Now we're talking present, most likely.
I came back from this hiking trip yesterday. I am still quite tired from hiking and in difference to my friends, decided to stay in Phongsaly for one day longer in order to cure a little stomach ache I got myself. I think I ate too much trash and weird things the last days.
As you know from the last post, Phonsaly is known for it's real rural tribes in the Hills (Akha People) and the amazing trekking opportunities. It's the capitol town of the most northern province in Laos, located on a platou in the mountains. Not as cold as sapa, but still it can get around zero degrees celsius at night.
We arrived here late evening, with a group of eight people. All of us had some sort of trekking trip in mind, and we knew that being a group of eight, the price would be lower then usual.
I guess the one thing I've learned during this trip. Trekking is never cheap. Organized tours are never cheap, and so wasn't this one. With a group of eight people, it would be still 30 euros per day, and that does not include transport and the last (third day) basicially consists of going back home. (so it's a half day)
Soon a few of us figured out that this was not what we wanted to spend money on and so the group of eight split up. A guy called Will from the states said he's going to buy a tent and go out there on his own. That sounded very exciting to me, and so I asked him If I could join. Roughly thinking about the costs, buying a tent, a sleeping bag and all the necessary things would still be cheaper then 30USD a day. Also, Ismael, decided to join us, and so our team was complete.
Our plan: Two nights, three days.
Our Equiptment: A cheap tent, blankets for the ground and as covers, flashlights, instant noodles, 2 kilos of sticky rice, 9 liters of fresh water, insect repellant, candy and pencil crayons for the kids and a pot to boil water in. All in all, we spend about 450.000 KIP (55USD) on all of those things. + I bought a machete, just for fun.
One general thing about Maps in Asia. They're all crap. Never trust a map in Asia, it will be your end. That said, there are no maps in Phongsaly. Who would need them anyway?...
So we roughtly took a scetch of one of the trekking tours advertised in the tourist office, copied all the names of the villages and went to bed early to safe energy for the next day.
We checked google maps before leaving, and aslo were lucky to meet a french scientist who is doing research in the local villages around. He was so kind to show us a few real maps on his laptop, helping us making a decision where to go.
After buying all the things in the morning we started walking around 3pm. Since the town is located on a platau, we were going downhill from the very beginning. Spectecular views, all along the way. Three and a half hours of straight walking brought us to a nice place where we decided to spend our first night. The top of a mountain, ontop of a slash and burn field. Perfect conditions to light a fire. We put out the tent and spend the night talking and trying to prepare our noodles on the fire (successfuly).
The next day brought quite a few challenges. Intersections along the way gave us quite a headache. Where to go when you have no idea where you're going? And you're in the middle of the jungle?
Did I mention it was foggy, moist and cold the next morning? Leeches all over the place wouldn't make our way easier. We had to stop every few minutes to take them off our boots and legs. After five solid ours of walking and fighting with leeches, we finally got down to a river. No sign of where to go. After a short break down at the river, we got luck again and two locals came around, probably heading home. They took a look at our drawings and told us where to go. Cross the river, then head right up the mountains.
So we crossed it, put on our boots again and began to hike up. Fansipan was hard, but personally, I think this was harder. The air was so humid, so many plants in the way, hitting your face as you walk. And as this was not enough, it was sooo steeeeeeeeeeeeep. It took us about three hours more to get up there. We had some troubles finding the way because of more intersections, but then figured out where to go. More locals were up there, and so it was clear. The village can't be far away.
We arrived, finally, after 8 hours of hiking down and uphill. I was so exhausted.
As soon as we came close to the village, people spotted us and soon we were surrounded by curious children. We gave them some of our pencil crayons, and bubble gums. Bubble gum, a way to make friends. It was getting dark, and so it didn't take long untill one of the people offered us to spend the night in his hut. I've told you about the local people in Sapa, but this is another league.
Those people live a 6 hour hike away from the next road. They don't have electricity, they don't have phones. Those people grow their own food, make their own drinks and probably don't know much about money. The first thing we noticed walking around were the animals. Many pigs, dogs, cats, chickens and buffalos, wildy running around among the people. Living with them.
Our "bedroom" was localted on the pigstall, and so we woke up several times during the night because of loud pig noises! :D
After walking around the village, taking lots of pictures, our host invited us to have a shower. He probably smelled us.. I can't blame him! That was the weirdest shower I've ever had. The man took us to a little stream, up above the village, next to the buffalos. Standing on slippery muddy wooden planks ontop of a buffalo shithole, taking a shower with cold muddy water, that's what I call a shower!
We had a few more drinks, a tabako Bong, tea and then soon went to bed.
We realized, if we want to get back home in time, we would have to leave very early, and so we got out of the village around 7:30 am. Too bad, because one of the guys just shot a porcupine, and already was preparing it for our breakfast. It was a hard decision to make, and I guess a quite rude one. Denying food is never polite. We left giving them 200.000 kip (25USD) which we later found out was WAY too much. We had fun, and that's what counts.
So much about northern Laos. I am hopefully leaving tomorrow, going south.
You'll hear from me in a couple of days!
The pictures 2,7,8,15,16 are shot by my friend Ismael.