Saturday, March 29, 2014

In a tiny village of Huay Bo

After saying goodbyes to the Belgian couple and Josette, me, Ilker and Lale took a morning boat to a town called Muang Ngoi. The small boat takes about an hour and costs about $ 3. The short boat ride, though not very comfortable, is very scenic. As the boat anchored at the town, we could see a wide range of river facing guesthouses and were approached by many offering cheap bungalows.
Our boat ride

Muang Ngoi itself is a gorgeous town and really laidback. But it can not be termed as untouched. There is plenty of travelers coming here and naturally wide range of western guesthouses and restaurants have spawned up, reducing the "Authenticity Index" (as Ilker calls it) significantly.
Muang Ngoi

Life in the town

If you are in search of a real village feel, you are better off heading to one of the three villages in the vicinity viz. Ba Na, Huay Bo and Huay Sen. And that is what we decided to do. These villages are accessible on foot. Ba Na is the closest and takes about an hour from Muan Ngoi. Huay Bo and Huay Sen are further 40 minutes each. The road is easy to follow and you will come across Tham Kang cave on the way, one of many caves used as a shelter during war times.
Tham Kang cave
Heading straight from this cave we came across a sign board and decided to follow one directed towards Huay Sen. It took us on a smaller trail off the main dirt road, through thick trees on both the sides. A small wooden bridge allowed us to cross a water stream and we entered what looked like a vast rice field which was recently harvested. A small  village consisting of a few houses could be seen in the distant and we guessed that it was Ba Na.
Trail to the village

Rice fields

We had walked more than an hour till then but it was a beautiful walk, through thick trees, rice fields and water streams! We did not meet anyone after entering the small trail until we met a western girl , who had come for a walk and was returning back to the main town. She informed us that there were snakes all over in the field and looked a bit afraid. After this point, instead of looking at the beautiful scenery all around we kept our eyes on the ground, in search of snakes! But we did not come across any of these reptiles. After crossing the field we met a local guy who directed us to Huay Bo. One more river crossing, this time without a bridge, forced us to take off the shoes and roll our trousers. We walked for 40 minutes more, along the rice fields and mountains, with beautiful sounds of birds and crickets in our ears before we approached the village. The first structure was what looked like a school.
Entering the village, we were taken aback by the scene. Small wooden houses on wooden stilts, children running around everywhere, chicken, ducks, pigs, dogs and cats, all living harmoniously in one civilization, the village alive and running with folks busy with their everyday life activities such as cleaning the rice, washing clothes, cutting the wood and so on. And yet village folks carried expressions on their faces which were satisfied, simple and laid back. It was a bunch of happy people and it was a village with a simple life.

A woman weaving clothes

A kid with a bamboo pistol

Houses on stilts

Everyday life

Small alleys
We asked someone about sleeping (using sign language) and were directed to what looked like a small restaurant, a small wooden hall with sloping roofs and bamboo pillars, a handful of tables and chairs. On a wooden wall is wide collection of empty cans of soft drinks arranged carefully, just below a big gun! As we entered the this restaurant a very happy man greeted us. His name is Mr. Keo and he is the village chief. He owns this small restaurant and also a few small wooden rooms which he rents for just $ 1 a night.The rooms are basic, with mattresses on the floor and a mosquito net. The restaurant is run by him and his wife and they have delicious food on offer.
The gun

Mr. Keo, the chief

Smiling face of Mr. Keo led us to our rooms and quickly dropping our stuff and locking the doors, we came out again ready to explore the tiny village! The scene was similar to the one when we entered, but evening had given a little calmness to everything and now things looked less busy and more laid-back. Wherever we went we were greeted by warm smiles and sabaidee's. The whole village looked almost like a film set. It was unreal. Wonderful people, nice evening, cheerful children, abundant livestock....... and the harmony!
That evening we played for a while with kids. Each of them were carrying a small hollow bamboo stick which acted like a gun firing small balls of wet paper. It seemed like an on going battle between two teams and I decided to join one. This little fellow acted as my "ammo-man", supplying me ammo after each shot. After playing with them for half an hour and sweating like hell, it was a time for Photo session! By this time though all the kids had surrounded me and I was sitting on the ground, showing them photographs of my trip till then. They were very keen on seeing the outside world which was evident from the number of children pressing on me trying to get a glimpse of a photo. Finally, Ilker and Lale managed to get their attention for a group photo and we did manage to get some group photographs!
Young guns!

Awesome kid and my ammo man!
Sweaty and tired I said goodbyes to kids and we found our way to the restaurant for dinner. Dinner was fresh roasted chicken with sticky rice and while eating we were wondering if we had seen the same chicken that day! At dinner, I asked Mr. Keo if there is any work that I could help them with and he said he will inform me the next morning. Dinner done, I learnt game of Checkers and then Mr. Keo beat me in that consistently for five times, when with a yawn I decided that it was time for bed.
A game of checkers
The next morning at breakfast, Mr. Keo, who had just returned from hunting, told me that his friend wanted to build a new house and hence was going with his wife to cut bamboo and asked me to help him with this work. I was up for it and I was joined by Lale and Ilker. The bamboo jungle was about 2  kms from the village and once again the path led us through rice fields. They were a happy couple and they immediately offered us a few Pomelo fruits fresh from the tree. Mr. Keo's friend started to work almost immediately and we were not sure how exactly to help him. But after having cut bamboo pieces of equal length he showed us how to convert a bamboo stick into a sort of mat which can be folded and taken back. So we started to labor and soon realised that it wasn't as easy as it looked and also that the bamboo when cut, has sharp edges and handling it too much subjects you to cuts. I got several.
Returning victorious from hunt!

Bamboo cutting session
After two hours or so, the mats were ready, folded and attached to a big bamboo, to enable us to carry them back to village. This turned out to be even more exciting. With Sun at its favorite noon time, heavy loads of bamboo mats on our backs, 2 kms seemed like a long long walk. We had to keep changing the way we held the load every five minutes. We did a great job though and were particularly proud of ourselves as we relieved ourselves of the loads, at the construction site. Sweaty again, it was time for a cool shower. And what better place than bamboo showers in the river stream! Then it was time for checkers again and this time I managed to redeem myself by beating Mr. Keo thrice.
On our last day at the village, I took a small interview of Mr. Keo to understand history about the village and the way it worked, culture and people living there. Mr. Keo looked genuinely happy to tell me everything. The interview was broken by the breakfast and after breakfast it was time to say goodbye to this lovely village and those lovely people.
As we left the village, we were led by a dog which had followed some travelers the previous day from Muang Ngoi to Huay Bo. The dog seemed to know the way and always waited and looked back to make sure we were coming. This time, with the dog leading, we did not have to worry about snakes anymore!


  1. reminds me of the secluded village in The Last Samurai :)

    1. I know i am replying to this pretty late. But i just watched Last Samurai and remembered of this comment. Man, that village...Japan is definitely on my wish list! And if i can find a Samurai....that'd be great :)