Having spent the Sunday leisurely wandering around town, and being entertained by a local wedding - big tent on the street, lots of food, and a growing stench of beer and spirits, no doubt large quantities of Lao whisky, and all of this accompanied by very loud music, which easily beat the sound level of the wake-up calls - we decided to turn the local tour operator into a millionaire. We had come to see minorities, abundantly present in this part of the country. Initially we had planned to do a bit of trekking, but due to various ailments there was no other option than to rent a car to get out of town. Absolute rip-off, but what do you do, if you have come this far, and are being blackmailed by the monopolist tour operator in the town? You make him a millionaire.
So early next morning we climbed in a van, and set off for Ban Tang, the village furthers away we could reach in a day. Had I told you already that it was bitterly cold in Phongsaly? At 1400 m, in January, this is a far cry from the tropical weather we had anticipated when leaving The Netherlands, and especially the mornings, with dense fog, are very chilly. The clouds never disappeared that day, but we went lower, and so managed to get some kind of a view of the surrounding mountains, the occasional rice paddies at the bottom of the valley and various types of plantations, most notably bananas (amazing, with these temperatures, but at least in summer it does get warm here). Most of the agricultural produce is hauled off to China: as in so many other places in the world, what one could not conquer through warfare, one conquers economically. But we really came to see villages and exotically dressed minority people, and we saw plenty of that.
(1) Rice paddies at the bottom of the valley
The villages are mostly wooden houses on stilts, many still with thatched roofs, although corrugated iron makes inroads here, too. Life in the villages is equally ancient. Utensils that we proudly display in our house, baskets and pots, are here being used daily, and are lying and hanging around everywhere. (No, we didn't, in case you're interested....)
(2) Village with some traditional houses left, high thatched roofs, although most house owners have turned to corrugated iron.
(3) One of the houses, on stilts, the first floor is living accommodation, below is storage space.
(4) and (5) funny, the type of utensils we have on the wall, they have here, too….
We reached Ban Tang around midday, and were treated for lunch with fish, some kind of small deer, and sticky rice - sticky rice is everywhere in Laos, together with jeos, a spicy dip. The fish was from the Nam Ou, a river well known to us, but here much further upstream then we have thus far seen it - and un-navigable. As in so many other places, the villagers have submerged propellers in the water, from which they derive electricity.
(6) Ban Tang hydro-power plant, in the Ou River
Women still dress traditionally, with spectacular embroidered cloths, and headdresses full of silver jewelry and coins. These are mostly Akha people, in dark blue and black. Children, too, are often in embroidered jackets - and with no pants on, a clear sign of poverty. But it goes to show that they don't put up a show for tourists, this is how they go about their lives every day. Which is also proven by the fact that most of them were unfamiliar with a camera LCD screen. Pictures, in this case, say so much more than words.
(7) Not sure which tribe this is..
(8, 9, 10, 11, 12) but these are all Akha people. Note that even the kids have their tunic, but no trousers.
We got back to Phongsaly, and back in the clouds, after dark. Well worth a million.