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Travel in time

December 16th, 2019

Travel in time

So you visited South East Asia and was unpleasantly surprised by the fact that they had become so westernized?

Next time, travel in time to Laos!

Fig. "Looking Outside" ->

Laos is inhabited by various ethnic groups that still practice animism and cultivate traditions passed down from generations. A trip across this landlocked country cannot be completed without learning about the lifestyle of indigenous people, almost untouched by modern civilization.

Laos is attracting more and more visitors every year, flocking to take a boat on the Mekong River or to discover the Buddhist temples of the UNESCO town of Luang Prabang, but it is the country’s far north which has some hidden gems.

Vieng Phoukha Town, located between Huay Xai (at the border with Thailand) and Luang Namtha, has remained off the tourist radars for decades. It is where the true adventure-seekers can experience a genuine Laotian life, by trekking the mountains. The ethnic people live exactly the same way as centuries ago.

Fig. "Trekking Through Jungle, Laos" ->

The traditional village of Khmu (Kamu) tribe is usually located upon the hill. The indigenous communities rely on the slash and burn agriculture, storing the rice in the special buildings outside of the village. Moreover, they predominantly remain proud animists, worshiping ancestors.

You are also welcomed in their houses. Please bear in mind that the religious objects, be it the bones of sacrificed animals or the wooden altars, are not allowed to be touched by an outsider. Notably, the tribe members have their own techniques of smithery, weaving cloths, baskets and hunting with arch for birds. In addition to the animal breeding, many resort to catching snakes and rats as an additional source of meat. Observing the locals in their everyday chore will bring unforgettable memoirs.

Fig. "Tribal Man Goes Fishing" ->

From time to time, villagers decide to cultivate a new land or construct a house in a new place. These actions need to be consulted with the medium first, who will decide how many animals are to be sacrificed. For the period of 3 days, no one is allowed to enter or exit the village. A visitor may face a signpost in the form of wooden star placed in the middle of the gate to block the entry. Make sure you do not breach a local custom, otherwise you may be requested to pay the penalty equal to the value of sacrificed animals.

When wandering through the lush green jungle, your nostrils are hit by the scent of the rich varieties of herbs and trees that according to the local knowledge have healing or poisonous properties. The area of winding rivers hosts a myriad of species of birds, making the hike more in tune with nature.

Fig. "Tribal Girl Works On The Burned Field" ->

Take your tent and camp under the large tree. You can set a bonfire, boil the water in the bamboo cups, cook some rice and then take a shower in the nearby stream. The mating sounds of the birds will accompany you, when falling asleep. Alternatively, you can choose to sleep in the cave that offers a safe but rather a too-chilly hideout.

Depending on the season, you may be amazed by either greenish rice fields or learn firsthand about the swidden agriculture that creates the patterns of black, brown or green colors across the hills.

Fig. "Burned Fields" ->

Wandering up and down, a real adventure-seeker should arrive to a village of the Akha Tribe, which live scattered across the north. They are distinctive by wearing silver coins, and tying their hair down with a sophistically decorated tail. The tribe members of this area usually enjoy access to water and electricity thanks to the projects funded by the European NGOs. In addition, they send their children down to the town for education during the week but in spite of this, their attitudes, beliefs and priorities are unchanged. The community is centered on family, working together to secure the rice, and animism. Akha tribes remain very patriarchal, with men often addicted to the opium. As an unexpected guest, you may be served a shot of wine rice. There are also chances of getting hosted at authentic tribal house, should the sundown be approaching.

The custom of healing a disease by slaughtering an animal is often criticized, as it discourages people from visiting hospitals, which then translates itself into higher mortality. Reportedly, all tribal people have been vaccinated.

Some of the rivers becomes dry in the hot season which offers an opportunity to hike along their banks. You may be fortunate to discover some small waterfalls on your way.

Trekking through the pristine forest, you may also encounter the villages of other tribes such as Hmong and Lahu; each of them proudly exposes various traditional clothes, hairstyles, not to mention their distinctive housing and equipment.

Being accompanied by a local guide for the whole trip is very valuable. Not only to make sure that the local customs will not breached, but also for the sake of safety in the forests. The jungle is home to many wild bears and the trails are also not easy to follow. A local guide knows well what areas were not hit by the bombing during the Vietnam War. Importantly, the whole area of Vieng Phoukha and the surroundings remain free of landmines.

Contact details to the guide (Somhak):