We woke up around 6:30am and were dry, which was a relief, however being awake this early in the morning was not my favourite thing, but oh well when in Rome, live like the Romans. Everyone was up and about going about their early morning business and as soon as the kids caught wind of us being awake they came round, they were wandering around our hut waiting for us to get out.
Yeng was getting our breakfast ready, while Raquel and I went to the tap to brush our teeth, all with the kids in tow. Even as we had breakfast, they sat in front of us as if to see what these strange folks eat in the morning. Raquel, being much more a morning person than me, was already playing games with them (even getting her hair done by them) and as soon as we finished breakfast she had the iPhone out playing Talking Tomcat with them, while Yeng prepared our lunch.
It was around 7am when we said our goodbyes to the kids and the village chief and started our trekking for the day. Yeng warned us that today would be much tougher than the day before as there was a lot more uphill trekking to do. We set off again in flip-flops though as there were a few streams to cross before starting our ascent.
The good thing was that it was slightly overcast which meant the sun was not scorching down on us, but having to carry seven litres of water on these ascents was not that simple. At some point there was a lot climbing with hands, which meant that I couldn’t really take too many photos, so I decided to put the camera away.
When we reached the top of the last ascent for the day, Yeng stopped us for a much needed break and lunch, which curiously consisted out of boiled then fried bamboo with vegetable and, you guessed it, sticky rice. I actually really enjoyed the bamboo; Raquel not so much… With lunch over and done with, we retook to the road and soon arrived on a main gravel road which would lead us to our destination, the Hmong village where we would spending the night.
As we got closer, we came across some people and Yeng immediately told us that they were Hmong. We were curious as to how he could tell and he told us that the Hmong are “whiter” (by that I think he meant paler than the Khmu) and they had higher cheekbones with slightly wider faces than those of the Lao and Khmu.
We were getting close to the Hmong village, which curiously was next to a Khmu village, which was a very good way to see the differences between the two ethnicities and how they lived, but more importantly how the built houses. The Khmu being from the lowland, build their houses on stilts, while the Hmong, build theirs on earth, as we shortly found out when we arrived in the village.
Our arrival at the village seemed to bring out the same feelings of suspicion that we had on the day before, but here the kids were a lot more curios and immediately seemed to follow us at a distance.
Once again we were staying with the chief, who welcomed us with family and directed us to where we would sleep for the night, inside his house with his family. It was a modest home with a large central room, with two bedrooms on one side and two beds in it, and then an adjoining kitchen with another bedroom.
Both of us desperately needed to wash up as we were feeling filthy, and it was as we were taking off our shoes, that Raquel noticed the she was bleeding quite profusely from just above the ankle but didn’t seem to have any major cuts. When Yeng saw it, he immediately knew what had happened, Raquel had been bitten by leaches… We went off to the communal tap, less crowded than at the last one, to get ourselves slightly washed up.
Yeng then took us for a walk while talking about the Khmu and their traditions, superstitions and how they made their livelihood. It was interesting to see the difference between the two ethnicities. One thing we noticed which was diffent between the Khmu and the Hmong was almost the lack of traditional clothing with the Khmu, where as the Hmong had very distinctive traditional dress, similar to the Hmong we met in Sapa.
We stumbled on boys playing with handmade spinning tops. We sat down for a while to look at them play while Yeng told us some more of the Hmong. The boys turned out to be quite entertaining, showing us all their tricks with their spinning tops, though when we took out the camera, they cared more about being photographed than playing, and so we entered into a photography session, with each child wanting their photo to be taken. As soon as you took the photo, they would all run around to see how they looked. Some were so excited they you feel them shake from excitement as you showed them their photos.
All the kids walked back with us as we headed back to the chief’s house where we all sat down around the front of his house and talked, via Yeng. Raquel once again brought out the iPhone and the Talking Tomcat app to the delight of the kids, and while she entertained them, I was talking to the chief (via Yeng) about life in the villages etc.
The chief was such a nice man and it was pity, as he himself said, that he couldn’t speak English otherwise he would spend hours chatting to us. He kept getting photos to show his daughters, which weren’t living in the village anymore and told us about their lives in Luang Prabang. The chief also had a very young daughter, who has down syndrome, but you could see how much they loved the little and the attention she got.
While they were preparing dinner, Raquel and played with one of the chiefs grandsons, who had only started walking a few weeks prior, so he was wandering about with Raquel and me in tow.
It was already dark when dinner was ready and to my dismay, it wasn’t really my favourite food… Village tofu, spinach and a selection of fluffy rice, and you guessed it, sticky rice… It was definitely not my cup of tea and while Raquel seemed to be satisfied, I was absolutely starving, but ate the food as I didn’t want to insult our hosts.
After dinner Raquel and I headed to bed as not only did we have a tiring day, but we had another early morning ahead and a long and hard trek awaiting us. We stumbled into bed and I fell asleep straight away while Raquel struggled to fall asleep, but eventually did.
It was around 4am when we were suddenly awoken by a lot of noise. We were still half asleep when we could hear the family chasing a chicken through the house, the chicken making so much noise as if running away from death, little did we know that it was actually the case.
We fell asleep again and only woke up when the sun rose, around 6am, and as Raquel opened her eyes three little kids watching us sleep, scurried away. Once properly awake we went off to brush our teeth and once we got back to the kitchen, we realized what had happened to the chicken screaming at 4am… It was boiled and sitting in a pot waiting to be eaten for breakfast.
I was still famished from the previous nights food, or lack of it, and really was not in the mood for boiled chicken so early in the morning. Fortunately, Yeng had prepared toast, eggs and coffee for us which was an absolute godsend for me.
After breakfast, Yeng, prepared lunch while Raquel and I packed up and played with the kids some more.
We said our thank yous and goodbyes to the village and started our long trek to our pick up point. Yeng warned us that today would be another tough days of trekking which included two big hills to cross over and then a very long steep descent to the river.
To be honest the climbing the two rather big hills was actually not the hardest part of the day. Both Raquel and I might not be the fittest people on earth, but we have gumption, we keep going and make sure we finish something we started.
We had two challenges on our final day. The first challenge was less to do with us, and more to do nature… Raquel and Yeng were being attacked by leaches, especially on the more dense areas of the jungles we were walking through. Raquel in particular was being sought after by the leaches and she was not enjoying it at all.
Once we got out of the dense jungle, the leaches subsided, but then, I had my own problems with the steep descents. I have a bit of a dodgy knee, which does not deal well with steep inclines, and it was a good two hours of steep inclines .
When we finally reached the bottom the hill by the river, both Raquel and I were tired and just dying to get back to the truck picking us up, not only drink some water (which had run out of us on our descent), but also just to sit and lay down and rest.
We crossed the river on a rickety boat and stumbled into the back of the truck, happy that the day of trekking was over. It still took us a while to get back to Luang Prabang as they were working on the road, but we didn’t care, we just slept.
After 40km of trekking over three days, no real showers, food that was not really our favourite we were happy it was over, however quite happy we had experienced this amazing trek, meeting some wonderful people and experiencing life in the villages in a way that we would have never been able to otherwise.
Yeng, our guide, was absolutely fantastic and I have to be honest had he not been the way he was, we have enjoyed the trek substantially less than we did.
This post is based on our day of the 6th and 7th 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