Trek to the Sida and Lenten tribes

Luang Nam Tha

Luang Nam Tha is a mountainous province which is home to 39 different ethnic minorities. It is also home to the Nam Ha National protected area (NPA), a 2224sq.km area of dense evergreen and semi-evergreen submontane forests, which is home to many species of animals and birds. 22% of the province’s population are Buddhists, with the majority of the population practising various forms of ancestor and spirit worship. Luang Nam Tha itself is a major trading centre for commerce between China, Thailand and Laos.

Here in Luang Nam Tha i had to settle for another one day trek as yet again there was a shortage of people signed up for a 2 or 3 day excursion. The trek on offer was to the Sida tribe, the same one Joy undertook a few days beforehand, and which she had thoroughly enjoyed.

Today got off to a bit of a bad start : i arrived at the Green Discovery office to pay the remaining balance on my trek and the price had gone up overnight from $18 to $24. Obviously i disputed the difference, and was informed that $18 is the price if there are 4 or more people participating and there are only 3. I pointed out that i wasn’t disputing whether or not $24 was the correct price, but that the price i was quoted was $18 and i should not have to pay for the salesperson’s mistake in quoting the wrong price to me. Maybe it’s years of working in sales and customer service that makes me more intolerable to bad customer service, but as a salesperson, you cannot quote a price to someone, make a sale based on that price and then put the price up and expect your customer to be happy with it! I even offered to meet the guy half way and pay $21 (which is what he should have done for me at the very least) but he wouldn’t budge. I had to pay an extra $6 or lose $10 (which was the deposit i’d paid). So reluctantly i paid the extra.

The other 2 people on my trek were a young couple, Andy and Kylie from Sunderland (just in the UK!), who’d been travelling since December the 2nd and had already passed through Malaysia, thailand, Cambodia, Vietnam, and China before arriving in Laos. After travelling Asia, they’re off to Australia on a 12 month working visa, and this is all part of a ‘career break’ with Barclays Bank! The lucky b*****ds are still getting paid bonuses and they left their jobs in October!

There was a lot more walking involved in today’s trek, the majority through a jungle environment, with the cover of a variety of lush green plants and trees. We crossed several streams, one of which i managed to fall into when i lost my footing on the makeshift bridge! After about 3 hours of moderately tough walking, we stopped for lunch by the side of a small pathway leading to the Sida village which we would visit afterwards. Our guide Si laid out some banana leaves to use as a table and chairs and we shared a meal very similar to yesterday’s : sticky rice and accompanying sauces and dips.

At the village we were allowed to walk around for a short time, the three of us all captivated by the sight of several recently new born puppies struggling to walk very steadily on their tiny paws. However the majority of our 1-2 hour visit was spent sat up at the school. Our guide did encourage us to ask questions but i would have preferred a more thorough tour of the village and some time to simply witness these people interacting with each other in their natural environment. For about half an hour our guide was actually asleep in the sun whilst Andy, Kylie and i discussd the concept of drinking snake blood and eating your dog!

The last 2 hours of the trek were mostly downhill and finished up at the Lenten village of Ban Nam Di, 6km north east of Luang Nam Tha. The villagers practice the art of bamboo papermaking. They turn bamboo into pulp along the banks of the Nam Di adjacent to the village, and then spread the pulp into thin sheets over square cotton screens to produce a rustic papaer on which they record religious literature. The paper is also used extensively in the handicraft industry.

I did enjoy the trek but our guide, conscientious as he was for the most part, had only worked for Green Discovery for 3 months – and it showed. We arrived back in Luang Nam Tha at around 4pm so i spent a couple of hours sat outside in the sun at KMT (handicraft shop/internet cafe/eating establishment) drinking Lao coffee and watching the world go by.

Photo is of a basket weaver at the Sida village, Near Luang Nam Tha

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