Trip Start Jan 08, 2011
261Trip End Dec 20, 2011
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Where I stayed
khou kham guesthouse
Yesterday we had met an Australian couple in their sixties who were travelling for twelve weeks, we all booked onto this tour for today, so met them this morning and half past eight we were in the van on our way.
along the way the friendly guide putting his English to good use, kept me amused by telling me all sorts of things as good guides should!!
And here they are - Laos now has over 50 hydro dams, which they then sell 95% of the electricity produced to Thailand.and Vietnam I'm guessing...
The production of electricity along with timber is their main income!!!
that Laos does not manufacture cars or motorbikes, they are all imports - mainly from the Korean second hand car market.
Also that it is believed by Buddhists that odd numbers bring luck - the steps leading up to any home - like the ones we saw up to the wooden houses - will always have an odd number of steps!!
As we passed the fields being ploughed and worked by the people and buffalos - which are much shorter and stockier than we've seen, he tells us a little about the training of the buffalos - 3/4 days walking with the animal fitted with the plough - training, one leading at the front while one man's the plough - being talked too, telling the animal that they need this land, they need to do this job so they can eat, that he must not look up, only down at the ground, that once this field is done he will feed , and also that if he doesn't he won't be allowed near the females!!! All the time repeating "ham" when it goes left, "lau"when it moves right and "shi shi" for forward - four days is all it takes by what he tells us.
At the crater fields we stop and we walk while he tells us a little about the bombing and the war, which we will save to tell you until tomorrows day spent at the MAGS - UXO information centre watching the films about unexploded ordinance in Lao.
First stop was the crater fields about an hour from phonsavan
From there we went to visit a Hmong village,Hmong people originally from north Korea, kind of intrusive but it was very quiet, working in the fields while the kids at school, so not too bad and really wanted to see one so was interesting.
He told us a little about the Hmong people about how they are able to be self sufficient and in particular a festival they hold every December, the new year festival and also a celebration/festival about harvest - literally translated its named "eat thirty day" no work takes place and the first few days of the festival is spent at home, they eat they drink they celebrate - they don't leave the home.
Then the festival is taken to central phonsavan - two weeks this is held here, Hmong people [amongst others presumably] come from all over xieng houang province and I guess from the rest of Laos to gather here.
Games are played, food is prepared and eaten, Lao-Lao is drunk along with local bamboo instrument music, song and prayer.
One game in particular he explained was where a long long line of women on one side, men on the other, stand facing a few metres apart - every one in traditional wear - black with lots of colour decoration and bells,women all holding umbrellas to shelter from the sun and the men's forearm wrapped in some kind of material. balls are thrown between men and women, at random and in whatever direction they please, whilst they do this they talk, if they like someone who moves they can follow to stand right infront of them, if the ball is dropped - the person has to stand in the middle and sing a stupid song.
This is how they are all able to meet, introduce and socialise.
More importantly, how the men meet their new wives, girlfriends etc - and they already have at least one!!!
After two weeks they will return to their homes. The men will follow the woman they have met to their village - always chasing ay....
Returning to the village - this ball throwing will continue...every day... six/eight hours with only rest for food or whatever...between couples whilst they talk - like speed dating we guess!!
After thirty days they are then able to marry!!!!!
Other celebrations held in this villages, ritually, during this period are bull fighting events - these are the bulls that are kept not for working but for fighting - every single day, the bulls will be fed first, before anyone else is fed.
The aim of the game??? Strongest bull brings respect and honour to the family and makes them locally famous.
Wandering around this village was pretty cool, seeing all the low wooden dwellings, with high steep pitched grass thatched roofs made from special grass, lasting three years, which almost drops to ground level - we didn't see inside but apparently very simple and basic - they don't live with material things, maybe a table, somewhere to cook and places to sleep - ten upwards per home.
We saw the corn grinding set up and the blacksmith working away, forging tools and knives from all the American bomb casings, the tools are then sold on to vientiane - we saw bomb casings used as supports for wooden structures, as planters, as fences and anything and everything else - resourceful huh??
Moving on by twelve we were at "history cave" a very famous cave within Lao history where 473 people villagers hid for four years during the bombing, these were civilians. On 24/11/1968 four planes, fired rockets into this cave, two hit either side of the mouth of the cave, one missed, one hit.
Thirty or fourty metres down into the cave, wiping out 473 people - upon the belief that this cave was harboring Vietnamese soldiers.
We visited the museum at the base of the cliff and were shown some pretty gruesome photographs of bomb related deaths - the bombi, cluster bomb - unexploded which have then killed small children, napalm victims - farmers who had dug it up in their fields, long after.
Pictures of a Lao soldier/ general who shot down an American plane with three bullets following the attack and other remnants of it all, bombs, bomb casing, weapons, bones from the cave.
Of course there is now a nice concrete staircase path up to it, but the other way up to it is nearly vertical, we wondered guide how they all made it up here. Inside are hundreds of rock and pebble built stupas made by people visiting.
After all the time spent in India I never felt quite such a spiritual place as this, I don't know whether it was the hundreds of butterflies all different colours just flying around in the one area or it was just my imagination, but still it had a special feel.
Lunch was included, which is always guaranteed to be terrible, it delivered on the terrible front!
Made our way to another village of the khmu people originally from Cambodia, where there main income was from making and selling wieved items of clothing, cushions, bed material, bags, they all have there homes build on concrete pillars and have there workshops underneath, we went into the town hall/shop and brought a small piece of material for a keeps sake.
Started raining again so got back to the car quick, next was the mulberry farm.
Now the rain had decided to come down with quite some force, but still with our waterproof jackets on we continued, got a tour guide from the farm who showed us the mulberry trees - 17 hectares of it, cut twice a year, from this they feed the silk worms, make cuttings for new, make red tea, green tea, wine, jam, cookies and more.....
from then we moved onto the silk worm rearing house, first we saw them as tiny things eating the young leaves picked from the top of the mulberry tree,eating for a set amount of days then sleeping then eating etc, up to when they class them as age 5 - roughly twenty days.
then we moved onto the cocoon which takes them 4 days to make, they are put into a tray with little squares to make them, they then turn into moths,and shown the eggs, from egg to hatching to making cocoon this all takes just over 10 months.
The cocoons are taken and boiled in water then one women and a machine make it into one thread, coming from 5 to ten cacoons each cacoon has 3 ends of thread.these are separated and and twined together by a hand made contraption from the hot water - from a hundred cocoons they can make make one thread.
It's then taken and boiled in ash water,Hung out to dry, and dyed all different colours. The colours are all made from the various plants that grow on the farm and they can make 100 different colours. Pretty impressive (sorry to bore everyone a bit but this is for us to remember).
Next stage is the weaving house, 30 workstations all women, all making different patterns from using a two bamboo set up, up to six hundred bamboos. A days work can range from 15cm to up to nearly a metre depending on the complexity of the design.
After seeing this weaving at work, we were pretty dumbfounded as to how the hell it is done!! These people, and the people who invented these weaving techniques were definitely some clever ones.
Ended with obviously the tour of the shop, where we learned that even the soap is made from the ash water used in the boiling and softening of the silk - no waste here then!!!!
Last stop was site 1 Plain of jars - what we were originally in search of seeing and coming here for, 3 main sites, site 1 being the most visited and holding the most jars - of course it was peeing down by then so kinda spoilt it. These jars have much confusion around them, unable to properly date them or understand quite how they got their, it is believed they may have been used for cremation or some kind of burial site after excavations in and around these jar like lumps of stone found bones, teeth, and artifacts associated with those sites, the quarry where this stone is found is eight kilometres from this site and the largest jar here weighing over six tonnes and perched up on a hillock.
A full and busy day!!!