Thursday, April 7, 2011

Same Same but Different

The ever popular phrase in Southeast Asia of 'Same Same, but Different' is all to right. Laos is the same as other southeast Asian countries, but definitely different.

I decided I want to experience some more jungle by heading to northern Laos to the city of Luang Nam Tha, a hot spot for trekking. Although the weather had been cold and rainy north of Luang Prabang, I was looking forward to the change of climate to cool the blood. It is a small town tucked away in the jungle mountains. I decided I would like to really get to know the scenery, so I booked a 3 day 2 night trek through the Laos jungle. I know, totally normal right.
Well I knew it would be a good trek when I met my guide, a nice Laos guy, named Porn. Umm....yea. Atleast this will be a humorous trek! So we headed off on the first day outside of town into the National Protected Area (NPA) - these NPA's only started coming to fruition in the 1990's. It is more evidence that Laos has had a tumultuous history. We headed out from a small rural village within the NPA with a smile after we saw a little boy running around with no pants with a blown up condom on a string as a balloon. Told you it would be a humorous trek!
Our group, Ria (Canada), Porn, another local guide from the village, and myself, crossed the river and trekked the first day for 5 hours. The jungle has all elements of a jungle in your imagination, rivers, big trees, big leaves, birds with ever sound, hills, valleys, slippery mud etc...but the difference between this jungle and any other i've trekked is that there is Bamboo everywhere. Most of the houses and such in the Laos area are made out of bamboo, and this is really durable useful stuff. As seen when we arrived at our 'camp'- an open air bamboo platform near the river with mosquito netting. Perfect. We set up our sleeping bags and then started a fire and dinner. All dinner, lunch, and breakfast  was eaten on banana leaves and with your hands, but DELICIOUS!!! Sticky rice is the staple food in Laos. It is rice in the sense of it, but glutonous so that it sticks together in a big clump, and you pick off a decent portion, clump it into a ball, and then grab food of another dish (i.e tomato and potatoes) with the sticky rice in you hands and indulge- YUMMY! (i'm really loving the cuisine aspect of SE Asia). So we finished off dinner and sat around the fire and chatted, and presumed customary Lao tradition by drinking Lao Lao. This fire whiskey is made from rice and all Laos drink it, so we proceeded to be Lao and drank an entire bottle (Our guide Porn said that is tradition to drink the whole bottle- you can't very well cap it and drink it tomorrow! of course haha)  It was all good fun though (and humorous!).
After a rainy and cold night, we started the next day trek, up and down, up and down, exhausting. We made our stop for lunch after a couple hours trekking in this very small rural village on the river where their primary language is their own dialect, and secondary language being Lao. They were friendly people and the kids loved the little toys Ria and I brought. Not to mention all the pigs, chickens, and naked babies running around your feet. Priceless.
I looked around and couldn't help but notice how little these people in this village seemed to have. Bamboo huts, bottles of Lao Lao, and a couple of farm animals. But these people seemed genuinely happy, and I couldn't help but wonder, is less more?
These people have so much less material wealth, but seem to be content with their lives, would you be happier with more, or less?

We thanked them for the stop and continued along the river for awhile to the next village where we stayed the night. Ria and I bathed in the river, which is done in a sarong like the locals, as to not offend anybody by showing too much skin. Laos people are quite conservative. Afterwards we played with all the children, teaching them Tic Tac Toe in the dirt, Rock Paper Scissors, and showed them the simply flying toys we had brought. They were elated. Later, we headed up to their school, which was a building with one room the size of my garage. They had one teacher and three classes in this one room. It being Sunday, there was nobody there for school, so we proceeded to draw on the chalkboard and practice Laos words and English words...and again play that highly entertaining game of Tic TacToe (oolala). The afternoon spent with the kids was the best part of the trek, well not to mention the happiness of endorphins!
That night after eating the chicken we had just watched them kill, pluck, and boil, we enjoyed more sticky rice, another Lao Lao whiskey bottle and company of a bunch of Lao guys asking us to sing American songs in exchange for their reciting Laos tradition music. Fair trade- although our singing was poor, they couldn't tell the difference! 

The next morning, we set out parallel to the river and continued through the jungle, but eventually came to some really lovely views of the rolling green jungle mountains. We trekked for 4 or 5 hours that day until we arrived to town, sore, hungry, happy, and in the mood for a burger and a beer!!

It was a fantastic trek, and I'm very happy I did it. It was a great way to spend three days and really get a feel for Laos culture.

1 comment:

  1. That is so cool! This is one of those things that will stick you you your entire life. You are the most unique chica I have ever met (and I love it!)


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