Trekking in Laos is a great way, and a sometimes the only way, to visit some of the more remote areas of the country and experience the Laotian way of life outside of the urban areas. Few people attempt to undertake independent trek in Laos and instead choose to go with trekking companies. It is difficult to navigate through forests and rice fields, not least because people are living there and you need to be careful where you walk to avoid upsetting the local people. Another factor which makes independent trekking in Laos difficult is the absence of lodges of the kind you find in Nepal. Trekking in Laos normally means staying in remote villages and organising a bed and food in the home of a local person, who more than likely will not speak English so unless you can speak the local Laos language you will experience difficulties in organising a bed for the night and a meal.
Trekking Companies in Laos
The four major trekking companies operating in Laos are Tiger Trail Laos Adventures (formerly known as Laos Adventures), White Elephant Adventures and Green Discovery Laos.
Trek to the Kuang Si Waterfall near Luang Prabang
Tiger Trail Laos Adventures (formerly known as Laos Adventures), and Green Discovery Laos are the two oldest trekking companies having been established in 2000, whilst White Elephant Adventures is a more recent start up dating back to 2010. The biggest of three companies by a long way is Tiger Trail Laos Adventures which has 60 full time employees, a range of services including trekking, motorbike tours and more conventional tour services, and an international presence with very effective marketing to overseas tour agents. All three companies are managed and owned to a greater or lesser degree by foreigners, although of the three companies Green Discovery Laos has the lowest degree of foreign involvement. All three companies are based in Luang Prabang.
Trekking near Luang Prabang
This is the most accessible area for trekking, although unless you go on a long trek over several days you will not reach anywhere that could be described as remote and untouched by commercial tourism. Trekking in Luang Prabang province generally means walking through rice paddy fields, along river, and on country roads to reach Khmu and Hmong villages where you will stay in local homes or sometimes specially built tourist huts and be shown local skills associated with rice production and traditional crafts and eat sanitised versions of the local cuisine.
100 Waterfalls Trek
This can be done as a one day trek from Luang Prabang. To start the trek you travel by boat along the Nam Ou river from Nong Khiaw to the village of Don Khoun. From the village it is a 15 minute walk upto the start of a series of waterfalls. This is a moderately challenging and very fun trek as you follow the waterfalls up the hills. You will get wet and you need to wear trekking sandals to avoid cutting your feet which will be submerged in water for most of the day. There are not 100 waterfalls but there are lots of them along a route of around 4 km ending at the largest of the waterfalls and a pool where many people choose to swim. If you go in a group and you are prepared to deal with some resistance from the local tour operators you can organise your own boat trip to Don Khoun village and guide for the route at a fraction of the cost charged by the local tour operators.
Hiking in Nam Ha HPA
The Nam Ha National Protected Area is a an area of primary forest protected under law from certain types of development. ASEAN has declared the area as a Heritage Site. Independent trekking in jungles is not advisable and you would rather miss the point as on a guided tour you will shown interesting flora and fauna and interact with the local people. Tour companies offer treks lasting from 1 to 6 days. You can opt to sleep in the jungle itself for a real adventure with your living accommodation constructed from the things you find in the jungle or stay with local people in their villages.
Dong Phu Vieng NPA Hike
Dong Phu Vieng National Protected Area is in Savannakhet Province. There are a few different treks you can do in this area, the best of which is to hike the Katang Trail to the Sacred Forest and then take a boat ride along the Xe Bang Hieng River back to a point where you can be picked up by car for a ride back to Muang Phin town where you can get public transport back to Savannakhet. The Sacred Forest is home to some rare animals and birds, such as the Silvery Lutung, which some trekkers see when they visit. If you on an organised tour the locals in the village where you stay will show you local skills and pretend to be your friend.