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Pak Ou District Trek - Big Adventure, Small Villages

LAOS | Saturday, 14 February 2009 | Views [6150]

Ban Komchong

Ban Komchong

One of our main goals for northern Laos was to complete a challenging trek. This part of the country is known for its rugged terrain, lush forests, and numerous ethnic groups. We signed up with a company named Green Discovery because of their cultural submersion offerings and their commitment to responsible tourism. We were not disappointed. Our 5 day trek turned out to be the highlight of our time in Laos 

So much happened over the five days that I’ll probably leave a few things out. Check out Sebastian’s journal entry for even more details.

Day 1

  • Met our friendly guide Sintha. He was 24, just finished a 3 year college, and spoke numerous languages of the region. He was quite a bit smaller than us, but had no problem keeping up on the physical side of things. 
  •   The effects of slash and burn forestry have devastated this region. We encountered numerous villagers clearing land in anticipation of the pre-rainy season burns. It wasn’t the lush jungle we hoped for, but I’m sure it’s still beautiful during the wet summer. 
  •   5 hours of trekking brought us to our first home-stay - Ban Komchong. The village is a mix of Hmong and Khmu ethnic groups. We drew a lot of odd stares as we made our way through the village trying to say hello in the different dialects. 
  •  Our host family was very gracious, offering us a comfortable sleeping area in their common room and use of their kitchen. Sintha handled all of the cooking and did an excellent job.
  •   The kids of the village were especially interested in us. They laughed at/with us no matter the activity: bathing in the communal spring, picking ants from the rice, or even playing dodge-ball.

Day 2

  •  Rose early with the villagers and roosters. Many of the houses keep a hunting rooster which helps them draw wild chickens out of the forest. Our family’s rooster was tied up 10 feet from our beds. 
  •  We stopped at Ban Nasavang for lunch. Our guide let us sample bamboo rat which many villagers in this region eat on a regular basis. I also had a lizard fall out of a tree and nearly down my pants as I napped on a bench below. Fun stuff.
  •  2 more hours of trekking brought us to our second home-stay – Ban Houaykok (Khmu). The village chief graciously put us up in their new sleeping hut. 
  •  We wandered over to the village school and sat in on a class. The primary school kids were working through a handwriting lesson, but our presence was a little too distracting.  I wish we could have been around for the math assignment - the universal language. 
  •  After another delicious dinner, we played drinking games with our guide, the son of the village chief, and anyone else who stopped by to check out the foreigners. We drank Khmu whiskey which is made out of sticky rice, but not nearly as strong as Lao Lao. The whiskey was in a large pot with bamboo straws sticking out in all directions. To see who had to chug the whiskey, we spun a chicken head around until its beak pointed at the next victim. As we drank the pot down, it gets filled with river water, making for a more diluted mix and hell in our stomachs. I managed to stick out a couple hours before I finally hurled. It was a great experience, puke and all.

Day 3

  • Woke up with a major hangover. 
  •  This was our longest day of hiking. Up and down big hills, ducking through bamboo forests, and crossing numerous streams. It was supposed to take us nine hours, but we did it in about six. 
  • Our third home-stay was in Ban Houaylauong, a Khmu village of 85 families. Unlike the previous villages, this one had a paved road and major river. 
  • Again we stayed with the village chief and his family. He was a very curious guy who would have loved to ask us questions all night if it weren’t for the language barrier. 
  • The extended family was celebrating a special occasion so dinner included some rare treats – baby buffalo and dish of congealed blood. We sampled both.

Day 4

  • Started the kayaking leg of our tour on the Nam Ou River. We used plastic sit-on-top boats which weren’t particularly responsive in the rapids. We flipped our boat once, but it was easy to recover. Next time I come to this region, it’s going to be in the wet season to experience the full force of the rivers.
  •  After about 5 hours of paddling we arrived at our final home-stay – Ban Xang Hai. This was another roadside village, but this time we met a new ethnic group, Lao Lu. The women of the village, including our hostess, were all working away on their looms, weaving cotton grown in nearby fields. 
  •  Our bath time in the river was again a highlight for all of the village kids. We drew quite the crowd. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=i004XA_LGQs
  •  We also drew a crowd as we read and wrote in our journals in our host’s yard.  About 15 village kids joined me in ABC’s (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=UEkQkKgVGbg) and helped us with our Lao. We gave each of them notebooks and pens hoping they’d sit and write with us, but they ran off screaming and laughing.  Later we’d find out that they told all of the other kids in town so we had to turn kids away as our supplies ran out. Mental note: next time plan something with the village school instead. 
  • The family we stayed with had 3 daughters, one of which recently married and moved to the city. The mother shared pictures from the wedding and then made some sly comments about her younger daughters still being available for us farrangs. We laughed off the comment and finished the night watching Thai soap operas.

Day 5

  • Cold morning. Would have stayed in bed if it weren’t for the stomach bug that set in over night. I think the river water caught up with me.
  • Another easy day of paddling with impressive limestone cliffs.
  • Where the Nam Ou River flows into the Mekong, we stopped to explore Pak Ou cave. The two caves here are important Buddhist shrines holding thousands of Buddha statues and carvings.
  • We finished our trip by stopping at a village lined with vendors just north of Luang Prabang. They all seemed to have the same merchandise (textiles, silver jewelry, whiskey) and a similar sad story. It wasn’t the best way to end our trip, but it certainly didn’t damper all of the other incredible experiences.  

Tags: food, kayaking, kids, trekking, villages

 

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