The Lao wilderness...and beyond

Nam Ha NPA Travel Blog

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Catch of the day

DAY 2

Up early with the villagers, the noisy cockerels and the barking dogs, we awoke to a rather lively scene in the house. 2 of the kids playing on the bed next to us, staring at us, then smiling and hiding under the quilt when we saw them. One of the other children was hushing the baby of the family on her lap, while the mother of the family was busy cooking over the small open fire in the opposite corner. The women in the Akha villages wear silver coins in their headresses, apparently these are given to them when they are deemed beautiful. The woman in the house carefully wrapped on the headress of beads, small bells and coins.

We met up with the rest of the gang back at the Chief's house and discussed our first homestays and families.

Bride, groom and wedding crashers
Fergus slept in the house of the chief and described an interesting evening of a few men gathering in the house for a discussion regarding the events of the argument from the night before. It seems that someone stole some food from their neighbour and a huge argument followed. The chief and other men in the village had to get involved to resolve the dispute. It appears that politics carries to Akha villages!!

After brekkie of bread and boiled eggs (we handed out the leftovers to the kids that had gathered around us, it was wash time and down to the communal wash tap. We were of course escorted and watched with curiosity as we washed our faces and cleaned our teeth. As I got out my lenses and little mirror, a swarm of villagers suddnely gathered around me, absolutely amazed at the sight of me putting lenses into my eyes.

The village shower
Once back at the sitting area, some village women came up to me and were trying to poke my eyes with their fingers!!!

There was a commotion in one of the other houses and so we all went to investigate. Someone had come back from a morning's hunt with what Pon called a 'jungle cat'. It looked like a cross between a racoon and a possum. It had clearly been shot; it is illegal for Lao people to own a gun so the villagers make their own guns for hunting.

As we set off from the village for our second day of hiking, we were escorted out by the smiling faces of the villagers, all waving at us and doing the OK and thumbs up signs they had learnt. We were all touched by the shy curiosity of the Akha village and how welcome they made us feel despite the language and cultural barriers.

cooking meat Lao-style

The second day trek was pretty tough going. We were soon climbing on relentless steep uphill paths, puffing away in the rising heat of the day. The scenery was rather stunning, and Pon pointed out the nearby mountains that belonged to Burma and China respectively. We walked along a path that took us through some illegal opium fields. As we all stopped to take pictures of the innocent looking poppy flower, Pon ran back and told us to keep walking and not to take photos. I felt a little scared at this point, imaging the scene from 'The Beach'! We carrried on and through a further field, the few villagers working the fields watching us suspiciously.

At lunch time, we stopped on the path to rest and Pon started a small fire.

He cooked some meat in the hollow of some bamboo and we were served up the jungle cat from this morning's catch!! Simon and I didn't try it, sticking to rice, eggs and greens, but the others that did said it was OK but a bit tough....!

In the early afternoon, we arrived in another Akha village and rested at one of the houses. Pon told us that there was a wedding happening and that we could go to the wedding house to join in the celebrations once the ceremony was complete. We had our usual audience, and out came the devil sticks, the paper aeroplanes, the balloons, and the smiles and laugher soon erupted in the small village. When it was time, we made our way to the house of the village chief and joined the rather lively crowd of villagers who were welll on the way to being hammered.

The Mekong at dusk
We were welcomed and sat around together and given a big bottle of chinese beer each, brought in specially for the wedding. We gave a small donation each to the newly married couple, a very shy young 16 year old girl and 17 year old boy. They were decked out in the traditional Akha attire and headress. After a sweaty 4 hours of walking, the cool beer went down a treat, and soon the Lao Lao whisky was being sloshed into shot glasses and continuoulsy handed around the table. Soon we were all flushed cheeks, merrily chatting away, entertaining the kids and having a great time. Isreal rummaged in his bag and produced a cigar, saying that he and Froukje had been saving it for a special occasion. We asked Pon to translate for us to the married couple, the village chief and the wedding crowd that in our countries, it is traditional to smoke a cigar in times of celebration.
Pon translated all this into Lao to his friend which was then translated into the local dialect so that the villagers understood. So the cigar was lit and passed around the group of the 7 of us, Pon, the Chief, the fathers of the bride and groom and the newlyweds themselves.

After a few hours of sitting around with the wedding party, we had to move on as we still had an hour's walk until we got to the village where we would spend the second night. We were sad to leave, and the chief was happy for us all to stay for the rest of the day and sleep at his place!! We carried on the path, all of us walking in a not particularly straight line and all had to duck behind the bushes along the way to relieve the beer bellies!!! After about an hour of lively discussions and trying to keep to the path, we arrived at the mighty Mekong river, flanked by white sand beaches.

We climbed unsteadily into a boat that took us a little way up the river then walked a little further. We got to an inlet stream and here we all stipped off and jumped in the water! The Lao Lao whisky did the trick and made the water seem refreshing rather than freezing. After getting dressed again in the now dark and with sandy feet, we walked a further 5 minutes to the village. Tonight's home was a Thai Lu village and was a lot cleaner and tidier than the Akha villages we had seen and also had hydro-electricity care of the dam that they built in the stream. We all stayed in the same house this night, sleeping in a row against the back wall. But before all that, we practically dove into the crate of beers that the Chief had got in for us. We had dinner that was cooked up in the corner of the house, and played cards.
We introduced the group to our favourite card game and soon had everyone swearing in frustration (eh-hem Israel).

Pon, bless him, was so worried that we would all sit around until very late and get hammered, told us that we had a 7-hour trek tomorrow that was all uphill! We smelt a rat (the mountains are not that high here!) and stayed up until the beer had run out, Israel and Fergus staying up til after midnight playing cards!!

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Catch of the day
Catch of the day
Bride, groom and wedding crashers
Bride, groom and wedding crashers
The village shower
The village shower
cooking meat Lao-style
cooking meat Lao-style
The Mekong at dusk
The Mekong at dusk
The newly-weds
The newly-weds
wedding crashers
wedding crashers
opium fields
opium fields
The jungle cat is served!
The jungle cat is served!
Akha women and children
Akha women and children
Nam Ha NPA
photo by: siri