I left Luang Namtha on Tues 15th Nocv midday, solo, heading further north in Laos, for a place called 'Muang Sing', described in my guide book as a 'full on backpackers haven' with wonderful guesthouses and perfect for trecking and hilltribe village stays. Was very excited to arrive in this wee place, however when arrived off the short 2 hour bus jounrey, it was a very very small little down with very dindgey accomodation ha! Hadnt pre booked accomodation so walked around for a good half hour, looking at places, most of which were basic concrete buildings but the rooms didnt feel safe and werent clean. Found a nice place in the end, more like a hotel, so had to haggle down the price, but for around 3 pounds so was fine! The view from the bedroom wondow was beuatiful, you can see in my photos - overlooking the northern laos fieldds and landscape, was lush.
I decided that I would need to go straight on a tour the next day asap as there wasnt much to do in Muang Sing otgher than that, so headed off and priced up my options. Once had decided on one I headed to the one ATM in Muang Sing as I needed some cash to do the trip - problem - doesnt accept foreign cards - EEEK! literally everywhere iv been so far has had cash machine after cash machine, so I neverr carry too much cash just incase it gets stolen. So I asked the guy stood by the cash machine and he said 'ATM, no problem, Luang Namtha' - thats where I had just come from, 2 hours on the bus - hahaha!! No way was I going back to get cash! So sat down and counted out my 'Laos Kip' and worked out exactly whatI could spend on the trip I had been ooking forward to doing so much, amounted to just over 20 pounds, all the trips were more like 30-45 pounds. So I went into a wee travel place, 'Tiger Man' travel and explained to him, he had really good english and he basically hand made me a package that costed what I could afford. This was to include a full day cycling trek through the moutains and hilltribes and then an overnight homestay in a hilltribe village with a family, and all my meals included.
So Wed 16th Nov morning I met him at the travel place and set off on my bike with 'Jung Pow' my own personal guide! As the package had kind of been hand made there were no other tourists so was just me! The tger travel man Mr Dong kept my big rucksack safe in his shop for me and I just took my wee daypack thing to do me for the day and night.
Jumg Pow and I cycled from around 9am - 4pm that day and it was truly spectacular! Through rice fields, sugar cane fields, lots of hilltribe villages etc. Was amazing to see the rather primative life the people lead however at the same time they are so resourceful. Saw lots and lots of pigs, piglets, chickens and buffalo along the route. Lots of corn and chilliesm rice and peanuts lay drying out in the villages. Jung Pow picked some sugar cane from the field and cut it up for me, so got to eat some fresh sugar cane which was cool! Parts of the paths while cycling were really bumpy, parts muddy, parts we had to cross rivers etc, was a real adventure!
One of the villages had a 'spirit gate' as you enter which brings them good luck and you cannot touch at all. In one village I got to help them make them a pig hut out of bamboo which was amazing! Another I got to help grind up soya and spices to make a paste which the Laos village then sells to china. Another I saw the village people brewing whsikey - which i got to try - gee mee it was strong!! Got to see soo much, it was amzzing. Got to village one of the village schools and the teacher was teaching with her baby strapped to her, such a difference from back home. Some of the tribes dont mind photos and other wont allow them, but took what I could while being respectful, so you can see them on the blog, pretty amazing. Jung Pow and I had lunch en route, which he had brought from the morning market, was rive and meat and veg, quite nice. Over lunch I showed him my family and friedns photo book which Rachel Davies had very kindly made me! He abs loved seeing my family etc. Here (and in most of s.e asia) they say 'same same' when somethings the same and 'same same but different' when somethings diferent! When he saw the photo of me and my brother James he said 'ohh.same same!!', haha made me laugh.
So Wed night I stayed in Mr Dong's 'Hmong village'! What an experience, i didnt know what to expect as some of the homestays are known for being a bit of a tourist set up, so not really authentic. Well this was authentic alright! It was set in a remote part of Muang Sing, up in the moutains with only toher hilltribe villages around. When I arrived Mr Dong wasnt back from work yet, so it was just me and his wife and allll these kids - amazed to see a white person! His wife didnt speak english so was tricky until Mr Dong got home, but again we looked through my ohotos and she really studied my family etc, really enjoying it. I showed her what I had brought with me in my day bag, she had neevr seen deoderant or anything before, so with some persuading she let me spray a little on her wrist, she giggled soo much & thought it was hilarious!!
I didnt know but I was roped into teaching english for a few hours that night, of course I hadnt known so hadnt brought anything with me. But managed okay just using what I had in my bag, my camera and family photo book again - it was a life saver Rach thank you!! The kids really enoyed learning basic vocab, eg animals, colours, numbers etc. They were so excited to have an english speaker there. I had presumed the homestay happenned quite a lot but found out later from Mr Dong that I was the first this year (its mid Nov!!) so the village were very excited. The kids were very keen to learn how to porpely pronunicate words and so I spent some time using some SLT tricks of the trade and teaching them how to articulate sounds they find very hard in their languge. In the hilltribes they use lots of sounds really far back in theor mouth, non english sounds, so they find sounds at the front really tricky, eg th, l - was funny to be stabding doing some SLT work in a dark hilltribe make shift school! Ha!
Ate dinner with the family, they have 3 kids, was rly tasty, of course was rice (!) and fish and sauces and veg, really nice. His wide was really keen for me to eat up lots and so I did, to be told after the meal that we were going for more food!! The village have a ceremony once a year when the new rice has been harvested, they celebrate this and offer the first of the cooked rice to family that have passed on, and then they have a big feast!!! So Ijoined Mr Dong and about 30-40 of the village for a big feast ceremony, all the village really keen to see me eat lots etc, Mr Dong told me it is rude not to finish your plate and these ceremonies so I had to slowly work my way through ANOTHER massive plate of rice, with all these hilltribe villagers smiiing excitedly at me! Haha was an experinece!
Slept in the family hut, you can see pics on blog, was basic but fine. There are 2 beds in the hut, 1 sleeps the 5 in the fmaily (mother father and 3 kids) and the bed I was in is for the mother in law who was away for a few days. Laos is an early to bed early to rise country, especially in the villages where there is nothing to do after it gets dark. So went to bed at 9m and was woken 4am with the roosters! Haha. Enjoyed some brekfast with the family, rice again yes!! But with omelettre, horray! Said my goodbyes to the family and village, felt quite sad to leave as it was amzing to get such a close insight into their lives.
So it was goodbye to Maung Sing and back to Lunag Namtha, to get cash (!!!) and then head towards the Laos Thai border to head to northern thailnd. Laos has been a wonderful and beautiful country with soo much to offer, I have truled loved it here and its people.