Trekking in Luang Nam Tha

Trip Start Mar 21, 2005
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Flag of Lao Peoples Dem Rep  ,
Sunday, December 25, 2005

On the 22nd of December, I entered the Lao People's Democratic Republic to Lao Karaoke, dancing, dirt roads, misty and hazy skies, jungles, and smiling faces. Behind me was China, which immediately seemed rigid, militarized, and more formal. Here at the border was a miniature party under a tent encircled in flags advertising Beer Lao, the national beverage. The singing was terrible, but I couldn't help but laugh when one of the bus operators, who was off-duty, was tempted into a couple chugs of Beer Lao while we waited on the bus. Thus was my first impression of Laos: lost in time, lost in space, lost, off the global radar...but that was just fine. No worries.

Two hours earlier, I met Lucie, from the Czech Republic, on the bus leaving China, full of fruit boxes and large PVC pipes. She spoke with a mixture of a Czech and English accent, as she'd been in England for the last four years. As the edges of her mouth curled upwards to an infectious smile, she told me her plans to travel for almost a year and take photographs around the world; she began three weeks ago in Hong Kong after leaving an interesting life just south of London. Her eyes had that spark of life in them.

Luang Nam Tha was a sleepy town of dirt roads, chickens, scooters, an odd assortment of travelers, and one large megaphone on a central tower to remind us that, despite its name, the Lao Democratic Republic was not democratic. Although we couldn't understand the voices emanating from the magaphone, I could only guess: "The party is here for you. Be loyal to the party. Drink your Beer Lao, but remember it's better to be red than dead." This was our first stop on the journey down Laos.

The next morning, we left on a jungle trek with four other travelers: one from San Francisco, and two daughters and a mother from Belgium. After a tuk-tuk ride to the Khmu village Bam Jeulansouk, we entered the tropical forest, passing 600 year old mango trees stretching hundreds of feet into the canopy. One tree bore marks of the Sun Bear, who clawed its way to the top of a large tree to infiltrate a hive for honey.

This was also the land of the Asiatic Tiger, gibbons, Clouded Leopards, elephants, and the python. Our guide, My Nau, told us the story of the python and Mr. No:

"The python was once poisonous and killed many people. That is, until it met Mr. No. When python bit Mr. No, the poison didn't kill him, so python thought 'my poison is no good.' The python was sad then decided not to be poisonous anymore. Snakes from all around then bit the python and took the poison from python. The python was no longer poisonous, but other snakes now were."

Now, the python must charm its prey. My Nau, who was from the Khmu people, recounted his father's warning: "don't pick up a fruit on the trail until you look up. If the fruit tree is above you, then look around. If there are other fruits, it's ok. If it's alone, it might be a charm of the python, and you will walk into the stomach of the python."

Keeping our eyes peeled looking for single fruits, we hiked through miles of forest and remote Khmu villages, whose homes were simple rattan-thatched huts with bamboo-woven walls and a wooden-stilt foundation. In the villages, boys played rattan ball, a combination of football (soccer) and badminton, it seemed; girls pounded grain, separating rice from chaff; elderly women smoked opium in silver pipes; men showered outdoors in their underwear; and women kept everyone in line. The pigs sat by the fires, scattered throughout the villages. Periodically they would move the logs around with their snouts to tend the fire. Puppies enjoyed the fire's warmth as chicks and the mamma hens scurried behind them to avoid detection. The pigs seemed in control of the village until a man beat one for trying to steal some food.

That night, we stopped in a Khmu village and ate dinner with the chief, who told us about the spirits of the village, of the homes, and of the forest. We talked about how his people had migrated from the north and that his village was named "Bamboo Forest Now Rice Field" in Khmu. It aptly describes how they settled the land.

On the second day, we continued our hike, eating more forest plants, learning how to cure malaria using dried and boiled root of the Taro, and passing through several Lantau villages under grey skies and humid, misty forested mountains. Although living side-by-side, the Lantau and Khmu people spoke different languages and had different ways of living. The Lantau, for example did not have stilt houses because years ago a woman, in a hurry to reach her husband, fell down the stairs of their stilted buildings, breaking her legs. The buildings now sit safely on the ground and women wear bracelets, of sorts, just under their knees, above the calves, to prevent broken legs.

In the forest, Lucie (pronounced Lu tzee eh or just Lu for short) and I continued joking around, talking, and enjoying the sights, listening to crickets, frogs, and birds sing: "what do you think the frogs are saying to one another?" Lu wondered.

Finally, we reached the end of our hike and enjoyed Christmas Eve--Indian food with the trek gang then a single candle lit on the table of our guest house room, adorned with various jungle flora.

It was a simple Christmas Eve here in Luang Nam Tha.
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Comments

terra_amore8
terra_amore8 on

beautiful beautiful pics
lloyd, i so love the latest pics, the faces and scenes, the children and people soooo beautiful. thanks so much for sharin.
lovyou,
wen

nwithers
nwithers on

A year has passed...
...since you spent last Christmas here in Harvard. Ella was just here again, much more active... and voluble. Sentences that mean everything and yet much is lost to poor interpretation. A bit like listening to Laotian revellers perhaps. Certainly plenty of enthusiasm in both places. So glad to see you are still enjoying the changing energies of the path you're tracing. Thanks for the pics, the passion and the folklore ... vicariously Neil

lraleigh
lraleigh on

Re: A year has passed...
Happy Holidays to you and your family too, Neil. I'm glad Ella is doing great and bet she's a whole lot of fun.

Lloyd

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