3 Day Ethnic Hilltribes Trek Near Phongsali

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January 15th 2012
Published: January 18th 2012
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1: Our bus getting up the muddy hill 20 secs
I woke up at 6am and had a quick shower and coffee before heading up to the main road with Nina to catch the songthaew to the bus station. We were joined by Jan from Holland who was also doing the 3 day ethnic hilltribe trek with us. The bus left at 7.30am and took just over 3 and a half hours to reach Boun Tai where we met up with our guide Bulad and jumped in a cramped minibus for another 2 hours.

The four of us got off the minibus at a small Akha Mochi village situated on the side of a hill. All the girls in the village were dressed in traditional clothing which Bulad explained was due to the fact that they were celebrating their New Year. They seemed a lot more curious about us than we were in them(have a look at their expressions in the photos) , which was quite strange. The older women were dressed in their everyday traditional clothing but were keen to avoid us and our cameras. We spent a little bit of time taking photos of the girls before we were invited up to a house next to the roadside to have something to eat, and some lao lao whiskey and beer to drink. We were joined by only men while the women served the food, which was the same for all our time on the trek. A few of the young girls started throwing a small woven sack attached to some string to each other along the road. After lunch I had a few goes at this game and took a few more photos before we were lead into another house for some more lunch and lao lao. Once we had finished, our guide said we should stop into another house that had recently slaughtered a pig for their new years celebrations. It seemed that most of the men from the village were there and there was quite a bit of food on the table. So we sat down again and politely ate as much as we could whilst drinking some more lao lao. A small fight broke out between a guy that was very drunk and a few of the other villagers. Once the drunk was ejected and we couldn't eat anything more we left the village and started on our trek.

We walked for about 3 and a half hours up and down hills and across a river before reaching an Akha Eupa village about 30 minutes after dark. We entered the house where we were going to spend the night in and sat around the small fire while our dinner was prepared. After dinner and some more lao lao we were given a short 20 minute massage by 3 giggling girls in traditional dress. Nina even had her pants pulled down so they could have a look what knickers she was wearing and they laughed at my flabby bum. I slept fairly well that night considering I only had my tshirt and swimming shorts to use as a pillow. In the morning we wandered around the village taking photos before returning to the house for breakfast. We then walked about 3 hours up and down some hills before coming to another Akha Eupa village for lunch. Here everyone in the village seemed scared of us. Even the children were keeping their distance. We got a few waves and smiles but no real interaction. I really wanted to get some photos of the boys playing with wooden spinning tops but as we approached they would pick up their tops and retreat.

We then walked along a gravel road for a couple of hours to an Akha Loma village where we would spend our second night. We walked around and said hi to the villagers and again they were quite afraid of us. But after a few smiles and waves they got a little closer but still kept a little distance so I decided it wasn't the place to pull out my camera. After dinner and more lao lao our guide took us to the old chiefs house to watch a ceremony take place between a woman originally from this village but who now lives with her husband and kids in another village. After a daughter is married it is customary to live in the husbands village and then return to the wives village sometime in their lifetime so that her father can pay his respects to the son in law and his family. The ceremony was very interesting and the lao lao was flowing freely. After about an hour they brought out tables full of food for all the men in the house (quite a few) and us. We again ate us much as we could and were yet again given more lao lao and some beer. After finishing it was nice to see that the women could relax and sit at one of the tables to eat. We then returned to our house where we sat around the fire and drank some more. By the time we went to bed I was very drunk and luckily slept like a baby. I woke up about 8am and was surprised that there was no sign of our guide Balud. I asked the woman of the house where he was and she motioned that he was asleep up the road somewhere. She eventually lead me to the house where he was sleeping and I could barely wake him. He was obviously very drunk and hungover. The problem was that we had to start walking early (he told us we would leave 7.30am this day) so we could be at the road on time to catch a bus with our backpacks on board (at this stage we weren't sure if our backpacks were on the bus or not). We went back to our house, had breakfast and took some photos of the family then grabbed our daypacks and returned to the house where our guide slept. I couldn't wake him, so Jan had a go and eventually succeeded. We more or less told him that we would walk ourselves and asked him to make sure our backpacks were on the bus. He more or less mumbled that it would be alright, but we weren't sure to believe him or not.

So off we set for the final 10km walk along the road that the chief pointed out to us. It was nice walking for the first hour through the mountains, and then the rain started. At first it wasn't so much but then after a short time got heavier. Luckily I had packed my $2 plastic poncho to cover me and my daypack, but unfortunately Jan and Nina had nothing to protect them. After an hour and forty-five minutes more hoping that we were going in the right direction we eventually reached the small town. We assumed there was no formal bus stop so we just waited at the small town shop on the main road and had a much needed coffee. We pretty much worked out from the shopkeeper that the bus had not passed yet and that we were at the right place. After a while we really hoped that our bus would show up and that our packs were on board. We waited and waited and eventually after 3 and a half hours our bus turned up. The bus driver confirmed that our bags were on the roof which was a great relief. After half an hour along the dirt main road our bus stopped at the top of the hill where it looked quite muddy. We all jumped off to have a smoke or go to the toilet and were surprised to see them putting chains on the back wheels of our bus. We assumed this was for the muddy conditions and a quick look around the corner to see a really muddy downhill road with a life ending drop over the side. We got back in and the driver took it very slow for the next km until we were going up a hill in town and we started going backwards instead of forwards. Most of us got out while they chocked the wheels and prepared for another attempt. Like most people I preferred to watch from the outside while our very competent driver made it up the hill and around the bend and waited for us a couple of hundred metres up the road. Like everyone else I found it very difficult to walk that distance in the mud. It seemed with every step you just picked up more of this yellow clay. After about 10 more kilometres the bus took off the chains, and then it was smooth sailing to Pak Nam Noi where we had a quick bite to eat and said goodbye to Jan who was heading to Muang Khua. Just under 2 hours later we were in the large town of Udomxai. What an adventure. A very memorable trek with great company. Also the towns along the trek were very authentic and obviously saw very few tourists.

We found accommodation across from the bus station and then went to a restaurant for dinner. The next day we thought the bus was leaving at 12 noon to go to Luang Nam Tha but when Nina went to by tickets they told her 2pm. We got there before 2pm found a seat and then waited an hour and a half more before we finally left. A little over 3 hours later we were dropped off at the bus station where we took a songthaew into town and found some nice accommodation for $7 a night.

Additional photos below
Photos: 46, Displayed: 28


27th January 2012

Great pics of Akha Eupa...may I suggest some portraits as well...would blow us away. I've posted some of the pics on Faces in Places...keep them coming.

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