Village Balloons

When we got to Luang Nam Tha, we check out the signs in front of all the eco-tour companies and quickly decided that the one we wanted to do was the tour that included 1 day of kayaking down the Nam Ou, an overnight stay at a local village, and one day of jungle trekking. To our dismay, it seemed that kayaking just wasn’t a popular attraction for tourists that week, because while the 2 and 3 day jungle treks filled up each day, our kayaking/trekking excursion sat on the board of Green Discovery Eco-Tours for 3 days with no other sign-ups in sight.  We opted not to do it on our own – it would have been quite expensive with just the two of us, and not as much fun.  So instead, we signed up for a 2 day jungle trek with an overnight village stay.  There were already six people signed up, and the difficulty level of the trek was listed as “easy-moderate”, so we thought it was a good alternative.

On the morning of the trek, a ninth person joined our group, and off we went into the jungle.  We were:


Front row (L to R):  Cactus and Yakir from Israel, Sean from Australia, Stu, me, and Mike from England.  Back row: A German couple who didn’t really speak to any of us so we didn’t get their names.  At first I thought they didn’t speak English.  Then I realized that they spoke English just fine and they were just ignoring us.  Nice.

The first day we started out by walking through the rice fields at the foot of the mountains


Then we started to climb.  The village we were heading towards was at the top of the hill on a plateau with 360 degree views, but to get there, we had to go up and up and up.  And up and up and up.  And when I say “up”, I don’t mean “around and up and around”, I mean UP.  We climbed and climbed, and just when I thought my calves and hamstrings couldn’t take it, we climbed some more.


We made a couple of stops – once to gather some local plants that were to be part of our lunch


And then to have lunch, which was prepared by our guides.  Lunch included fresh fish that they had got at the market that morning grilled over a fire.  I watched with both understanding and despair as our guide gutted the fish


but almost lost it when he put the gutted fish down and it started flopping around!!  I keep telling myself that it was just a series of involuntary muscle contractions and that the fish wasn’t still alive, but it didn’t help to see him grab it and bash it over the head a few times.

Anyway, over lunch we had the chance to get to know our trek-mates a bit more (save for the not-so-chatty Germans), and they turned out to be a pretty cool bunch.  Cactus even made friends with a butterfly, which landed on his foot and hung out long enough for us to get out our camera and snap a shot:


After lunch we continued climbing up and up until we finally got here:


With views like this on all sides:


While the views were stunning, our overall village experience was not what I expected.  Our guide didn’t prepare us with any information about the villagers, their language, culture or way of life before we got there.  All our hellos to the people of the village were mostly met with blank stares, and no one invited us into their homes or to show us around or anything interesting in the village or about their way of life.  This village gets tours coming through regularly (and money for each tour – 30% of our fee went to the village), so it’s not like they didn’t know to expect us.  But they just didn’t seem too pleased to have us there, and honestly, that’s exactly what I was afraid of.  I was wary of going to a remote village just for this reason – I didn’t want to seem like an outsiders looking into a fishbowl, but that’s how it felt.  There was no effort to communicate, and it seemed like it was going to be a very long afternoon and evening, until Mike came to the rescue.

19-year-old Mike from England came well-prepared to make friends with the villagers, especially the children.  There were at least 15 kids in the village from ages 1-6, and though we had no common words, Mike found a language everyone could understand – balloons.  He had brought along a whole bag and he proceeded to make balloon animals and shapes and toys for all the village kids.


One local grandma was loving it, and she even donned a crazy balloon hat that Mike made for her.


Seeing all those colourful balloons in the dusty village was certainly a sight!


After all the kids had run around with the balloons for a while, Mike started a game of soccer with some empty water bottles

and Stu got into the game too.


Then we had dinner, played cards, watched the kids having fun with some books that Mike brought for them, gazed at the billions of stars in the sky, and went to bed.

The next morning, I got up early to watch the sunrise, and so did Mike.  The kids were up early too, and it wasn’t long before Mike had 15 kids following him from here to there, to see what he would come up with next.

At around 9:30am, we left the village

And started to make our way down.  The second days trek was 6 hours long, and while it included some really steep downhills (quite treacherous with all the dry leaves – I did go swinging off a tree at one point!) but it still had some uphill portions that were just as tough as the first day.

But Stu continued to smile the whole way.

On our hike back, we got a glimpse of the village where we had stayed:

We finally made it to the bottom, passed through the rice fields once more


and came out the other side with some sore muscles and some new friends.

It wasn’t the most fun experience so far, but it was memorable.  And we captured some really great moments that we’ll always carry with us.



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4 responses to this post.

  1. Thanks for sharing; it seems like we are on the trip with you as well! While the trek was long you will never forget it. As for the fish, I understand; I had a similar experience on a fishing boat in Mexico. Kind of makes you not hungry…

    Reply

  2. Posted by Mum on March 7, 2011 at 10:41 pm

    Hi kids. :). I got tired just reading all the up, up and up. Thank god for Mike coming to the rescue. Did you see anything in the village that showed you where they spent the money they got? Schools, books ??

    Reply

  3. […] We were supposed to get the “Lahu Tribe Experience” but it was more like the “Lahu People Staring At You” tour.  No welcoming ceremony, no questions answered, no welcoming us into their homes or explaining how they survive or helping them do their chores.  Just people staring at us.  And it’s not like they don’t have several tours a week here.  One fellow trekker saved the day, by bringing balloons that he made into animals, which delighted the kids and grandmas for awhile. (See Fahrin’s account here). […]

    Reply

  4. I think that I am in love with Mike the balloon guy! We need more Mike’s in the world and, of course, more balloons but like rainbows, that goes without saying.

    Reply

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