LP Trek -
We had a great time on our first trek in Chaing Mai. Yea, it was pretty touristy and we did have a spend a night with a few drunken Welsch kids and one really drunk French seductress, as Kelly says, but they were actually really nice people and the experience and scenery very memorable.
I think you could do a lot worse out of Chiang Mai. We weren’t constantly being pitched to by the villagers. There were no assholes in the group, everybody was pretty respectful. And during the debauchery, we were able to just chat with the guide for a couple hours about the villages, his background and other Thai things of interest.
After this all, we decided to look at the calendar and see how the rest of our itin looked. Amazingly, it felt like we were running out of time to see Laos and Cambodia. We had about 3 weeks left to get to Saigon and we hadn’t even left Thailand yet. You think when you travel for a year you’ll have plenty of downtime, but we really haven’t.
With that in mind, we decided to commit to some itin just so we made sure we saw what was important to us in Laos and Cambodia. After hearing so many stories about the north of Laos, I really wanted to go trekking up there, but because the roads are so bad in Laos, just getting up there and back would kill like 4 days, two of which would be backtracking. We decided to cut that trip and just do a trek out of Luang Prabang after our 2 day slow boat ride. That would give us time to hit the Plain of Jars, Tat Lo Waterfalls and Si Phan Don (4000 Islands).
We did a little shopping around for different trek options and ended up with Green Discovery , which was highly recommended by Lonely Planet. The LP is both a blessing and a curse for us. It is great for understanding travel times, prices and bus schedules but it also encourages a little bit of assimilation as every other traveler seems to have the same book and details. In this case it worked out well as the other guides I went to didn’t really seem to have any idea on where the treks went, what you saw, etc.
We met out guides Seta and Beit and the other four hikers: Three Americans and one Dutchman. We were surprised by the Americans as we hadn’t seen many in our travels. On the boat, it seemed like everyone was Canadian and before that we saw mostly Brits, Ozzies and Germans with the occasional crazy Israeli (they travel with giant suitcases, big sunglasses and are constantly in a state of pre, mid or post drunkeness.
After an hour long car ride that caused Kelly to puke (this trip would be a total disaster if we hadn’t got those motion-sickness patches), we started out with a fairly easy and flat hike through the Laotian jungle, crossing many streams, old rice fields and new lands being “slashed and burned”. After lunch we came across our first village of Laohu.
Now I’m sure a lot of white people come through there…maybe a group or two a week, but you wouldn’t know it from how you are treated. The kids come up and just stare at you. They don’t know what to do. They seem to be combination of scared and curious. We asked permission to take their pitctures and then we showed them the pictures we had taken. This always makes the kids laugh. We proceeded to take pictures and movies and show them the results. They laughed and jumped around. It was a lot of fun. I’ve never seen a mirror in one of these villages and while I’m sure they exist, I’m thinking the kids don’t see themselves very often.
After about 30-45 minutes of that, 30-45 minutes of steep hills and another hour or so of hiking, we came to a Hmong village where all the men wear black. We didn’t spend much time here, instead we went up to their school and then down into the neighboring Khmu village, which would be where we slept tonight.
In this village, not just the kids came up to stare, but so did the adults. You want to talk to them, but you can’t because of the language barrier. Instead you say “Sa ba dee” (hello) and smile and that’s about it. We sat around for a bit resting and then a little girl and little boy started playing a game with a little toy made from 6 or 7 chicken or turkey feathers bound together and stuck into a 1/2″ thick square made of banana leaf. They used this toy like a handball, hitting back and forth to each other.
I don’t know how we got involved but within 10 minutes or so we had about 10 kids playing it with us. It was surprisingly easy to pick up and fun to play. Kelly looked pretty funny playing and I have some great shots of her “giving it her all” and also a small movie.
That night, the guides prepared us a meal of stir fry meat and veggies and we stayed up late drinking lao lao (homemade whiskey).