Despite being neighbors with Thailand, Cambodia and Vietnam, Laos remains refreshingly different from the regular Asian travel circuit. Northern Laos remains somewhat isolated from foreign influences, especially the hill tribe mountain villages.
To date, Laos remains at the top of my list for backpacking Southeast Asia. The people are friendly, the food is great, the weather was perfect, and the scenery was breathtaking. No tourist traps. No commercialism. No scams or shady dealers. We were able to enjoy our time in Laos because of the people we met and the moments we shared.
Just a few short hours from Laos’ ancient capital city of Luang Prabang, travelers can enjoy traditional Southeast Asian culture. Some of the mountain villages we passed through were places out of time. We were surprised to meet these kind, hospitable people who were open, honest and completely candid in their dealings with us.
Our three day trek with an experienced guide took us through the high mountains of Northern Laos from Luang Prabang to Xieng Khoang province. The journey took us up and around some of the most stunning landscape I’ve ever seen.
Lush rolling green mountains, rustic hill tribe villages and crop fields dotted the mountain sides. We stopped at several hill tribe villages along the way to take in the scenery and meet some of the beautiful, colorful people that inhabit the area.
These hill tribes encompass the various tribal groups that immigrated from China and Tibet over the past centuries, and who now inhabit the remote border areas between Northern Thailand, Laos and Myanmar.
These people are farmers who still use ancient slash and burn agricultural techniques to farm the heavily forested land. (Wikipedia) We saw evidence of this everywhere we went, passing by large burnt patches of land and freshly cultivated plots of land.
The lifestyles of these ethnic groups varied as we traveled. None of the villages had electricity. Their lives revolve around the sun. Work starts when the sun comes up and bedtime comes when the sun goes down. There was one water pump for each village.
Animals had free reign with pigs, chickens, roosters goats and dogs inhabiting the same living space as everyone else. The young girls of each tribe had their own responsibilities. Most seemed to be caring for the babies and younger children. Their eyes are already old and wise beyond their years. They’ve already seen so much in their short lives.
We came upon this village on our second day on the road. Our stop was completely unplanned. We were having problems with the engine and needed to buy some water. When we arrived, no one was in sight, but as we made our way down to a nearby river, we noticed small faces creeping out from behind closed doors.
A young girl in traditional clothing with a baby strapped on her back kept pace with us as we wandered along. Soon enough, we were joined by her shy, young friends, who all solemnly stood back and watched us closely.
Here are a few of the young faces we saw in this village:
Children hanging around on a mountain path above us. They weren’t sure what to do when we arrived, but their curiousity got the better of them when they realized we meant no harm.
A young girl with her siblings.
Portrait of a traditional Lao family.
A young girl in traditional dress with a toddler strapped to her back.
The following photos were taken from a village just outside of Luang Prabang:
From a village we visited late on our first day of travel.
These faces will stay in my heart and mind forever. Laos is an incredible journey.