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Monday, 03 May 2010

Moments in Northern Laos: Going Back in Time - Page 2

Written by Bart Drolenga
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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.

Moments in Northern Laos: Going back in time, Northern Laos travel, adventure travel laos, culture and nature travel, Luang Nam Tha, Nam Ha protected area, Akha village, Akha culture, Nam Tha River, Lenten people, Nong Khiaw, Nam Ou River, riverboats, Luang Prabang, markets South East Asia, Wat Manoram temple, Wat Thammothayalan temple, That Chomsi stupa, the Mekong,  Tat Kuang Si waterfalls, Bart DrolengaThis is an Akha village. The tribe migrated 1500 years ago from Mongolia to South East Asia. They live according to century old traditions, a mixture of animism, spirit worship and a strong bond with nature. Good and evil spirits can influence life. A disturbance of the natural balance will cause illness, poverty or even death. Up until a few years ago twins were killed as they supposedly brought bad luck. Now, they are given for adoption.

Large extended families live together in one house, but men and women sleep separately. Next to the house I see a small bamboo hut. It is a called a “happy house.” The hut plays an important role in the Akha culture. Married couples retreat to it to make love. It is also the place where an unmarried young man chooses his wife. When he fancies a woman he sleeps with her in the happy house. When they do not connect he chooses another woman. This goes on until he finds his perfect wife.

When Mark and I leave I see an old women clumping cotton. She chews on an areca nut that is wrapped in a betel leaf. It is a mild stimulant and the elderly women of Laos adore it. As we drive by a smile appears on her wrinkled face. The betel has coloured her teeth and lips a bright red.

. . .

Ta, a guide from the tourism office in Luang Nam Tha, and I are trekking though the majestic jungle. A wall of green rises along the narrow path. Snake like liana vines curl around huge tree trunks. Bamboo and lush tropical plants grow beside the trail.

“In Luang Nam Tha we are focussing on ecotourism.” Says Ta. “For small groups of tourists we organise treks in the Nam Ha protected area. We try to protect the forest and the culture of the hill tribes as much as possible. During the treks we educate the tourists on the lifestyle of the different ethnic tribes, the wildlife and on the diversity of the forest.”

Moments in Northern Laos: Going back in time, Northern Laos travel, adventure travel laos, culture and nature travel, Luang Nam Tha, Nam Ha protected area, Akha village, Akha culture, Nam Tha River, Lenten people, Nong Khiaw, Nam Ou River, riverboats, Luang Prabang, markets South East Asia, Wat Manoram temple, Wat Thammothayalan temple, That Chomsi stupa, the Mekong,  Tat Kuang Si waterfalls, Bart DrolengaWhen we arrive in a Lenten village I see a young woman embroidering a bag. She wears her long hair curled around her head with a silver coin attached to it. White bandages cover her legs. She wears a black dress with red trimmings. From a silver ornament in her red necklace hangs a bundle of white thread. Her eyebrows are depilated.

 

“Girl’s eyebrows are depilated from the age of 15.” Explains Ta. “It is a custom of the Lenten people. They believe in a mixture of Taoism and animism with spirits representing the natural elements and other spirits protecting the family, house and village. The Lenten live near the river so it is easy for them to cultivate their rice paddies”

It is quiet in the village. Most of the villagers are working on the land. While walking through the village a herd of giggling children follow us. An old woman is fabricating a broom from reed. Outside a house, I see an oil barrel full of bamboo pulp. The solution is used to make paper. We visit two blacksmiths who work together. They are cracking jokes. One is sharpening a machete on a wet stone. I am amazed to hear that he is blind.

In the mountainous north of Laos, there live approximately 600,000 people that belong to one of the hill tribes. With a population of 5,000, the Lenten people are one of the smallest.

(Page 2 of 6)
Last modified on Sunday, 16 December 2012

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