After lunch, we hopped in a small motor boat and rode to the starting point of our hike. On the way, we observed some of the daily activities of locals who make their livelihoods from the river. We disembarked at a small Khmu village to begin our trek. Our guide explained that the Khmu people are an ethnic minority with origins in Cambodia, and that their language was very similar to Khmer. He taught us how to say “hello” in Khmu (I’ve already forgotten), and as we walked through the village we waved and said hello to the the many kids hanging out and playing sports (our guide explained that they were on a school holiday).
Then we spent the afternoon hiking through beautiful countryside and a couple of Hmong villages. The first Hmong village we passed through was a new settlement, where a number of families had recently relocated for better proximity to water and a school. We passed through the older villages that the families had migrated from as well, where the current inhabitants still need to walk for 30 minutes to the nearest stream and over an hour to the nearest school. One of the most interesting people we observed was a blacksmith, making knives outside his house using very rustic materials.
After three hours or so of hiking in the hot Laos sun, we arrived at Hoify, the Khmu village where we’d be spending the night. Hoify is a large-ish village of about 70 families, mostly living in thatched huts with palm leaf roofs. We spent a few minutes resting our weary bodies, and then took a walk around the village to check it out. Unfortunately the language barrier made it difficult to connect with the people we saw around the village, but many of the kids were friendly and seemed rather curious about the strange Westerners spending a night in their town.
We also got to watch the local boys play a very exciting game called ka-taw, which was sort of a cross between volleyball and soccer. Players may use their heads, feet, knees, etc. to get the ball over the net. These boys had some fantastic moves, and Kenny decided to try his hand at sports photography while we watched them play. We think that they may have even started pulling out some of their fancier stunts once they realized we were watching. ;)
While the boys played, many women and young girls worked hard, carrying food and buckets of water, and making brooms to sell. Our guide told us that this gender disparity was a common theme among the ethnic minority groups in Laos – women do most of the hard work while men work shorter hours and get to spend more time relaxing.
Hoify Village, like many others near Luang Prabang, only has power in the evenings, when they turn on their generator. Much of the town congregates in one of the larger houses to crowd around a television playing Thai and Lao karaoke VCDs. Visitors pay a small admission fee at the door. We joined to watch a few music videos, and our guide treated us to our first taste of lao-lao (it tastes like strong sake).
Next event: kayaking.
See you in the next post…