the hills of the province and due to Phongsali being out of the way and difficult to get to.  If you’re into trekking and want to interact with ethnic minorities without loads of other tourists, it is definitely worth going to Phongsali.

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

Wednesday, May 1, 2013

Some tips when trekking in Luang Prabang, Laos


Visiting Luang Prabang in Laos wouldn't be complete without a tour to the countryside.

There are waterfalls, biking trails and elephant shelters a few hours away from town but if you have no interest in such things, I'd recommend paying a visit to some nearby hill tribe villages.

The views are spectacular on a half-day mountain trek in Nong Khiaw, in the Luang Prabang province of northern Laos.
Three major tribes live in the hills surrounding Luang Prabang. The Hmong are descendants of the Mongolians and are able to withstand the cold, so they live in the higher hills. The Khmu on the other hand live in the mid-levels while the Lao live in the lowest levels. 
House in Hmong Village, Laos
Not only will a trek be a nice change from Luang Prabang, it'll also allow you to learn more about this fascinating country and its people. 

Dos and Don'ts:
1. Before you go on this hike, do seek out a nonprofit organisation based in Luang Prabang. Many Laos children have never seen a book and if they have seen one, it'll probably be a schoolbook. If you'd like to donate these books to the village children, buy a few and bring them on the hike. Remember though that the books are in English and Lao, so they might not be of much use to Hmong or Khmu children, who speak completely different languages.

Donate books for children
2. The villagers are extremely gracious and friendly, but don't take advantage of their kindness. As with all village folk, seek their permission if you'd like to take photographs of them. I didn't have to ask for permission from the children, though- kids all over the world love a camera.

Friendly Khmu women Laos 

3 Don't leave your litter behind; take it with you.
4. Do have fun and breathe in the fresh air! Enjoy the scenery- the Lao countryside is lush and beautiful.

What to bring:
Luang Prabang is in north Laos, which can get chilly if you visit during winter (December-March), more so if you venture into the highlands. If you visit Luang Prabang during that time, bring a light jacket which you can slip on when necessary and take off when you reach the low levels. 

The trek isn't very demanding but I would suggest proper footwear (either walking shoes or a good pair of sandals) and not flip-flops or slippers. The ground could be slippery. 

Tour companies:
There are lots of companies along the main street in Luang Prabang, but I recommend an adventure travel  company I knew, ACTIVETRAVEL LAOS. The guides were helpful, pleasant and well-informed. 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. Their packages and custom itineraries will take you through exotic destinations to really experience the culture, history and nature of Laos. 

 Whichever tour you choose, have fun!