Can I just remind you lovely people that take time to read my regular verbal diarrhea updates, I am Southern British and I write as I talk. Although I write the t’s, I rarely pronounce them. Therefore, if you want to understand my rants and dialogue, and get the most from my ramblings, read as I would talk. I have been told that I use language which is unfamiliar to Northern British folks and the rest of the English speaking countries around the world. if you fall into this category and are bewildered by my ramblings, please check out http://www.urbandictionary.com. Or, you could find a more informative and orderly structured blog to read. There are many out there, wrote by far more educated and interesting people.
I’ll suppose ‘ll get on with it…
The tuk tuk bus that took us into town was full, so I made a new Lao buddy and jumped on the back. Being dropped outside a hostel was handy. As soon as I booked into Manychun Guest House, I was asked by an American dude and his Mrs if I wanted to join their trek the following day. I signed up. This was also handy. Spontaneous Mike does it again. Thank you Mr and Mrs Backpacking Gods for placing my plans into my palm.
It was a two day trek through the thick jungle of the Nam Ha National Protected Area and a home stay in a mountain village with stunning views, home to the Lahu ethnic minority who sought asylum here 50 years ago when fleeing from the fighting in neighbouring Myanmar.
I was game. Luang Nam Tha was a small and sleepy town, which didn’t look like it had much to offer.
That night I went to the market and ate some extremely satisfyingly fatty pork and a spicy green papaya salad. I even sank a beer with the bus gang when the Czech girl turned up. Yes, that Czech girl who I saw in Burma and in Thailand has now magically appeared again. She’s weird. I hope she stops following me. I giggled at the prospect of Guy and Nourdes seeing her. Sorry, private joke folks.
I fell asleep in a clean and very massive double bed with English Premiership football on my TV. Being in a remote place I wasn’t expecting much but surprisingly, this hostel had it all. Heaven.
Trek: Day 1
It was foggy, the mountains drenched in mist. The usual cockerel ‘call and response’ chorus awakes me at 6am. There’s a smell of frying pork. I’m fully rested and pumped. My enthusiasm levels are set to extreme.
I meet my new trekking gang and we drive to the market to buy our food for the trek. There’s the usual array of meat, fish, hens in cages and vegetables. The fish were in small pools of water, barely alive. I saw a woman battering three live fish with a club until they died. Ready for purchase. It seemed a bit cruel. An undignified death but this is how they do business in Asia. The rats, pigs snouts and toads still amuse me too. I’d love for Tesco’s to start some new lines.
We drove to our guides home village to start our trek into the jungle. The very friendly village was inhabited by Khmu people. We got a warm reception. I had a good feeling about this trek, the guides were funny, the team was varied and interesting.
Our walk saw us move away from the village and straight into and through the jungle. This trek was along small pathways and tracks, nowhere near a road or car. The jungle was thick and lush. A chorus of animals could be heard but, to my disappointment, no leopards or tigers had been seen in this part of the jungle for a long time. We walked through rivers and a varied jungle terrain. I loved it.
We stopped often, the walk only challenged me once we started to climb the mountain towards the Lahu village at the top.
We stopped for lunch. The food was laid out on banana leaves on the jungle floor. Sticky rice, vegetables, cabbage and a hot chilli mix. The egg plant food tasted like an old mans smoking jacket. It was vomit inducing but I kept it down, politely.
The Lahu village is 1800m above sea level. It was a steep climb. A long climb. I got to know our Khmu guides a little better as well as the trekking team. A cool American couple, a Swiss and Russian couple with their cute four year old, a Belgian dude and a French smoker who loved Thai girls. We had good conversation and great visual stimuli. The Laos jungle is pretty nice to look at.
The Lahu village was strategically placed at the very top of the mountain. It has a great view of other uninhabited mountains and has a fair few trees. The Lahu people came from Myanmar fifty years ago. I was expecting a bunch of the usual happy and caring Myanmar faithful, the ones I’d grown to love during my visit there at the beginning of the year. I was wrong.
The Lahu people were unhappy, rude and tried their hardest to not talk, wave or interact with us. I’ve been to Thailand and experienced the rude staff that work on the tourist trail but this was another type of rudeness. Maybe there had been too many tourists pulled through their village. Maybe they hated the falang or maybe, they were having an argument with the agency. Either way, it was enough to make everyone feel uncomfortable. It was like they had a pact not to be nice to us. Even if someone did smile or attempt any form of interaction, they quickly backed down. Bizarre.
We arrived at 3pm, leaving us a few hours to kill before dinner and darkness. I walked around the village, soaking up the views. It was visually perfect but it missed soul. The village looked traditional and animals roamed freely. Solar panels were outside each home to provide a small amount of electricity. There’s no water supply, no school and no connecting road. The village was remote. It took a three hour walk to get to the nearest water supply.
Seventeen houses made up the village, that’s seventeen families. Some would work on the rice fields, growing pumpkin and cucumber dependent on the season. Pigs, cockerels, hens, dogs, cows and water buffalo provide the food and an additional source of income.
The local ladies, sour faced and definitely not practicing any form of smiling, had their hair tied up together in a bundle with a big comb through the middle. Very chav. Some of them even had tracky bottoms on.
Just before dinner I joined the guides for a game of … resonball, tekra, the football volleyball game they play with what looks like a hard wicker ball. Every country calls it something different. It’s a physical sport that demands a certain amount of flexibility and a quick reaction. The ball is made from strong wicker or bamboo and can hurt the feet and head if you’re not used to the sport, like me.
After half hour of playing, my head was red roar and a lump was forming. It hurt but I continued. Hard as, me. The local kids watched. I managed to scrape together a couple of smiles from some young boys when my skills on the pitch failed miserably. I like the game. It’s healthy and competitive. England should have these courts and promote the sport, whatever it’s called.
Spirits. These fellas are big in SE Asia and Laos is no exception. Laos is a Buddhist country but people still believe in talking to spirits and keeping them a happy as possible. Like the village I went to in Myanmar, there’s a dude who talks to the spirits for the people of the village. I guess he sees ghosts and stuff. Or smokes a lot of opium. Either way, spirits are big business, people make sacrifices and offerings in order to bring them good luck. I asked our guide to take us to see the villages dude who talks to the spirit world. They call him a shaman. Not like the shamans in the amazon who dish out psychedelic drugs but they have the same name.
He took us to his home, a small bamboo hut, which was full of adults and many children gathered around a mini portable DVD player. A dude offered us to share his pipe. The pipe was huge. In the UK, we call it a bong and sometimes, put other substances in them. I accepted. The tobacco was strong. It made my head spin. We talked a little more about the bizarre stories the spirit world produced to scare the village folks.
The shaman dude told us a story from another village. He reckoned that certain people had not made offerings and been disrespectful. The next time they shook hands with the shaman the spirits arrived and they died instantly. The guides believed this. I concluded they are very superstitious people. More so in these remote villages.
We stayed in a separate house and the guides cooked up a feast. Pork and vegetables. I squeezed onto my bed made from bamboo with the rest of the gang and slept until the cockerels decided it was time to wake us up. I hate cockerels.
Trek: Day 2
The next morning the Lahu villagers were still not feeling very friendly. Maybe it was an off week for them. The local kids however, did get along with the four year old of our group. It’s funny how children can break down language barriers. We were served a breakfast of omelette, chilli’s and sticky rice while being strangely observed by the locals. They came and stared at us while we ate, got changed and sat on the benches outside our bamboo hut. We’d pulled quite a crowd. Only our four year old charmer managed to induce a couple of cheeky smiles. The others just stared. So we stared back. Very weird. In Myanmar, everyone is extremely friendly. It must just be this tribe. I wonder what has happened to make them like this.
We left the friendliest village in Laos (that’s British sarcasm in full effect) and put in some long and tough trekking hours, up and down the mountains through a rich and varied jungle terrain. It was tiring. I got my sweat on. I liked it. The down hill became especially tough due to the dry leaves on the floor. We continuously slipped and ended up on my arse regularly.
We stumbled over some twisted trees and a trap set by one of the Lahu tribe. It was a basic construction made from bamboo but was lethal enough to trap and kill a small animal.
We ended up at a remote camp in the deep jungle and rested for some lunch while a swarm of wasps surrounded us. We moved on through and out of the jungle. We’d climbed up high and needed to descend a fair amount to return to the Khmu village where our van was parked. It was a lush and beautiful trek. The views were stunning. I sweated. It was hard work. But my hat goes off to the family who managed to carry their four year old daughter the entire way. Fair play. Carrying my legs was tough enough, let alone someone else’s.
To toast the end of our trek, we found a women selling some Beerlao. It spun me out. We were all exhausted and on a high, happy we completed the trek. We had a group picture, expertly taken with the usual Asian slant.
A short drive back to Luang Nam Tha and we were dropped off home. We thanked our guides and gave them a little tip. I headed to the Chinese Night market for some Lao pork, sticky rice, BBQ bananas and coconut, doughnuts and cooked bamboo.
I returned to my comfy Manychun Guest House and fell asleep to replays of last weeks Premier League football.
I slept long and hard. In the late morning, I sank a large breakfast and walked the empty deserted streets of Luang Nam Tha. Laos is a relaxed place but sometimes, the empty streets can appear eerie. The size of the buildings and layout of the roads suggests there may be more inhabitants than there actually are. Where did everyone go? Either way, the sleepy feel to this place suited my mood. I was tired and aching from the trek. Resting up before my next adventure.
The service is always friendly here. People are nice in Laos. I wrote my blog. I read. I then missed the 12.30 bus to Muang Sing. I waited at the dusty bus station for the next bus, for two hours. I read some more. ‘Marching Powder’ is a fairly interesting tale, I’d highly recommend.
I’m going further up North. Further off the beaten track. Bus + mountains = fun journey.