Jen’s riverboat travel-sickness played a part in our hotel choice upon our arrival to Luang Prabang; Gareth chose the first one he found once we had climbed the bank of the near depleted waters of the Mekong. The hotel was slightly above our price range but we wanted a little comfort in order to relax our newly tattooed, travel-worn bodies. It also helped that Gareth may have picked up a stomach bug after eating a not-so-appetizing tuna sandwich.
|Our ever-so-charming hotel and ‘beach’ front|
Luang Prabang was just what we needed. UNESCO declared this city a world heritage site in 1995 due to its cultural significance. The city centre is dotted with French colonial buildings spliced with an Indochinese influence and a stunning Wat (a Buddhist temple) made from gold and emerald. We particularly loved the French wine shops, filled top to toe with, you guessed it, wine, and we sat for hours people-watching and sipping the second cheapest wine on the menu.
We could have stayed in this most magical city for days but we were looking for adventure. We decided to book ourselves onto a two-day hill-tribe trek followed by kayaking down the Mekong River. We got our names down first and fast, and second and last, as it delightfully turned out to be. When we arrived in the morning at our pick-up point we were greeted by our guide who introduced himself as King Kong (real name Kong). He informed us it would be just him and us for the whole trip.
We were hustled into a black rusty van, which looked like the terrorists van from Back to the Future. The drive to our drop-off point was just a typical Laos ride mainly consisting of the heart-in-mouth Asian habit of over-taking on bends.
We were dropped off at the bottom of our mountain and used the flat-ish terrain to get to know our guide Kong. He spoke good English and was able to talk to us about anything we asked.
After about an hour and a half we could hear children laughing and two little heads, aged about 2 and 4, popped up over a hill we were walking besides. Kong told them not to be shy and to say hello but that made them all the more coy. Eventually their mum stood beside them talking to Kong. He translated that she had asked if we wanted to see her house. We walked up towards her farmstead and saw the small wooden hut her family called home for six months of the year. The family consisted of the wife, husband, two children and an uncle, and they spent their time growing and harvesting hops. We were handed round woven mats to sit on while we rested and talked, although Gareth couldn’t rest too much having sat on an ant hill.
|Having a much needed rest from the 36 degree sun|
|Gareth taking a well deserved break from his photographer duties|
As we were leaving we gave the boys an exercise book and pencil each and told them they could use it to draw pictures. They seemed really pleased and were probably too young to have seen an exercise book before so it was quite a novelty for them.
We continued on for another hour and then had lunch sat overlooking a scorched field. On our trip along the Mekong we saw blackened and burning mountainsides a-plenty. Farmers in Laos burn their land like this as a traditional method of crop rotation. This method is known as Slash and Burn and is considered bad practice due to the impact this has on the environment; vast numbers of mature trees and wildlife are destroyed resulting in severe deforestation. Flights in the area have also been cancelled due to the thick smoke.
|View out to burnt field|
After lunch we progressed slowly but surely uphill, crossing streams, which Kong would hop over like a mountain goat, Gareth would generally walk through with his waterproof boots and Jen would fall into due to her slightly inappropriate Reeboks.
|Yes, it is quite likely that Jen fell into that stream|
After five hours we turned what could be described as a corner and right there out of nowhere was a village. Vegetable patches surrounded by rickety fences, sturdy wooden huts surrounded by chickens and pigs, children screaming and laughing simultaneously, unstable bridges that had to be walked across down the middle otherwise the planks would lift and you would slip into the stream 6ft below. We walked towards a shaded spot where there was a large tree stump for a table and benches encircling it. As we sat and caught our breath a few curious women approached, the men were working the fields. One elderly woman sold us simple handmade embroidered bracelets, another lady, who we realised was deaf, stood near to us, occasionally smiling at us then concentrating her smiles on her newborn.
|Cute little piggies|
|A Hmong Tribe Hut|
During a short tour of the village we met a friend of Kong’s. They joked and chatted together for a couple of minutes, he looked young, like a teenager, but he held himself with the confidence of a man. Kong later told us that he has two children already. Him and his wife were married at 14 and 12 respectively, and they’ve been married for two years.
|A Hmong tribesman – note the gun across his back|
After our tour we were off to our village for the night. Earlier Kong had pointed to a dirt track on a mountain-top to our right which we were actually walking away from and mentioned to us that we were heading there. By this point we were soaked in our own sweat and couldn’t feel our feet so this news wasn’t received well. Gareth even told Kong that he must be lying. Kong wasn’t lying.
To be continued…
|See you next time!|