Ok, a fast and gritty summation of our recent travels and experiences unfolds below:
Upon arriving in Luang Nam Tha in Loas we checked into a guest house, and crossed the street to enjoy food at a night market. I had a "chicken salad" which consisted of a halved chicken head, a partially developed embryo, some bits of neck, liver, stomach, and feet. Yuuuum. The following day we set off trekking in the Nam Ha river valley. Muddy trails led up the side of hills mottled with rubber plantations and wheat fields, then gave way to dense forest cut by mountain streams. We stopped in Kahu and Lihue villages where larger rivers had allowed access to the rugged landscape. One side of these villages was Kahu, the other side Lihue. Segregation between the two hill tribes exists due to religious difference, but the villages are joined due to common agricultural practices and the benefits of sharing work. We learned about the "Concoy", a mythical animal that some Loatians believe inhabits the dense forest. It looks like a monkey, only its feet have been turned around backwards by the Vietnamese, so that its footprints point opposite its direction of travel. When the animal approaches, one becomes disoriented, and then trees begin to fall. It feeds on human intestine. The only way to chase off a Concoy is to speak in Vietnamese, as the animal is affraid of Vietnamese because of what they did to its legs.
We dined on piles of sticky rice and jeow (a paste made of mashed herbs, spices, and chilli), pork, and fish, and spent hours amusing families with our digital cameras and Lao/English phrase books. After trekking we took a motorized canoe down the Nam Tha river to its confluence with the Mekong, stopping in a small village in route to sleep, play with children, and try Laotian jump rope whereby the jumper twists a rope around her ankle in one jump, then untwists it with the next. We also watched novices (young monks) practice writing in English as they spelled 'Colgate' in the dirt on the grounds of a Wat (temple). The boat down the Mekong delivered stunning scenery as karst mountains rose vertically from the river valley, riddled with caves and strewn with folliage. After a brief stop at Pak Ou caves to see thousands of Buddha figures stored within a limstone cavern, we arrived in Luang Phabang, a UNESCO world heritage site where hundreds of saffron robed monks collecting alms, are met by hundreds of camera flashes each morning as tourists seek to capture their commodified experiences on film as evidence of their travels. Today we head off to see a waterfall, and soon after we will be off to Hanoi.
We're all happy, healthy, and loving our experiences in SE Asia!