Tilen and I booked a homestay experience whilst in Laung Prabang in order to see both the real Laos people but also to get out of town for a while and do some hill climbing amongst some of the lush jungles around the northern hills.We booked with a small travel company and to visit the remote tribes of Hmong and the Khmu tribes located around 1 hours drive north of Laung Prabang and then a nice upward trek for 15 kms into the jungle.
On our trip it was only Tilen, myself and our guide and we set off nice and early in the morning with plenty of water (it was a mere 35 degrees and cloudy that day) and a few spare clothes in our trusty rucksacks. Our guide Dosun who was from the village of Hung Noi was our leader for the next 2 days and whilst we were were donned in trekking boots and the lightest clothing going, he decided that the trek was easy enough to wear flip flops a rugby shirt and jeans!! The trek was far from easy and after we walked for around 4 km along dirt roads we cut into the jungle and headed on up into the hills.
Often throughout Laos whenever you look into the countryside you get a hazy mist, this is often due to the mass de-forestation (ie burning of all vegetation to make way for crops such as rice and corn) that takes place. Although the government is trying to stop this not a lot is being done. Almost 2 hours into our trip we were given our first view of the scarring of the landscape and large areas of burnt soil and trees. This is a shame to see and most of journey up to the village was marred by this and in many ways nothing can be done as the locals need to feed their villages at the detriment to the local wildlife. After around 5 hours (with a quick break for lunch – premade BBQ fish and pork and sticky rice) of climbing up very steep slopes we were at the summit of our second hill and nearly at our destination. The views were spectacular (if not marred by the burning) and soon we were on our way down to the village that we were staying that night. We firstly went through one village where we encountered our first taste of village life which was mainly half naked muddy kids running around with lots of pigs, chickens, dogs and ducks. There seemed to be only women and children around as most of the men and boys were out tending crops or in the jungle finding food for the night.
When we got to our village we were greeted by our family for the night. This family was on of the more well off families as they owned a very small shops and their kids were all fully clothed! They were a bit stand offish at first, as they hadn`t seen any white folk for a while. After some introductions we went off for a shower, which was a very small stream at the bottom of a hill. The shower consisted of a bucket of water a bar of soap and group of about 15 onlookers! After our refreshing wash, it was back to the house to prepare dinner before dark as there was no electricity in the house. Dosun wanted to prepare the all the food himself (dinner was simple but consisted of fried veg, sticky rice and soup) with no help, so Tilen and I interacted with the local kids for a while in our very best Laos!! One thing they were fascinated by was my camera, so I took lots of pictures of them and showed them what they looked like, much to their delight. After that I showed an intrigued audience of around 20 villagers all my other pictures on my camera dating back to Australia and to some wildlife that they had never seen before. They were amazed by the pictures they saw for them this was like whole new world they had never seen. Although they have schools for most of the villages they don`t have internet access like we do until they go to the main schools in the towns when they are around 10 years old.
The word around the village that the white folk had arrived must have made around the village as just before dinner we were invited to the local pub. The local pub was a small wooden shack with a massive urn in the middle which was the source of the inebriation for a few. The rice whiskey or Seeklaos as it was called was an interesting concoction. The locals told us in great delight that Beerlaos is for ladies and Seeklaos is for real men!! After a few drinks a lot of laughing and trying to exchange pleasantries it was time to leave our new found friends and eat dinner, again watched by most of the locals! We spent most of the night chatting about village life, how Dosun had come to be a tour guide, his family, what we did at home and various other topics before retiring to bed (a small mattress behind a mossie net) with the rest of the family.
We were woken early in the morning by most of the animals waking up but were treated to a hearty breakfast of noodles, vegetables and egg. After this is was off for the second days trekking which was only 12 kms and downhill most of the way. We past through one more village before getting back to the road and getting picked up to take us back to Laung Prabang and a nice shower! The homestay was an amazing experience and makes you realize how lucky we really are. To live in a village where you have to collect water each day and with no electricity is a real eye opener. Although they were poor, they were some of the happiest people I have met so far on my trip and even the most simplest things gave them pleasure.