Stunning mountains, broken locks and potent whisky!

All credit to Tao and Kai : the last couple of days were a unique, informative, amusing, and fascinating experience. Tao is a first class guide : very knowledgable, very funny, very interesting and a very personable guy. He went out of his way to make Mia and I feel welcome, to treat us as individuals and show an interest is us and our lives, as well as educating us about the lives of the Lua and Htin tribes, whose villages we resided at during our trek.
Ban Sapan to Ban Huay Tone
We began our trek by being driven in tao’s brand new truck, to our starting point, Ban Sapan (Sapan Village). We had coffee and lunch before setting off on what would be a moderately difficult 4 hour uphill hike. We crossed streams (well, actually it was the same one – a tributary of the Nan river – 12 times), walked through forests, and up on to the dirt track that wove its way around the edge and finally over the top of the mountain that would lead us down to our first village, Huay Tone (meaning : single stream).
Unlike so many of the other treks i’ve been on (Nam Rin and Salawin Tours excluded), the walking was broken up with many stops, not so much to allow us to rest, but so that Tao could actually give us some information about the area or tell us a story or simply to allow the four of us to stop and talk for a while. The walking was also not rushed, to allow us to appreciate the landscape and the environment we were passing through. This probably pleased Kai as he was struggling with the hills more than the rest of us!
Kai had really come along as our cook and as Tao’s friend but he’s studying a Masters degree in agriculture, and forestry & environmental management, so he was a mind of information about plants and flowers and their uses. Mia is also a teacher, specialising in biology and environmental science so between the two of them i was able to learn a huge amount about the local environment and the vegetation which exists within it :
  • Mimosa Sesitiva. Looks a little like a fern (probably from the same family). When you touch its leaves, they close up like a defense mechanism and stay like this for 10 minutes.
  • Banana Flower. Useful for the relief of muscle pain
  • Coriander leaf. Used extensively in Thai cooking. Dark green in colour and has long leaves with spiky edges.
  • Elephant Screaming. A kind of nettle. Creates an itchy rash if you touch it.

When we arrived at the village, Tao bought us some coconut macaroon sweets from the village shop to replace the sugar we’d lost through hours of walking in the intense heat. The sun hadn’t been shining but was still warming us intensely through the clouds.

The Lua Tribe

The Lua people originated from the Lawa tribe. They practice swidden agriculture as well as wet-rice cultivation and favour villages on the crests of hills. The women may wear costumes that have blue tunics and skirts to below the knees as well as a turban, but the men dress ordinarily.

We were to stay at the school at the top of the village, as the teacher was away on holiday. There was a minor glitch though : the teacher had forgotten to leave the keys with anyone in the village, so although breaking into the kitchen was essential (Tao says it’s not the first lock he’s had to break in one of the villages!), we persuaded him against breaking the shower room door as well!

The 4 of us had a lovely meal out on the balcony adjacent to the kitchen, sitting on a wicker mat around a small wooden table. Kai is an excellent cook, and it’s not that the dishes he makes are complicated, it’s that he knows which flavours taste good together and exactly how much to use of each ingredient. As i’m vegetarian, Tao made sure we all ate meat-free meals for the duration of the trek. Despite making me feel a little guilty, it was a nice gesture on his part. Mia certainly didn’t mind : she was enjoying the food just as much as i was. It’s quite strange when i dwell on the fact, but Mia is more than twice my age yet we got on fantastically, and she was an intelligent and interesting travel companion.

After the meal, when Tao embarked upon a blanket hunt, he returned with an invitation from one of the villagers. Although the majority of them were not very receptive to strangers, one family had not only answered Tao’s blanket plea, but also offered us a room in their house for the night (sleeping in the school would mean no outside walls to keep out the cold) and provided us with matresses to sleep on. Furthermore, the head of the family produced 2 bottles of rice whisky (similar to Lao Lao and tasted almost as potent!) and invited us to join him and his family. So we did the rounds with the Thai Lao, accompanied by Mia’s bag of cashew nuts and Kai’s amusing ‘drinking water out of a dog’s bowl due to the shortage of glasses’ antics!

Photo is of the view from the school in the Lua village of Huay Tone

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