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Published: December 23rd 2010
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Fast forwards to Wednesday and we’re in Luang Nantha in the north of Laos. Checking on the map, this is as far north as we venture and it’s within a day’s drive of both the China and Burma borders. Due east is Vietnam but that’s a bit further away. It’s noticeably cooler here in the evening and long sleeves are a good idea for the mossies as well because they don’t seem bothered by the cooler air. I walked back from town at dusk in shorts and I’ve got 6 bites on my legs to prove it!
I don’t think there’s anything special about the town: so far as I can tell it’s just the centre of the district. There are a lot of ethnic tribes living in the surrounding villages and so they come to town for the market, the hospital and the secondary schools. We visited three of the villages today, each one with a population of a couple of hundred. They follow roughly the same pattern with a village elder elected by the villagers who organizes some of the basics of village life, sorts out disputes and hands out first level justice. For example, if someone stole a chicken from a neighbour, he’d arbitrate and issue a fine if necessary. We talked to one elder and asked him if he enjoyed the job. He said no, it took a lot of time but he had no choice because everyone voted for him. The Lao government has encouraged the villagers to move closer to the towns by providing schools and hospitals but there are still lots of really isolated communities who are many days walk away and who very rarely see Westerners.
They’re still largely self sufficient, growing their own vegetables, rice, chickens and pigs, and then selling the surplus. They still wear some traditional costumes which they make themselves, growing the cotton, weaving the yarn, dyeing and sewing the garments. I’m sure that’s not done for the tourists, as it would be in some parts of the world: the clothes are too well worn and washed for that to be true. But some of the kids are wearing western style tops and jeans which is one of the side effects of moving closer to the town. Mind you, there’s just as many in smart school uniforms, probably when their parents are slightly better off.
The houses vary in style slightly between the tribes: some build just at ground level, others build on stilts, then use the area underneath for storage. There’s generally three generations living in a house, with possibly 10 or 12 occupants including the children. And only three rooms, so not much privacy!
OK out of time again. It;s Thursday evening now and we had a long drive today to our hotel by the river in Ban Hat Sao. Tomorrow we sail to Luang Prabang. Over and out for now.............
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