Nam Ha – Muang Sing
One of the most interesting places of Laos is the Nam Ha National Protected Area in the northern province of Luang Namtha. It stretches from the Chinese border through the middle of Namtha province, covering over 2.224 kilometres square and about 24% of the province. In 2003 the Nam Ha National Protected Area was designated as an ASEAN Heritage Site, the only one in Laos. Nam Ha is contiguous with the Shiang Yong Protected Area in the Chinese region of Yunnan. It is populated with ethnic minority groups including Tai Lue, Tai Dam, Khamu, Akha, Lantaen, Lahu, Yao and Hmong, and well known for a range of ecotourism activities.
As arranged the day before with a local guide, we leave our guesthouse in Muang Sing around 9 a.m, ready to trek through this uncontaminated area. After driving 20 Km by car, we arrive at the beginning of the trek. The first part of the trail is a steep slope that lasts about 30 minutes. Step by step we climb up in the middle of the forest, where the vegetation is lush, surrounded by high trees. Then the soil becomes fairly flat and moves inside a jungle with dense vegetation, with bananas, gum trees and other plants. Along our walk, we also see many rice paddies and pure “dry” rice crops, fed just by rainwater. Around 1 pm, after 4 hours trekking, a cool surprise! Our guide takes out from the backpack the lunch for us: sticky rice, chicken meat and vegetables laid on a large banana leaf. After this pleasant rest, once out of the forest, we start to see the fist Yao people village. Here it’s all very basic, wooden huts, cattle and poultry along the road, some cart drawing by cows and donkeys and many little children happy to see new faces.
Here there is no mass tourism yet, so the locals haven’t got used to meet foreigners so often. For this reason, it’s worth enjoying some days visiting this protected area. In the evening we get to the Yao village where we will spend the night. After leaving the backpack in a hut, prepared with mattresses and blankets, we walk and relax in the village, watching how the people deal with everyday life in this isolated place. The dinner time is coming, we take a seat around a small table to eat a traditional rice and noodles dish, seasoned with meat and vegetables. Before going to sleep, while we are talking around the fire, some Yao young girls offer us a show of traditional dance and music wearing the local costumes, with local music.
It’s early morning, still dark around us and we wake up at the cockcrow. After a cup of tea and some fruit, we pack the backpacks, ready to start our excursion. Walking on completely flat ground, we reach the first Akha people village: it is an animistic-worship village, as we can see from the fetishes placed at the entrance wooden gate and from the absence of other religious buildings. The environment is poor, big wooden huts, pigs, poultry, some old motorcycles, but, as always, the kids are happy to see us. Here the adults are few: most of them are at work in the fields or with the cattle. The next small village is populated by the ethnic Buddhist group “Thai Lue”. Here the appearance is of more well being, brick houses, a lot of cattle, nice courtyards, many means of transport and a quite big temple with the statue of Buddha.
Here we end our interesting trip through this little-known area, ready to go on with the trip in this fascinating country.
Nam Ha protected area: you can’t go yourself through this area, but you need to arrange the visit with a local guide or a tour operator. Here you find the official NPA website where you can discover the area, choose and book different trip options or just ask information.
How to get there: the easiest way to get here is to flight to Luang Namtha, then you get to Muang Sing by bus. You can also take the local transports from Luang Prabang or other cities. You can buy the bus ticket asking a local agency or going straight to the bus station office.
- http://www.laoairlines.com/ (flights)
- http://www.tourismlaos.org/show_province.php?Cont_ID=85 (bus and flights timetable )
- http://www.luangnamtha-tourism-laos.org/ (general info about Luang Namtha area)
- http://www.luangprabang-tourism-laos.org/luangprabang/Planing_your_trip/by_bus.html (Luang Prabang info and bus timetable)