The Akha experience

Today was great fun, but unfortuantely, due to the other three guys on the trek (an Israeli, a German and a Frenchman) needing to catch the last songthaew back to Luang Nam Tha, our trek was cut short by the best part of two hours. In my opinion they shouldn’t have booked the trek if they weren’t going to be around for the duration. At the very least, Joy and i should have been informed about the situation upon booking the trek ourselves.
Negative aspects aside, we had a good crowd of people, a reasonably well-informed guide, Kiaow, and some fantastic Akha children, which was one of the highlights for me. We caught a songthaew to the first Akha village, where our guide gave us some backround information about the various Akha tribes in the area and about the structure of the village. We had a good bit of time to wander around the village and to capture the curious but wary children on camera.
Kiaow explained to us that if we wished to photograph any of the adults, we must ask permission first, as some of the villagers are very reluctant to let you photograph them due to their animist beliefs. Animists believe that there is a spirit inside all of us (our Khwan) and some think that by taking a photograph we are stealing that spirit from them.
We trekked to the second Akha village through forsets and rice fields. Here the children (as most of the adults were out at work in the rice fields) were a lot friendlier and more openly curious about our presence. Joy and i initiated a game of ‘paper scissors stone’ with one of the boys, counted to 10 with him in Lao and then began to talk to him in English, broken with the occasional Lao word or expression. Once the rest of the children spotted this, they all began to crowd around, wanting to join in.
The children’s interest was really arisen when our guide was talking us through the details of the Akha attire and customs. He proceeded to point at my lip piercing and talk to the children in Lao. Presumably what he was explaining was that my piercing is representative of my culture, just as their headdress/clothing/jewellery are of theirs. Either way, they were completely absorbed, even more so when i poked my tongue out at them to reveal my psychedellic tongue bar. Stefan (the Frenchman) also had his tongue pierced so the next few minutes consisted of the children poking their tongues out at us, us returning the gesture, the children making faces of disgust and saying “eeurrgh!”, but wanting us to do it all over again! We then injected a bit of education into the fun, teaching them the English names for parts of the body, almost to the point where we had a bit of a song going.
I really didn’t want to say goodbye to these kids, nor they us. They followed us all the way down to the bottom of the hill which lead us out of the village, waving and shouting the generic “Sabaii-dii!”. We eventually bid farewell to their smiling faces as we crossed the stream and continued on into the forest on the other side.
The walk to the third village consisted of some tougher uphill trekking, but without the shade of the trees as they had all been chopped down (through encouragement from the government) to make way for the planting of rice and rubber trees. The third village was a Hmong village, dirtier, chubbier children but oozing charm and fighting for their space in front of the lens.
We walked a little further from this village to have our (late) lunch by a picturesque little pond, before catching the songthaew back to Muang Sing. Joy and i decided that as the trek had finished early we’d catch the songthaew with the guys, so she would be able to leave for Huay Xai the next morning and i would (hopefully) have an extra day trekking in Luang Nam Tha.
We got back to Luang Nam Tha around 5pm, checked into the Darasavath Guesthouse ($2 each) and went out for dinner at the Manychan Restaurant.
Photo is of one of the many adorable little Akha children we met on our trek, Muang Sing.
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