I like a good trek or camping experience and Raquel is no different having served in the scouts for years, it is because of the this that we jumped at the chance of doing the trek in Sapa, Vietnam. However due to the lack of, authenticity of that trek, we were constantly on the lookout for another one to do, when stumbled onto the remote villages trek by White Elephant Tours.
Having met with the folks from White Elephant Tours on the day before to complete payment and to discuss what to bring and what to expect we were ready for trekking the next day, Friday the start of our roughing it weekend.
Early on Friday morning we walked with all our belongings to the operator’s office, where we met our guide for the three days, Yeng. From the office we made the short walk to where their truck was waiting for us. Yeng gave us our breakfast, which consisted out of sweet sticky rice, yogurt and fruit, while we drove to the point where we would start our 40km trek over three days.
We arrived at our starting point roughly an hour after leaving Luang Prabang, we were hyped up and ready for what could be an amazing experience. We walked for a little while until we arrive at a river, which we crossed on a very rickety boat, for the earnest start of our trek.
The initial part of the trek was quite simple as we mostly traversed under the cover of the trees in the low-lying jungle, with the biggest obstacle in this initial part being the streams we had to cross. As there were quite a few, Yeng, told us we might be better off just wearing our flip flops until we passed this stream filled area.
Yeng was already making a good impression on by constantly talking and telling us about the two ethnic groups we were going to visit, the Hmong and the Khmu. However, we liked more because he kept trying to make us laugh, and succeeded in doing so most of the time.
Having walked for a good two hours, Yeng stopped at a stream for a break and lunch which consisted of some chicken with rice, which he had carried in his backpack. Raquel and I rested and soaked our feet in the stream, something we do at every opportunity we get.
Having eaten all our food and finally put our hiking shoes on, we were on the move again, but by now we had left the shelter of the jungle and were walking across rice fields for good couple of hours in the sun until we arrived at the our first village, which was home to Khmu ethnic group.
As we arrived, I had the sense that the village was not expecting us as kids run away and adults looked at us suspiciously. One little episode during our arrival in the village reminded me of a scene in the movie Madagascar. I’ve added the video below as describing just doesn’t do it justice, but the kid’s reaction was exactly like in the video.
Yeng told us a little about the Khmu as we walked into the village. Normally the Khmu are the poorest of Lao’s ethnic groups (Lao, Khmu and Hmong) and are known as the lowlands people, this building there houses on stilts to precautionary measure to flooding. This village had no electricity and running water only in the form of two/three communal taps spread within the village.
Yeng lead us to the hut structure where Raquel and I would be sleeping and let Raquel and I settle in. Children, are always the most curious members of most societies and they were the first ones to approach us, by gathering around the door to our hut. I was knackered and before long, fell asleep for a nap while Raquel went out to explore with children who by now didn’t care we strangers and simply wanted to play.
I woke up half an hour later and felt like I needed a shower and so did Raquel, even though, Yeng told us about the few communal taps in the village, I was expecting one of them to be a shower… Well I was mistaken, because when I asked him where I could take a shower, he took me to one of the communal taps and said cheekily “This village shower! Welcome!”.
Ironically just as I arrived to ‘shower’ so did a woman to wash dishes and children to watch my every move. As always in these occasions, I embraced my surrounding and strip to my waist (I had swimming trunks on) and started washing myself with the fresh water from the tap. My hairy chest drew quite a gasps and laughs from the kids; the Madagascar kid, burst into tears again and Raquel laughed hysterically at the sight of my washing myself next to someone washing dishes, duckling swimming at my feet and pigs running behind me… Definitely luxury honeymoon material…
After our respective ‘showers’ we went for a quick walk around the village before sitting down in front of the chiefs house surrounded by the children who were slowly getting used to our presence (Except of course, Madagascar boy, who burst into tears if I even looked at him!).
Raquel started taking photos of the children, which they loved, but the real highlight for me was the moment Raquel asked for the iPhone and opened the Talking Tomcat app, which repeats anything you say in chipmunky voice. The kids went into delirium as they vied for a place to shout something, only to hear their words in a different voice.
In between all this fun, a youngish man came up to me and started speaking in broken English to me. He was the village teacher and had learnt a bit of English in teaching college. He seemed delighted to have someone to practice his English with and I enjoyed indulging him in some practice.
We spent a good hour doing this, until Yeng came out to tell us that dinner was ready. We joined in him in the chief’s house for dinner, which consisted of chicken grilled on a pan with vegetables and sticky rice, however, the chief was not in and his family did not join us. It was during dinner, that Yeng told us more about the village and the Khmu people.
It was getting dark and with no electricity there was not much more to do than sleep, so we settled into our sleeping bags on the mattresses provided, however as soon as we tucked in, a torrential downpour started and we could feel some droplets of water coming through the roof, which left us worried about how dry our night would be. Only the night would tell.
This post is based on our day of the 5th of October 2012.
The tour was organised through White Elephant Adventures for $137.50per person and included the following:
:: All drinking water;
:: All meals during trek including 3 lunches, 2 dinners and 3 breakfasts;
:: Sleeping bags
:: Basic Lodging in the villages