Bomb! Human Bomb!

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That’s what we heard from our young guide just 5 meters in front of us.
Just a little disconcerting in a country where the US and others mined extensively and many of the tons of bombs dropped didn’t explode. We’ve been warned not to stray off well-worn paths and know that, sadly, many Lao are still injured every year.

Fortunately our young guide started laughing almost immediately so we weren’t too concerned. It did seem odd, in a country with so much trash littered about, that he proceeded to spend the next 5 minutes trying to scrape human excrement off his bike tire. Oh well, just one of the mysteries of travel in another culture.

We had signed up for a mountain bike tour with one of the local tour companies and it had been an interesting day. We picked the company because they had the nicest mountain bikes and were close to our hotel. Most everyone in Nong Khiaw offers the same routes – ride through Hmong and Khamu villages around the big peak then back to the Nam Ou for a boat ride back to town. We are experienced enough riders to feel that for a one day trip we could take care of ourselves if necessary. So 5 of us set off with 5 guides (the normal contingent is 2 guides but we were told this was a training day). This meant the European co-owner of the tour company periodically scolded our affable (mostly teenage) Lao guides but did very little of what I would consider training. He never seemed to explain the importance of one guide leading and another sweeping and we just got used to seeing our guide drop behind us and we would wait at turns periodically to ensure we were going the right way.

Although not a technically challenging ride we had great views of the mountains and countryside from a mostly quiet dirt road.

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Early on, the European guide encouraged one of the female tourists to turn back as she seemed to have very little experience with cycling much less the somewhat challenging climbing we would encounter. So we were quickly down to 4 tourists and 5 guides. Nice mellow pace for me and Winona with plenty of time for village visits and photos of the stunning scenery. We had a nice stop for lunch in a Lao village complete with Lao Lao (their local whisky) and a couple glasses of the ever-present and good Beer Lao. The village consisted of about 50 typical stilt houses. The villagers were very welcoming and didn’t mind me taking pictures of their pot-bellied pigs and puppies. Winona purchased a beautiful silk scarf that was woven by a woman on a traditional loom under the raised house.

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About 1/2 hour on we entered a beautiful Hmong village (after a pretty tough climb) that was a welcome sight. Rather than the dust and trash that was common in other villages, this village of about 50 homes had planted trees, vegetable gardens and even very hardy grass between the structures. It looked like a well-manicured park or condo development from the US. We watched as the boys played a spinning top game we hadn’t seen before. One group of kids started spinning tops while the other flinged their spinning tops to knock the others out of the way.

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We had a nice cup of tea and some fruit then rode through an adjacent Khamu village before heading to the river. The Khamu village was clean but dusty where the Hmong village kept the dust down with lots of vegetation. Both villages were in a beautiful setting with soaring peaks all around as shown in the picture at the top. Sort of a tropical version of the French alps.

Within an hour we had reached the river but not before a chain reaction crash started by one of the tourists that caused a guide to crash when he couldn’t stop in time. Neither were wearing helmets (being geeky mountain bikers from the US of course we used helmets). Fortunately neither hit his head and we continued on after the scrapes were bandaged.

At the river we found that we had lost a couple guides but were reunited after a 15 minute wait and much discussion about where they might have ended up.

Quite a collection of kids at the river playing and Winona immediately was engaged in games of Patty Cake and girl conversation.

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The Lao children are playful and very warm with strangers.

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A nice place to hang out while waiting for our boat.

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Enjoyed a fun boat ride on the Nam Ou and we were back in Nong Khiaw in 40 minutes, just in time to watch the sun go down behind the mountains.

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