Trekking in Nam Ha
Trip Start Dec 29, 2007
82Trip End Dec 12, 2008
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We walked on and stopped again at a Hmong village. These village stops made me feel a little uncomfortable and although they were interesting I didn't feel that a half-hour stop was going to be of much educational value either to us or the villagers, although I know they do get some income from the overall cost of our trek. The children seemed to find us funny and loved following us around shouting 'sah bai dii' ('hello'), and the adults were friendly but largely uninterested in our presence
After our two village visits we had some tough uphill walking before stopping for a picnic lunch. It was delicious and environmentally friendly, with all the food carried wrapped in large leaves that could then be left behind to rot. We ate sticky rice, steamed vegetables, meat 'burgers', omelette and bananas. We did about another three hours of trekking after lunch, through some particularly leech-infested areas. Although the climbing was hard work, it was a relief to finally reach leech-free altitudes.
We reached the Akha village where we were to stay the night just as the rain set in. We were shown to the hut where we were to spend the night, where our guides promptly set to building a fire and boiling water to brew some Akha tea. Once the rain stopped we went down into the village to wash. Bathing is very much a public affair with a tap in the middle of the village, and a sarong was essential as women must always remain covered from the shoulders to the knees.
After bathing we warmed up with a hot cup of Akha tea and then went for a walk around the village. Almost immediately we were approached by a 16-year-old boy whose name sounded something like 'Ekit', who showed us a pretty horrible fresh wound on his hand, covered with a herbal poultice (useful) tied on with a filthy cloth (less useful)
Simon is a dentist, so with his medical background and the combined contents of our first aid kits he was able to clean, disinfect and dress the wound. Afterwards we sat around with Ekit and a few kids who had come along to watch. We managed a few basic questions and answers through the phrase book, which surprised me as Akha and Lao are completely different languages. Teachers from Muang Sing do sometimes come up to the villages but they tend not to stay long. I was impressed that Ekit could speak some Lao and a few words of English despite such a limited education, although of course that type of education isn't useful in the context of Akha life.
I knew how fresh dinner would be when I saw one of the villagers walking towards our hut with a live chicken in one hand and a cleaver in the other. I've never felt so good about eating meat having witnessed its free range lifestyle, organic diet, healthy physical condition and instantaneous death
After dinner some of the girls from the village came to our hut to give us a traditional Akha massage. It was well-appreciated except for the way they would pinch the skin hard around the neck and shoulders. I tried to relax into it but that part was just too painful! After the massage the girls stayed in our hut for a while, and we were joined by various other young people from the village who all sat around chatting to each other and laughing a lot. We asked our guide to thank them on our behalf for their hospitality and the massage, which he did. But when we asked if they would like to ask us any questions, Pon immediately replied, "No, they are happy just to sit with you". Apparently it is about four months since any tourists last came to this particular village. The responsible tourism aspect of this trip became quite clear to me at this point; these tours have been expertly crafted into a fine balance of allowing Western tourists to see and 'experience' hill tribe culture, without leaving any unwelcome cultural footprints of our own
The next morning we were given a hearty breakfast of noodle soup, omelette, rice and biscuits, washed down with Akha tea, before setting off for our hike. It was a really tought hike, and only three of the four of us ended up taking the mountainous route. We climbed to the summit of Phu Ling ('Monkey Mountain') and at one point we could see over the border into China. I enjoyed the physical challenge and the beautiful scenery in this country still takes me by surprise every time I look up.
We had a picnic lunch again and eventually collapsed exhausted into a Thai Lu village in the late afternoon. However there had been a mix-up with the sawngthaew that was supposed to collect us there to take us back to Muang Sing, so we ended up trudging a few more kilometres down the road before getting picked up.
In the evening we visited Pon's herbal sauna, which was bliss to our aching muscles, although the whole experience was a little surreal as the lights had broken so the inside of the sauna was pitch black. We had a huge dinner of everything on the menu that sounded suitably tasty and exotic and that we hadn't tried yet. Then we headed back to our bungalows where we had Lao massages in our rooms before bed. It turns out the pinching isn't just an Akha thing, but this time I was too exhausted to care much.