Our first stop in Laos was Luang Namtha, a small town in the identically named northern province. The town is synonymous with eco and ethnic trekking, so you can find many companies providing guided tours, day treks or multiple days in the jungle. Since it was our first jungle trek we opted for the ‘moderate’ 2 day jungle trek and ethnic experience.
The next day we met our guide, a friendly young man named Deng. He would turnout to be one of the best parts of our trekking experience. Before we started our 2 days in the jungle we needed to make a stop at the local market where we bought some basics for our lunch and supper. Ethnic minority villagers from the hills around Luang Namtha sell some of their produce here. A great place to discover local specialities.
After a beautiful and fast pasted morning through lush jungle, across cold streams and along massive rose wood trees we stopped for lunch. And what a lunch it was. Deng and our local guide first got a fire started, then he showed us how to clean the pork we bought at the market in the stream next to our camp, after properly cleaning, filleting and salting the meat we made skewers out of fresh bamboo, had a sip of Lao Lao out of bamboo shot glasses and sat down at our banana leaf table. We’re not a huge fan of pork meat in Belgium, but this was surely something different. The taste of the meat was fantastic. Off course there was also a bunch of sticky rice and some smaller dishes the ladies of the market prepared, a spicy dip sauce, grilled small river fish, bamboo-shoot noodle salad and some roasted chili peppers. The Lao Lao was passed again… And again. So the meal ended with bamboo fireworks, putting fresh bamboo on the fire until it explodes. We were looking forward to our evening already!
We arrived in the village feeling tired and hungry. We played some football with the local kids, but then it was time to start cooking again. The traditional village houses all have ‘a kitchen’. A room with two wood fires, a closet to keep things warm and a big basket of sticky rice prepared in the morning and eaten with every meal, and to feed the dogs with.
Being the good house guests we are we helped out with the dinner preparations. Cleaning the tofu, dicing left over pork and chopping up the ferns we collected during our hike taking great care not to cut ourselves with the big machete like knife. Once the giant stir fry pan was hot enough we added oil, garlic and chilli, let it simmer for a minute, afterwards adding the pork and fern. A few minutes of stirring and the dish was ready. A very simple dish but packed with flavor. Once out of the pan it went strait into a cupboard to keep it warm. The tofu was fried and served separately.
Our hostess set the round metal table, we washed our hands and waited for the host to join us. The hosts wife and children didn’t join us, which is common practice when having guests. Once our host started we knew it was ok to dig in, we ate with our hands. Taking a bit of sticky rice, rolling it into a ball and dipping it into the other dishes. Once everybody finished their meal the Lao Lao got passed around until we finished the bottle. We went to bed early. Our night was quite cold and noisy, but hey thats all part of the experience.
“At last our caffeine fix.”
We woke up early, craving coffee and a shower. Still a bit sleepy we walked into the kitchen to find the cat eating a rat right next to the table, oh the joys of village life. After avoiding some not so friendly dogs on the way to the “bathroom” we started breakfast. This was surprisingly a bit western: an omelette with tomatoes, chili and spring onion served with rise and the Lao favourite M150 (a kind of redbull). At last our caffeine fix.
Most of the family had already started their day so we packed up, thanked our hosts made a quick tour through the village and headed towards our pick up point. While trekking Deng collected some ferns and herbs for our lunch. This lunch was the absolute best part of the trip. A banana flower, fern and pork soup prepared in an on the spot made bamboo pot. Deng even made the bowl, our spoons and cups. We took our time enjoying this treat. Such a wholesome soup, the cold night was completely forgotten.
At the end of our trek we came across some locals that had caught some bamboo rats, they where trying to sell them at the side of the road. Our guide explained that these animals are a favorite of many Lao. The blood is used for making sausages and the meat is said to be very tasty and comforting. We didn’t get a chance to try this during the rest of our stay, and to be honest I’m not sure we would have. Would you?
Lore and Wannes.