Discovering The ‘Real Laos’

After Vang Vieng we travelled 25kms south to Nirvana Archipel Resort nestled on the edge of Nam Ngum Lake, by what else but a tuk tuk.

Nirvana came recommended to us by our guide Chris who was due to meet us in two days time and take us to experience the ‘real Laos’. I wasn’t sure what that was suppose to mean at the time, but both Paula and I hoped that whatever it was, that it was going to be an experience that we would not soon forget. But we will get to that soon, we had two nights to spend at a very idyllic and isolated Laos resort first.

Our two nights at Nirvana felt like a little holiday especially when we found ourselves settled into the bar in the early afternoon with a couple of cold refreshing beverages to ease the heat of the day. There was also plenty more to do at Nirvana than drink the days away; the owner, also named Chris, had a small animal sanctuary of rescued animals including a moon bear, a wild cat and monkeys. Lincoln, as you may of guessed, was definitely excited to see and meet the animals and within the first minutes of arriving was peeking through the fences to catch a glimpse of them. Apart from the animals, the resort has a kayak which Paula and I took advantage of and spent an hour or so paddling around the lake exploring the small islands scattered throughout. I also got in a little bit of fishing and managed to haul in a couple of monsters of about 5-10cm in length. However, we spent most of our time swimming in the lake and doing dives and bombs off a moored boat. Our accommodation review of Nirvana Archipel Resort can be found here.Nirvana Archipel Resort_Vang Vieng Region_LaosAfter meeting our guide Chris the previous night, we set off mid-morning on our two day/one night adventure through rural Laos. As we travelled further off the beaten path, through some more amazing scenery highlighted by the giant limestone cliffs, we were all starting to realise that there was no doubt that not many foreigners before us had travelled these red and dusty roads. Our first stop of the day was a small local farm where the father, aged 74, and his son, ran a dozen or so cattle, goats, chickens and geese.Rural Vientiane_LaosAfter this brief stop and a little lunch we arrived at the Meuang Fuang Market where Paula, Lincoln, Braxton and Chris picked up some supplies for our dinner along with some lollies, books and pens for some village children we would shortly meet. I stayed with the truck to watch over our belongings and got talking to a local who spoke very good English after studying in America for nearly 10 years. He was interested in why we were in the village as they don’t see many foreigners in this part of the country, let alone ones with children. After a bit of small talk and an offer of some cheap cannabis it was time to move on and take the short drive to Ban Namon where we met a local elder who offered us some of his homemade Lao Lao whiskey (made from what else but rice). Considering myself a bit of a whiskey connosieur I jumped at the chance despite several warnings about how strong it was. Expecting the worst I was pleasantly surprised and actually enjoyed the taste.Meuang Fuang Market & Ban Namon_LaosWe then went into a local Mon village of about 100 households within Ban Namon, these villages essentially are little communities within the village itself who tend to keep to themselves. Mon people are known as the ‘Mountain People’ within Laos as that is where they called home for hundreds of years; unfortunately they are one of the most underprivileged groups within Laos and this particular village was to be a clear illustration of that. Their homes are off the main road almost hidden from view of anyone passing through. They have little to no money and live off only the very basic of nessecities. I was nervous about entering the village, not about meeting the people, but about how we would be viewed by entering their village for a short time wearing clean and relatively new clothes, handing out gifts and taking photographs on our camera which costs more than what the whole village earns in a month. I definitely did not want to have the feeling of either treating them like a tourist attraction or by feeling better than any one of them.

Shortly after arriving the children started sneaking closer and closer and as soon as Paula and the boys produced the books, pens and lollies they crowded around, never pushing, always smiling and being polite. With each gift given we would be thanked with a ‘wai’ and a smile. We had also brought a bag of balloons which provided a great deal of fun for all the children who enjoyed throwing them up into the air before catching them and repeating. For me, these are the moments I will remember forever, in that a balloon, costing little more than one cent, can bring so much joy to a child. Before leaving I showed the children the photographs we had taken which they all seemed to be amazed at and with lots of laugher towards each other.Gifts for the children in Ban Namon_LaosAfter saying goodbye to the children we headed towards the final stop for the day and our home for the night. Chris’ mother-in-law, Vaan and father-in-law, Lem had kindly offered their home as a place for us to stay in the little village of Ban Houay Deua. We were met with “Sabaidee’s” (welcome/hello in Lao) and smiles and a cold Beerlao. After another round or two of Lao Lao whiskey we were privileged to be part of a ‘Kouan Mak Ken’ ceremony with a local shaman. For this ceremony we sat in a circle around a small raised table, with us each placing a hand, palm up on the table. The table had a whole cooked chicken on it with plates placed on our open hands. We were then blessed with good health, happy lives and safe travels. Once the shaman finished, the chicken was ripped into small pieces with each person placing some on our plates along with sticky rice, we started to eat while everyone present tied cotton bracelets around our wrists. We all felt privileged to be apart of it and knowing that it had not been done countless times before for any paying tourist made it all the more special. There were two other children present, including Vaan and Lem’s youngest daughter, Toukta (aged 6 years) who was a ball of energy and enjoyed playing with Lincoln and Braxton despite not being able to speak the same language. It always amazes me that children don’t let something like a little language barrier get in the way of fun and laugher.Ban Houay Deua_Rural LaosAfter some more food and beer, we decided to call it a night as it had been a very long day. Our bed had been made up in the room where we had the ceremony and consisted of two mattresses pushed together with a mosquito net covering them. I think we were all wondering how we were going to manage to get any sleep being on top of one another but it proved for me anyway, to be a fantastic sleep with nearly 8 hours worth. A little overview of Lem and Vaan’s home can be read here.

The next morning we visited the family’s rice fields, which had recently been harvested, before starting the travel day south towards Vientaine and our final stop in Laos.

After driving through more beautiful scenery we arrived at the Nam Ngeum river where we hired a boat to enjoy lunch upon. As we floated along the river, taking in the scenery and serenity, we took a moment or two to appreciate everything we had seen and done in the previous 24 hours. And I know I say this a lot, but these memories will stay with us for an incredibly long time.

Average Daily Spend – $213.23 NZD ($40.73 NZD over budget per day)

– Logan

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