2.2.2: The Akha Trail part 2

Day 83: Nam Thalang to Thalong

The sunrise over the Akha village was very beautiful and I sat and watched while David made a fire with one of the Akha boys. We had breakfast in front of the hut and afterwards walked to a nearby village from which Maankam had earlier bought some fish for breakfast. This was a Khamu village and we sat with the village headman for a while as he smoked homegrown tobacco rolled up in writing paper.

83.1. David and the boy in Nam Thalang village in the morning.

83.2. Children playing in Nam Thalang and the Khamu chief with my sunglasses.

The rest of the mornings walk was through dense jungle and we stopped for a bit near a small cave. The cave was nice to explore and I used my headlight for some of the darker paths. We stopped for lunch in a more open spot in the jungle and ate sitting around the banana leaves. In the afternoon my camera ran out of battery but David was able to lend me his spare camera for the next day or so. In the afternoon we arrived at Thalong village, which is a Khamu village and a little smaller than the Akha village we stayed in last night. During the afternoon we played a game with some of the village children. It was a bit like badminton but you use your hand and the ‘ball’ is a folded concertinaed leaf with feathers fixed to the top.

83.3. Thalong village.

83.4. Playing with kids in Thalong village (left) and Maankam with the chicken (right).

For dinner we had a chicken which Maankam bought from the village and then killed and made into a soup. We had this along with omelette, spicy fish, bamboo soup and a soup made from the banana flower. We were joined for dinner in our hut by the two village headmen and many of the other villagers. It was much more social than last night, probably because Maankam is Khamu himself and can speak the language. After dinner we were welcomed into the village with a Baci ceremony which is conducted to restore the equilibrium of the 32 khwan spirits associated with each person. We gave to the headman a pre-prepared offering of bananas, money plus the head and claws of the chicken we’d just eaten. Afterwards the villagers went around the room and tied white cotton bands around David, Pedro and my wrists. Apparently we should leave them on for three days but you can keep them on for longer if you wish. After the ceremony we drank a lot of lao-lao and Maankam and Chanhkeo sang Khamu songs. Pedro sang some children’s songs in English, Portuguese and French, which everyone enjoyed especially the village children.

83.5. The Baci ceremony and cheers with lao-lao.

Day 84: Thalong to Vieng Phoukha

In the morning we had breakfast of the things left from last night and then went to see the village headmen and we shared a few more lao-laos before we left. We walked through the jungle and stopped for lunch at a small hut on a hillside.

84.1. A sea of clouds as we leave Thalong village.

After lunch we had just a short walk before we met the truck at the roadside that brought us back to Vieng Phoukha. We stopped at the office and met Timm and Somhak and told them how much we had enjoyed the trek. Maankam gave each of us a bamboo sticky rice container as a souvenir and we took a picture of our wrists with our Baci bands. We also discussed the one day trek that we had arranged to do tomorrow. While we were there an English couple was also arranging a trek. They had lost three cameras in the last two months and were trying to buy Timm’s.

84.2. Our wrists with the bands from last nights Baci (clockwise from left – Pedro, David and me).

We went back to the guesthouse and got a room and then sat in the garden drinking beer and writing our journals. Later we met an Australian guy called Sam who was doing a crazy motorbike journey through Laos and Vietnam. He was asking us about a small road out of Vieng Phoukha and I suggested that he talk with Timm. We all went together for dinner and Timm arrived there later as well. Timm and Sam chatted about Sam’s proposed route. Timm said that Sam’s map was totally inaccurate and that his route was potentially dangerous. He still thought it was possible though and suggested that he talk with Somhak tomorrow morning.

Day 85: Vieng Phoukha

We got up this morning and the three of us and Sam went for breakfast. We wished Sam luck on his trip and then headed back to the office where we got a sawngthaew to the start of the trek.

85.1. Maankam with a traditional Khamu jacket.

Today our guide was Somhak. We first stopped at a Lahu village where the women wear very pretty headdresses. In the Lahu village we saw the small houses where the single girls live from the age of about 15 until they get married and then move into a larger house.

85.2. Somhak and the Lahu girls and the small houses in the Lahu village.

85.3. Kids playing with a big knife and chasing us through the village with it.

We then visited a Hmong village and met with a local guide who came along with us. We drove a bit further down the road and stopped by a river for a bit. We then went to visit a cave located at the foot of an impressive mountain of forested limestone. The cave was much larger than the one we visited a couple of days ago and there were many chambers.

85.4. A peaceful spot by the river.

85.5. The forested peak and the cave we investigated.

85.6. A big Lao jungle spider.

The afternoon was quite exciting. We were to pioneer a new trekking route through the jungle. No tourists had ever done this route before and it was only known to the local people. Even Somhak had never been on this route before, hence the need of the Hmong guide. We started walking uphill through dense jungle with the Hmong guide at the front using a machete. At one point I passed a thorny branch and got a thorn embedded in my shoulder. When I pulled it out, the point broke off and I had to get it removed by the Hmong guide using another thorn. The walk was about four hours through the jungle until we came out at the Hmong village again. We then got a sawngthaew back to Vieng Phoukha and we went back to the guesthouse.

85.7. The ‘path’ through the jungle (left) and David celebrating the end of a tough walk.

We sat outside and again wrote our journals and drank beer. At about 20:00 we went into the village for dinner and found that everything was closed. In the end we bought some soup and sat in the street in front of the office with Timm and Somhak who gave us hot water and bowls for the noodles.

85.8. Timm’s noodle kitchen outside the office in Vieng Phoukha.