Leech off: how to avoid leeches when trekking in tropical rainforest

Phonxali in northern Laos is slowly becoming a hot-spot for trekkers and travelers looking for hill-tribe homestay experience. So, when I went to Phonxali I was persuaded by my travel partner and other travelers we met to join them on a trek to one of the hill-tribe villages in the area.

Hilltribe village surrounded by jungle

I honestly don’t enjoy hiking in Tropical Rainforest because beside the heat and humidity, there are also leeches. On our second day, we were attacked by so many of them that each time I stopped, there were more than 10 leeches on me or crawling up my shoes. I could see them along the path, like tiny toy soldiers, they stood on one end and wiggled the other end around until they attached themselves to your shoes. So, every few meters, we would stop and either flicked or pulled the blood suckers off. It wasn’t a pleasant experience.

There’s no sure way of avoiding leeches crawling on you if you go trekking in tropical rainforest but you can minimize getting bitten. Here are some tips:

Blood sucker

Anti leech socks

Anti leech socks

They look just like a pair of socks and wears like one. Slip your feet into them and tie the other end around your knees. They prevent leeches from getting into your feet and toes. And most them are white so you can see when leeches are crawling up and you can flick them away.


Yup, you read it right. Apparently this lady’s lingerie prevents the leech from penetrating to your skin. And since it goes all the way up, your feet, leg and groin areas are protected.


Apply salt or salt water all over your exposed area. This will prevent them from getting to you. Alternatively, bring a small bag of salt with you. Each time you see a leech on you, sprinkle some salt on it and it’ll drop off immediately. Cigarette, lighter and saliva have the same effect. But some experts say that this can cause the leeches to regurgitate into the wound and cause infection.

Citronella Oil

Spread it all over your legs and exposed area. It is supposed to repel leeches and mosquitoes alike. But from personal experience, it didn’t work that well.

Tobacco leaves

Tobacco leaves

Wet the tobacco leaves and tie them around your ankle. The tobacco water that drips down your feet will repel leeches. An alternative is to soak your socks in thick tobacco water (more tobacco leaves less water) overnight, let them dry out and wear them. Leeches don’t like the smell of tobacco and will be repelled by it.

Knife or nail

If the leech is already sucking on you, the best way to remove it is to use a knife, slide it in between the leech and your skin, once you’ve dislodged the sucker, flick it way. If a knife is not available, you could use your fingernails.

Blood donation

Let them be. Once they suck enough blood, they will drop off by themselves.



Helpful information:

Leeches live in wet area, especially area near river, ponds and streams. They are especially active after the rain. So the monsoon season is also leech season.

Leeches don’t only live on ground, you can find them on trees, branches and leaves too. So make sure you look where you touch, lean and sit in the jungle.

If you are in group, the person in front will attract less leeches than the one at the back. As it’s the vibration of our footsteps and body heat that wake them up. So the first person wakes them up and the last person gets his blood suck.

Happy trekking and stay leech-free!

About the Author


A modern nomad who wanders around the world calling no place home and every place his Ithaca


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