When you talk about Luang Namtha, chances are you’ll find most of the activities pointing to trekking and kayaking around Nam Ha National Biodiversity Conservation Area. It’s no wonder, as Nam Ha jungle is right by Luang Namtha.
Luang Namtha is often the base for hikers and cyclists, or a pitstop for backpackers passing through from Chiang Mai, Thailand, and Myanmar.
- Hiking at Nam Ha National Biodiversity Conservation Area, Luang Namtha, Laos
When to hike in Luang Namtha, Laos?
High season occurs from October to March as it coincides with low temperatures and no rain. The best months are November and December, promising the best conditions for hiking.
Low season occurs from April to June, where temperatures are high. This results in the abundance of flies. July to September is another period to avoid as it’s Laos’ rainy season. This means there might be a chance you will encounter leeches.
I went in March and the weather had been really pleasant to us.
Hiking at Nam Ha National Biodiversity Conservation Area, Luang Namtha, Laos
Na Lan, a village within the National Biodiversity Conservation Area, has some of the best activities for trekking and kayaking within the Nam Ha National Biodiversity Conservation Area. You can choose anything from a day trek to multi-day treks to explore the Khmu culture and assimilate into local living.
We first picked up our trekking guide from Nam Ha Tourism Information Centre, a tourist information centre where you can collect information and enquire about trekking, cycling or things to do in the area. This is usually also the meeting point where you will meet your local guides who will accompany you throughout the hike.
It is worth noting that trekking and kayaking in Nam Ha National Biodiversity Conservation Area cannot be done unguided. All activities done within the park must be accompanied by licensed local guides. More information on the costs and group size below!
We then transferred from our minivan to an open-air tuk tuk to the starting point of the trek, at Ta Sae village. This journey took about 45 minutes through sandy Laos roads and the chill, dewy air.
And so, at 9:30am, we embarked on one of the most popular trekking location in Laos.
Nam Ha National Biodiversity Conservation Area was established in 1993. Spanning 222,400 hectares, we passed various plantations and the guides introduced us to different varieties of plants which include cardamom, banana plantations and bamboo plantations.
The park is under the care of Ta Sae villagers, hence any trekkers wanting to trek in the park will have to pay a park fee of 5,000 kip (USD 0.60) to them for the maintenance of trail. It costs another 60,000 kip (USD 7) per person for a local guide (who most likely doesn’t speak English), or 160,000 kip (USD 18.50) per person if you hire a guide from a tour agent who speaks English. The guides will take you through unmarked trails, clearing the pathway for you and introduce you to the local plant varieties.
Group sizes are about 8 to 10 per group during low season.
With over 20 trails at Nam Ha National Biodiversity Conservation Area, your trek can range anywhere from a day trek to 4-day treks.
Depending on the route you take, along the way, you get to meet ethnic minorities such as the Khmu, Lanten, Akha and Lao Huea communities.
By 11:30am, we reached a clearing and a campfire site, which will be our lunch spot. The clearing was right beside what appeared like roots extending from above a tree, and you could literally go through it. I wondered what it would be like playing hide and seek around the tree.
The guides (an English-speaking one and 2 local guides) got on with work right away chopping firewood, cleaning the hollow of bamboo shoots for putting soup and collected banana leaves to be used as food placemats using the knives they brought along with them, while we sought our well-needed rest.
Because all our meat were cooked through thick bamboo over a campfire, it took awhile for our food to be cooked. In the meantime, our guides taught us the way to fold a leaf to make our own spoon for scooping soup.
It was also here that I learned about a commonly eaten edible shoot called rattan, which will soon become a familiar sight throughout my trip in Luang Prabang. Young rattan shoots are often eaten by the Laos. The older shoots are used as building materials for making roofs, furniture and rattan balls for playing sepak tekraw!
After our hearty lunch, we set off at 1:30pm.
Passing through uneven terrains up and down with my bung knee (I tore my ACL skiing in Japan 3 months before), I fought to keep pace with the group while in my knee braces. That said, I wouldn’t say the trail we were on were too challenging; they are definitely doable for beginners who’ve not done any hiking training. Also, there were plenty of rest spots en route.
After a good 2.5 hours later, we finally caught sight of civilisation. Arriving at Nam Ha village, our homestay for the night, there concludes our 6-hour hike.
Nam Ha village homestay
Nam Ha village is dominated by the Khmu people (an ethnic minority in Luang Namtha). With a small community of 53 families and 208 villagers that make up the village, there are 12 homestay and 1 eco lodge available for passing tourists to stay and experience the local life.
What makes doing a homestay here so unique is how you are transported to the primitive times before electricity and gadgets came about. It’s all about living harmoniously with nature, and being part of an ecosystem.
They live without electricity and power lines, relying mostly on the natural environment to get by. Villagers, I notice, get by their days sawing wood for building houses, playing speak takraw with a rattan ball, and sitting around chatting. Chickens would roam the village grounds with their convoy of chicks, while the elderly spend easy days smoking and drinking.
Apart from primal living, we’ve experienced really warm hospitality by the villagers. While there was a language barrier between the villagers and us (therefore an English-speaking guide is essential!), they’ve showed their hospitality through other ways – cooking a spread for us at dinner and a post-dinner performance by the village children.
Knowing that they live on little was what made the dinner even more precious and heartwarming – the food they served us could probably last them for days.
Because life in the village is so simple, they take pride in these dances for visitors like us, and make it as comfortable as possible for us within their limited means. This includes fastening a pole to attach a light bulb just so we are better able to view and enjoy the performances.
Perhaps that was why I got emotional watching the performances that it brought tears to my eyes.
Before starting the performance, every one of them would go round to the guests of the village and shake their hands as a sign of welcome, a really heartening gesture. There was a particular performance – it was a simple traditional Khmu dance by a group of 12 little girls and 2 boys that can’t be older than 6, and they were so adorable wearing the Khmu costumes while engaging in their dances!
Other activities that we did in the village were dressing up in their Khmu costumes for photo taking, playing with the crossbows that they use for hunting, and watching how the old village grannies pound rice to remove the husks. Pounding rice was harder than they made it look – you have to give it a try to really appreciate what these women do!
How much does it cost to do a homestay at Nam Ha village
20,000 kip per person per night. This converts to USD 2.50. YES YOU READ THAT RIGHT.
I highly recommend you experience this for yourself. Get acquainted with the stray dogs. Go on a chicken hunt. Splash in the waters of the Nam Ha river. Play with the children who’s mostly shy towards foreigners.
How to get to Nam Ha village
You can either kayak, mountain bike or trek to the village, all of which have to be done with a guide.
Kayaking down Nam Ha river
Situated by the Nam Ha river, the river is an important source of life for the villagers. Most of their washing are done in the river – including showering and cleaning animals used for cooking. Nam Ha village is also a convenient starting point for kayaking downstream on the Nam Ha river, which is exactly what we did on the next morning!
Kayaking on the Nam Ha river is a must-do for anyone visiting the Nam Ha National Biodiversity Conservation Area. Pass through lush forests, birdlife and make pit stops to remote ethnic villages.
There are options to either do a 2-day kayak or a 1 day trek, 1 day kayak program.
We started at 11am, stopping along the way to visit other remote ethnic villages. Some of the villages we stopped to visit were Na Lan Nuea (North), Na Lan Tai (South), Nam Koy and Lan Than, some of which had a population of 100 at most.
Along the way, our entertaining kayak guides stopped to catch water snakes, pick edible fruits and folded twigs to form crowns and rings to impress us girls.
The kayaking wasn’t as tough as I’d expected. The guides practically did all the work; poor guys who took a toll on their backs rowing us the whole way!
Lunch on the river bank was a simple affair. The guides miraculously found banana leaves (again) to be used as table placemats on the ground. They then displayed food on it and served us chunks of sticky rice, and there it was – a buffet spread! It felt especially tasty considering how we’d been on the waters for what felt like a long time.
We also saw little children fishing and water buffalos grazing along the way.
We also saw little children fishing and water buffalos grazing along the way.
We completed the kayak after a grand total of 5 hours, passing through mini rapids along the way, finally arriving at Houyleud village. Nothing felt better than feasting at Luang Namtha’s night market!
Read other useful posts about Laos!
Special thanks to Luang Namtha Tourism for this experience! All opinions remain my own.
19 – 20 March 2019, Tue – Wed