Laos: The First Impression

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThe minivan driver’s seven hours of ruthless, sharp, hairpin turns from the border of Thailand not only left me with an urge to purge, but also contradicted the slow life that was unaffectedly displayed as we drove by. The sun shining down from the cloudless sky showering the dust covered cheerful children playing freely in the road. Their mothers congregated around the dirt yard gossiping away, hanging faded yet freshly washed clothes on the stick fence, adding a row of color to contrast the dark plain, simple wood huts.  Even the animals seemed to smile. Dogs, cats, chickens and pigs graciously sharing a community of their own, living in coexistence with each other despite their differences. I couldn’t help but smile myself staring out the window to find what I saw as pure existence and all my mundane worries melted away.

We arrived in Luang Namtha and did our normal routine.  Leah waits with bags and studies the map, asks the locals questions and fills in the blanks of where we actually are, while I take ten to twenty minutes to scope out the accommodation.  I usually come back with a detailed report and hopefully a place to rest our heads.  The report consists of size of room, bed malleability followed by a quick sheet and pillow inspection(to avoid another case of bedbugs), bathroom details(hot or cold), towel availability, fan accessibility, and noisiness.   We aren’t picky by any means, but there are just a few standards we have adopted after our first couple of months failing to find acceptable places to sleep.  This time, I did not have to report, but just told her to follow me down the dirt path away from town to Phou Iu III Bungalows.  We landed in a brand new eco guesthouse.  Four star status for $10 for the room.  The bungalows were constructed with local materials in a local Tai Lue, Khmu and Akha style which gave it an authentic touch.  Sold for the night to two weary and exhausted adventurers after a two day journey on bus, boat and tuk tuk to get there.

The next morning we were scheduled to leave with a random crew and guide for our two day trek.  Even though hungover from the night before, we found our guide Gail, enthused as he met our group.  Paul and Nicki, living in Alaska but traveling for an undetermined amount of time.  Tyler, aka, Ty Ty, from British Columbia, traveling on his firefighting vacation time.  And Malcom, aka Malcky, from England.  Our new family for the next two days.

Gail dropped us off at the local market as he shopped and prepared our meals.  It all seemed too familiar.  The meat section, with blood dripping from the hanging carcases and dead flesh.  The vegetables piled in weaved baskets, set aside bundles of fresh herbs.  The antique scales weighing heaps of bruised fruit.  The random clothing stalls selling everything from shampoo to winter jackets.  The organic, earthy odors and the putrid rotting smells overlapping each other in the air as you wandered through.  Another market we thought.  But when we approached the fully furred dead cats for sale, sprawled out next to the whole head of deer (eye balls and all), not to mention the hefty bare tailed rats, we ran to Gail to mention and confirm we were strict vegetarians!


My daily buy!

l and j

The start of the trek


Ready to go!

After 2 hours of trekking and gaining knowledge from Gail about the various types of medicinal values of the plants and flowers surrounding us, we rested in a cove in the jungle.  Gail’s assistant scurried off into the woods and came back with elephant ear sized banana leaves that he draped over the large dead tree trunk.  Gail spread the vegetarian dishes straight onto the “tablecloth” as we devoured it with our fingers, sloppily soaking up the spicy salty succulent sauces with hand made clumps of sticky rice.


Banana leaf lunch with the fam

We reached the village at 3pm and independently explored.  Over 30 houses made up the community of the Lahu people.  It wasn’t long before I was hand in hand with the local children, spinning them and dancing around in circles, catching the 360 view of the mountains and hills in the distance.  Jolly animals freely trotting about.  Families of pigs soaking up the sun.  And chickens faithfully pecking the bare dirt ground.


Panorama at the top


Nicki ‘The Pig Whisperer”


Leah, Tyty, Malcy




Afternoon stroll around the village


Lahu girl feeding pigs


Lazy pigs

The sun set and we spent the evening in candlelight chowing down on yet another mouthwatering masterpiece made by Gail on a bamboo platform inside a cozy hut.  The leader and another member of the village joined us.  After the leaf was cleared, we had the chance to exchange questions, translated by Gail.  The concept of where we lived was maybe unfathomable to them, just as for us, hard to believe their children willingly hiked to the next village to school.


Bon Appetite!

We woke in the morning to eggs that blew a Denver omelet out of the water, combining cilantro, tomatoes, garlic and a spicy chili salsa, served with sticky rice.  Nothing tops a morning better than a nice smoke (tobacco that is.) The leader of the village led us into a hut filled with family members, a fire, smoke, a bong and big eyes that stared at each of us with wonder.  I took a puff, which was harder than what I remembered in my college days, as the men tried to show us the way it was done.  We gave our thanks with our ear to ear smiles, took in one last breath of the blissful natural setting,then descended down and around the perfectly peaceful rolling hills for 6 hours.


Morning invitation for a smoke


Nicki taking a hit


Lost in the hills

This was the perfect start to our three weeks in Laos. An incredible impression of the landscape, the people, the food and the culture.  But, it was all created by our quick witted, patient and in-tune guide, Gail, who made a truly memorable two days.


Gail answering one of the many questions


Making bubbles from leaves517


1 Comment (+add yours?)

  1. Michèle franck
    Mar 15, 2013 @ 01:35:16

    Wonderful! I trully enjoyed the text and pictures. You are a true adventurer!
    All the best and keep me posted



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