The people of Northern Laos never hurry; the riverboat to the next town slowly fills up. When the boat finally takes off, you experience Asian life as if time stood still. It must have been this way in Thailand 50 years ago; children play in the river while women do their laundry and long tail boats fully packed with merchandise pass by. A trek over mountains through dense rainforest can lead you to tribal villages where people have lived in the same ways for centuries. Northern Laos is a paradise for the adventurous traveler who loves culture and nature.
Mark and I are standing next to the road some 20 miles outside Luang Nam Tha, a town close to the Chinese border. I met Mark while traveling in Laos; an experienced traveler, he has visited many countries. He is a 48-year-old mail deliveryman from Germany and looks impressive, weighing 330 pounds. We rent scooters to explore Luang Nam Tha’s surroundings.
The concrete road runs through the Nam Ha protected area, an enormous rainforest of unspoilt beauty where misty mountains are covered with trees and plants in all shades of green. The villages are inhabited with indigenous tribes. Tigers, leopards and bears roam the jungle.
A poor farmer with a machete hanging from his belt greets us and points to a narrow dirt road into the forest. He wants us to take him to his village. Mark and I decide to go, always ready for an adventure.
The farmer jumps onto the back of my scooter. The journey takes us eight miles on a steep path along deep ravines and through impenetrable jungle. The village lies on a mountaintop in the far distance. In my mirror I see the large shape of Mark. He is having difficulty manoeuvring his small bike on the slippery road.
There, the whole village gathers to admire and touch the two big westerners. A villager brings a scale and asks Mark to be weighed. Reluctantly, Mark steps on the scale causing chuckles and disbelief. It is an experience of a lifetime for the villagers – the average Laotian man weighs around 110 pounds.
We are invited into the home of a family. Our host, a man with silver-filled teeth and a rock & roll haircut, offers us a glass of lao lao. The strong rice whiskey makes us tipsy in no time.
The women are eating a meal of rice, salad and a watery curry. Apart from a coif bedecked with colorful beads and buttons made of old silver coins, they are naked from the waist up. On their lower half they wear dark sarongs. Naked children watch us shyly. At least 15 people are living in this bamboo house that is built on wooden poles with a thatched roof. Cooking utensils, a few baskets, bamboo stools and heaps of clothes and blankets are the only possessions in the house.