Trekking is the primary reason that most travel to Luang Namtha. The province contains the Nam Ha National Protected Area (NPA), 2,224 square kilometres of mountainous mixed deciduous forest with three large rivers that drain to the Mekong, remote ethnic minority villages and endangered wildlife such as clouded leopards, gaur and Asian elephants.
Eco-tourism first emerged and grew in Luang Nam Tha supported by several international NGOs, but presently eco-tourism here is in flux and unstable. Restrictions on trekking companies loosened in the last year resulting in many new operators. Their shops line the street and all seemingly offer the same one- to three-night treks. We’re doubtful about how much training and experience these companies have.
On the surface, the programmes are hard to differentiate so it’s important to do your research and also have realistic expectations. Some programmes are a “jungle experience” – hiking and sleeping in the jungle with no local interaction – while others emphasise village homestays and ethnic tribes. If you have visions of getting way off-the-beaten-jungle-track, a one-night trek will not suffice; it’ll take time and money and in general, you get what you pay for. Going too cheap will have results to match.
Operators advertise upcoming departures that people have already signed up for and in high season, you are almost guaranteed to have others join your tour the night before which will lower the price per person. Every company has exclusive rights to certain routes and villages as the tourism department is trying to spread the wealth while minimising impact. This means you should never meet another group on a trail or at a village from a different tour company.
All treks are physically demanding and on hot days you will need at least one litre of water per person and for some people two litres. If the tour company provides water, take more and bring your own snacks for the trail. The jungle in rainy season has its tough challenges but also rewards: beautiful scenery, big water for rafting and the best chance of wildlife spotting. Some of the usual treks however are not on offer during this time.