Laos is a country covered by 70% unmanaged forest, only second to Cambodia by land mass comparison. So much nature is left untouched and a beauty to behold.
In the North, Luang Namtha is a city centre very well-known for its Eco-tourism, amongst the best in the world. There’s an effort to ensure tourism related activities, such as hiking, kayaking and visits to traditional villages respect the local inhabitants and give back most of the tour costs to the community for sustainability and development.
I was invited to stay in a village with a local family, 86km from Luang Namtha. The village district called Nalae, is at the end of a very long, winding unsealed road. It can take up to four hours to reach the village by conventional mini-van, likely faster by four-wheel drive.
The river plunged into the valley below,
across the gauntlet of hundreds of hydra.
As with any journey, looking out the window can be a gift, lending itself to the natural wonders of untouched nature. I might begin by describing my experience as something straight out of a fantasy novel, a mysterious and magical experience.
Following the winding flow of the Namtha River, the unsealed road hugs the mountainside, rising and falling with the red clay earth outstanding against the scenery of green. To the left, sheer mountain faces surge up into the air. To the right, the river plunged into the valley below, across the gauntlet of hundreds of hydra.
Hydra, hardly relatable to anything Laotian, is the only way to describe the green overgrowth covering the mountains. Bamboo forests cover the mountain face and they bend like the necks of hydra hungry for prey. You know the steepness of the mountain by the ferocity and anger displayed by the hundreds of hydra heads. The more ferocious, the more steep.
As the road turns, so do the mountains on the opposing side, giving the effect of running through a gauntlet and being chased by the hungry mythological creatures. Low lying clouds and wispy rising fog add to a scene of fantasy.
It’s an amazing sight, if I lived in the village, this would be the story I tell the children.
As much bamboo as there is in this area, you can see how important it is to village life. It is a source of both food and of raw materials used for construction. Of course, only the young bamboo shoots can be eaten, but you’d be pleasantly surprised to find it the hero of most meals – breakfast, lunch and dinner.
These days, concrete and steel is used to construct houses, for those who can afford it, but you will see the traditional bamboo huts remain standing, rooves thatched with banana leaves.
The roadside is just as magical, long and reaching tendrils creep from the undergrowth of the forest floor. Imagine them as arms and hands reaching out for salvation, an eerie yet astonishing vision.