Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Hi Ho Hi Ho, Off to the village we go!

On the walk to Ban Na Luang with guide Mr Mek

GVI program manager, Tricia Feeney, and Field Staff Sam Kurikawa headed out of Luang Prabang last weekend and into Nong Khiaw District, about 3 hours north, to experience Fair Trek’s Culture Lodge overnight trip with Tiger Trails

GVI and Fair Trek hope to work together in future to offer GVI volunteers the opportunity to have an authentic stay in a rural village, seeing the ‘other side of Laos’, and also contributing an income source to the community of Ban Na Luang. 

We started our trip with a public bus ride (no chickens, just produce on this ride!) to the town of Nong Khiaw – a scenic and charming town on the Nam Ou River popular with visitors to Laos.  From here we headed back down the road with our Lao guide, Mr Mek to commence our 1.5hr easy walk to the traditional village of Ban Na Luang.  We were warmly welcomed by the Nai Ban (village head man), Mr Bounlit, and his family.  Bounlit speaks some English and Mr Mek acts as translator but both Tricia and Sam speak some Lao so it wasn’t long before it was discovered that Bounlit’s son is a Novice at a temple near Luang Prabang and with which GVI has much contact through the novice primary school at Wat Mano!  Small world! 
Sam (left) and Tricia try their hand at feeding the farm animals

The afternoon was spent lazily admiring the village in the shade under Bounlit’s traditional home, taking a look at the village’s new prize water storage tank and pump, funded by Save the Children Australia (and for which I was personally grateful as it made my cold bucket shower that much more pleasant with clean running water!), checking out the fancy new squat loo and feeding the pigs and chickens – particularly amusing with language barriers and a heavily pregnant sow that could turn on you any minute if you didn’t give her that bucket of food! 

The view from the lodge
In the evening we were treated to a simple yet touching basi (blessing ceremony) with the village elders, and enjoyed home cooked food in Mr Bounlit’s house with his wife.  An early night after a big day, we carried our bedding over two water courses and a wooden plank ‘bridge’ in the dark (quite the feat), and set up for the night in the community’s culture lodge – a basic but comfortable bamboo stilted hut with a stunning view over the valley. 

Village Head man Bounlit heads into the forest to hunt

Dawn came and we awoke to the sounds of the village starting a brand new day, the women going about their chores and the men heading off into the forest to hunt (there are no shops or markets around here – you want to eat you need to catch it!).  A typical Lao breakfast was served and we packed up.  We had the chance to buy some woven textiles from the village; beautiful quality products which further bring income to the poor families, and took a peek at classes in the new Clay School (a project also set up by Fair Trek to provide a school building to the local area). 

From here it was the walk back to the road and into a van home.  A big two days but a wonderful time out of the ‘big smoke’ of Luang Prabang. 
The local children at the clay school

GVI wish to thank Fair Trek, Tiger Trails and especially the Responsible Tourism Manager, Yoxa, for arranging this for us.