Nong Fa Lake is said to be a sacred place in Laos in the heart of the National park, a possible explanation is that it was formed by a volcanic eruption many thousands of years ago. Trekking to this lake was definitely an off the beaten track adventure following parts of the Ho Chi Minh trail along valley peaks we reached the lake on the 4th day and after about 90km it was all worth it when we saw the beauty of this lake and enjoyed a nice cool swim in one of the most remote places on earth.
No westerner to my knowledge had ever attempted to trek to the lake before, there is access most of the way by 4-wheel drive but the plan was to trek in and out using different routes and survey the route for possible future tours. Enquiries led us to Attapeu to a local army guide who also spoke the indigenous local language, he was born in a small village about a two day's hike from the lake but his family, have all moved to the town now. After meeting him and discussing the trip we and my fellow two trekkers prepared a checked of gear we would need and started to buy supplies we bought soups, canned fish and rice and of course chocolate and sweets for that much needed energy boast. We had our finally dinner together in the city trying to eat as much as possible to stock up on energy and especially protein that would be needed to get through the next few days.
The following morning we rose bright and early and after checking and splitting our gear and food equally we drove out of Attapeu and headed to the village of Pa-am on part of the Ho Chi Minh trail, a reminder of this trail is the Russian old surface to air missile which still stands in its place.
The Vietnamese used to head south with troop and supply reinforcements along several trails during the Vietnam War against the Americans, they crossed into Laos to avoid battles with the American troops as the Americans were not officially allowed to enter Laos, this is the reason why Laos is known as the most bombed country on the planet to date. As American troops could not enter Laos they could bomb it, American pilots were encouraged to empty the rest of their ordinance on Laos on the way back from Vietnam to their bases in Thailand. Old ordinance still litters the trails which were dropped by American B52s to try to hit the Vietnamese soldiers and cut their supply lines.
From Pa-am we drove up the mountain as far as our comfortable car could go before checking our gear for the last time and starting our adventure.
The first day entailed trekking up the mountain across rough terrain past small villages and ethnic communities we travelled 20km along the old Lao army training route not realising at the beginning how heavy our backpack would be. They certainly started weighing us down towards the end of the day. Our guide knew the local area and language well however he spoke no English so my Laos skills definitely came in handy.
We arrived at the village of Ban Chilinxay in the evening, after showering in a nearby stream we spent the night at one of the villager's hut s who surprisingly spoke a little English. We bought a chicken from him and he cooked it for us along with some steamed rice and local vegetables and soup trying to regain our energy and relax our legs as much as possible. The second and third day followed a similar pattern up at dawn enjoying some hot chocolate buying fresh eggs and vegetables from the villagers and trekking about 20 - 25 km a day, the evenings were spent with the local guide arranging the home-stay, recuperating and bathing.
The main priority in the evening was boiling enough water for the next day so it was cool enough the following day to fill our plastic bottles. Dinner normally included chicken and steamed rice which was bought from the villagers and a couple of tins of canned fish which was good because it meant less to carry the following day.
The fourth day was the day, we could feel we were getting close we awoke and began our seemingly normal routine of washing in the nearby stream, having breakfast and packing our gear. It was a few kilometres over flat ground to the river where we crossed in a dug out canoe. The canoe was definitely not the most stable of vessels and the water was moving quite fast but it was only about 100m or so to the other side, paddling hard and sitting low in the boat got us across with out too much trouble. From this side of the river we stopped to take in the stunning beauty of the untouched nature around us.
From here it was a 15km trek up steep mountain sides to the village of Vangetat this was a hard trek across the tops of the valley but the scenery and views made it well worth while. When arriving in Vangetat at about 2pm I couldn't believe it I had gone through 3 liters’ of water already, so I refilled my water bottles, taking boiled water from the kind villagers and we decided to move on as it was 2pm and if we pushed on we could reach Nong Fa Lake in another 2 hours or so.
The last few kilometers to the lake were hard being directly under the blazing sun and it was all uphill to the summit, but spirits were high, knowing we would be there soon.
We arrived, after 4 days of solid trekking we could hardly believe it the first thing to do was have a swim and relax our muscles in the cool water. Spending about an hour at the lake we decided to head back down to Vangetat as we saw a park ranger there who had a 4x4 and this could be our exit plan.
It only took us about 45 minutes to get down from the lake with little effort as it was all downhill. Our theory with the ranger paid off and we managed to hitch a ride to Km100 about 10km from the Vietnamese border this was a bumpy ride and not possible without a 4x4. After about 60km or 3 hours we finally saw a sealed road and were happy knowing we were safe and back to civilisation. Unfortunately due to the lack of hotels in this area we slept by the Lao army barracks in a noodle soup shop, it was a great nights sleep though, this is probably due to how tired we were rather than the sleeping conditions.
The following day after a bowl of tasty soup we thanked our hosts, gave them our remaining rice and said goodbye. We now tried to hitch back to Attapeu. It didn't take long after about 20 minutes we managed to hitch a lift with a Vietnamese logging truck back to Attapeu around lunch. All in all it was a wonderful and unforgettable journey.
Alex Aziz has been travelling and setting up tours in South East Asia since 2000 with vast experience and knowledge of many on and off the beaten places he now spends his time between the UK and Asia. A relaxing break takes him trekking along the Ho Chi Minh trail or kayaking the rivers of Laos. More details on this and other tours offered by Xplore-Asia can be seen at http://www.xplore-asia.com