In the beginning of December I headed north to Phongsali, the most northern part of Laos you can go to before being in China. Phongsali is a beautiful region of Laos but that is very much off the beaten path as it's more difficult to get to. I had to take a 20 hour bus ride from Luang Prabang and it was far from safe of comfortable. For the first 4 hours I was sitting next to the driver on the engine of the bus, facing the open door which had 2 boys hanging outside of it. I didn't need a seatbelt as I was squished between 2 girls on each side, a girl squished between me and the driver and the two boys squished between me and the boys hanging outside the door. Though not comfy it was a very entertaining beginning to the journey. The next part of the ride had me sitting in an uncomfortable seat that, yes was more safe and comfy than what I had been on, but I still found it near impossible to sleep. Anyways, I eventually made it to the north and I soon learned what people meant when they said to me, "Phongsali is cold bring warm clothes." What they meant was, "It's fucking cold up there, bring many layers or down jackets/blankets not just the long sleeve shirt and hoodie you have, you dumb ass." So I was cold, very cold... very very cold.
One of the main reasons people go to Phongsali is to go trekking and see the variety of hilltribes and minorities up in that region. It is estimated that about 22 different ethnic minorities are living in the Phongsali province. Among them are Hmong, Khamu, Mien, Iko, Phunoi, Kheu, Lolo, Hanyi, Yao, Thai Khao, Thai Lu, Phuan and Phai. I originally went with the intention to go trekking around the area for a few days but then shortly realized that I don't really like trekking. Maybe I should define how I view "trekking." Hiking is one thing. I like going for hikes, but to me trekking is different. Trekking is something "white people" do. They go for walks around indigenous peoples lands and take photos and feel happy because part of their proceeds goes to these people. I could go more into it but it will only further provide reason for you to think I'm a snob. Needless to say, when I settled in Phongsaly I decided not to do any few days treks. Also I should add that most of these minorities are the same ones I would have seen last year in Xixuangbanna, China. I did however decide to go for a long walk on a somewhat carved out path. This was the trail to go to Ban Khounloumluang. I chose this one was I had been told that Phongsali Lao Lao (spirited alcohol) is the best in the country and I wanted to visit one of the towns famous for making it.
So off I went and I'm glad I did. The countryside there is far from touched and very beautiful. I ended up in Ban Khounloumluang around lunch time and was rather hungry. I asked for a spot to eat in town (town being too big of a term here. really more of a small, small village). After a little hesitation I was pointed into a door which I assumed was a restaurant of sorts, but actually was a house and a Basi was going on, or in English terms, a celebration. I ended up spending a few hours talking, eating, dancing, and drinking with the villagers. I had to leave before it got dark and I wouldn't be able to get home ok, but by this time I was somewhat inebriated. I thanked them full heartily, left some money for the celebration and stumbled home all giggly like.
I still don't love the idea of trekking but I did have a good day of hiking. There is a difference, I promise. :)
PS Those yellow flowers so prevalent in these photos... those are poppies. This region used to be huge for opium growing. Perhaps you've heard of the golden triangle?