On the basis of our experience, probably best to avoid Khmmu Tribe Discovery in Luang Namtha - but are there better options?
There are lots of agencies in Luang Namtha offering trekking / kayaking. We went round a few, before choosing Khmmu Tribe Discovery (not on Trip Advisor at present) for a 3 day trekking/ 1 day hike. Just wanted to document our experiences, and what we found out, to see how it compared to the experiences of others with this and other agencies - hopefully useful for others choosing in the future.
Khmmu Tribe Discovery has two offices on the main road in Luang Namtha. We talked to, and subsequently booked, with Sai - who as far as we could work out was the boss. Sai seemed really chatty and amiable. We were very clear about what we wanted / were getting, and it was agreed as follows:
- 7-8 hours of activity per day - we emphasised this was key for our choice and we wanted challenging trekking (and were fit enough to handle it);
- by trekking for 3 days we wanted to get deeper into the jungle than was possible on a one or two day trek;
- two guides, one local and one from the office - we were told this was part of the ecotourism approach and would happen throughout;
- we wanted at least 1 night in a remote jungle camp;
- our group size was two - we had to pay a higher price as no one signed up for our tour.
We were pretty happy at the time of booking - our only concern being that when we came back to pay the night before leaving at 9pm (as directed to), that Sai seemed quite spaced out as if on drugs.
Our tour experiences were as follows:
- The guide, Som Pon, was friendly and spoke basic English;
- We trekked for only 4 hours per day (and at a slow pace). Our 3 day trek consisted of the companies standard 2 day trek, then their standard 1 day trek on the end. So, trekking for 3 days didn't get us any further into the jungle. From what we could understand from our guide, Khmmu Tribe Discovery never really change their route (i.e. there was no option that would be 7 hours per day);
- We only had a second guide (the local guide which is meant to be included to return more money to the community) for 1/2 a day;
- The "jungle camp" was actually sleeping in a restaurant right by the road (but also by the river) - when we arrived there were still local visitors sitting drinking;
- One of us got food poisoning on the last evening, so was unfit to kayak;
- On the morning of kayaking, the guide told us another group was joining us. In the event 6 more customers turned up, after we had hung around waiting for a couple of hours (at the "jungle camp". There were only spaces for 8 people in the 4 kayaks (in the event fine as only one of us was kayaking - so ended up being 7+guide - but this was not known when it was arranged). There were only 6 buoyancy aids (lifejackets), of which 3 were in very poor condition. There were only 7 helmets. The guide had no safety equipment. The river was quite high due to recent rains, meaning there were trees etc in the current (risk of entanglement). As an experienced whitewater kayaker (over 15 years), my assessment would be that with these low safety standards that there is a significant risk a serious accident will occur at some point.
On return to Luang Namtha we went to speak to the office about our concerns with the tour. Sai, the boss/ owner, deliberately avoided speaking to us (hiding out the back...), and the staff were pretty dismissive of our concerns. In the end, we were given a token amount of money back, but unfortunately it didn't seem that Khmmu Tribe Discovery was likely to try to learn and improve their service to clients.
After Luang Namtha we went to Nong Khiaw and did a kayaking trip with Green Discovery. It was more expensive, but everything was as described - most notably the company were happy to do the trip kayaking to Luang Prabang in 2 days rather than 3 to meet our desire for plenty of exercise per day (despite never having tried this before).
It's not unusual for companies to "oversell" their experiences - but Khmmu Tribe Discovery seemed worse than most (especially in terms of river safety) and with no real desire to learn/ improve. It would be interesting to hear how this compares with experiences of others in Luang Namtha.