On Christmas day a rooster woke me up. Nothing really new about that, roosters had been waking me up for about a week. That day, however, it sounded like it was under my bed. That was impossible, of course, since I was sleeping on a mattress on the floor, which meant that the rooster was actually under my room. Under my… but how… where was I?
I was in Huay Bo, the most off the beaten path place I have ever reached on my own, and one of the best experiences I had in Laos.
Huay Bo is a small village in northern Laos, nearby Muang Ngoi. ‘Nearby’ means that it takes about 1 hour and a half… by walk. Or 3 hours, if you get lost like me. There are no roads, no buses, no internet and no electricity network. There are around 220 inhabitants from 43 families, wooden huts, lots of animals and two guesthouses.
Huay Bo is a quiet place surrounded by mountains and some streams. The houses are made of wood and bamboo and seem to have been placed randomly, in no order. There are no streets and no private property. The houses are not constructed directly on the ground but are somehow elevated, leaving a space under it which is used for storage or for keeping the animals. And yes, there are a lot of animals, it actually looks like a big farm, with plenty of dogs, chickens, roosters, ducks and pigs walking freely.
The owner of the guesthouse likes to talk to tourists to improve his English, which is a good opportunity to ask questions and learn about him and the village.
Long long back there was no electricity at all. He bought the first television, and was running it with batteries that he carried from Muang Ngoi. His neighbors paid to see movies in the TV, as in a kind of home cinema. About 12-13 year ago, he got the idea of installing electricity generators in the river to provide energy to everybody. Time went on and, thanks to the (free) electricity, more families bought a TV (nowadays there are 6 or 7 which are shared between neighbors). That was the end of the home cinema business, but by that time he had saved some money and opened a guesthouse. The generators in the river are still the only source of electricity in the village, and are used for light and TVs. There are no fridges, washing machines or water heaters.
Life starts early in Huay Bo, as soon as the sun rises. Some people go hunting, others working the fields or collecting plants, and some stay in the village, where they do all kinds of manual activities, most of the time in front of their houses – that is, in the street.
In one house I saw a couple of women (mother and daughter, I imagined) smashing rice. ‘For LaoLao’, they told me. LaoLao is the traditional rice whisky from Laos. A bit further, another women was arranging pieces of wood, for the fire. Another one was cooking a soup. Some neighbors were talking, sitting in front of the fire (it was cold in early morning). A group of people were using a fuel-combustion-engine machine to peel rice. I was told that several families had bought it together. In the village, everybody knows everybody, and they all help each other in these manual tasks.
In the guesthouse there was a hand loom. She weaves scarfs that later sells in the village. It takes her a week to make a scarf! She showed me how to use it, it is really amazing how all those threads have a specific purpose and the different patterns that can be made. She allowed me to weave for a while, and I understood why it takes a week! Her neighbor and friend has a bigger hand loom and makes skirts, which takes about 3 weeks.
At noon, laughing children fill the streets. They go home for lunch. There is a small school in Huay Bo, where children go for three years. After that, they continue their education in Ba Na, and later on in Muang Ngoi.
In addition to walking around observing the village life, there is another activity to do there: try to find the waterfall. Please note I said ‘try to find’ and not ‘go to see’. We never found it. I was with a girl I met in Muang Ngoi. We followed a path in the jungle until it disappeared, tried to follow the river on both sides… and came back. Later that day, the owner of the guesthouse told us we were supposed to walk in the river (barefoot in that cold water? No way!).
Not that it was the first time we got lost. On the way from Muang Ngoi to Huay Bo we also got lost and had to turn around and cross the river several times. We told him, and he asked us for help to do a sign. That was fun. We wrote the letters in red paint using a home made brush (made with bamboo, I imagine). My friend left after one night, but I stayed two nights. On my last day, I went with the owner to put the sign… we went there by scooter, me holding the sign with one hand and holding myself with the other. The path was bumpy, and we had no helmets. We put the sign at the river crossing, since knowing where to cross the river had been the most difficult part.
I do not know why, but I felt fascinated by Huay Bo, by its simple quiet life. I am used to find everything done and ready in the supermarket, so I found fascinating to see how people were actually doing things, using the resources available around. Working together. Talking and laughing while working. Having a peaceful life. And yet, even if this simple, relaxed, stress-free life fascinates me, I know I could not stay forever. I am too restless, to curious about seeing other places.
Next year they will have a road, joining Huay Bo with Muang Ngoi and Nong Khiaw. There will be internet as well. They are so happy about it. Progress is good. I only hope that with the arrival of the road, buses and more tourists, Huay Bo, its atmosphere and its people will not change… that much.
** USEFUL INFORMATION **
- Where to stay: Konsavanh guesthouse, phone (+856)30-9235-830 or (+856)20-2266-5747
- Getting there: call the guesthouse to pick you up by scooter, or go there by bike/ walk. Follow the main road until Ba Na, which is on the right side of the road. Enter Ba Na, turn right, and walk to the river. Follow the river to the right until you find a guesthouse sign. Cross the river and follow the path until Huay Bo. Just in case, also ask around.
- What to take: a head lamp since there is no electricity in the room, warm clothes if it is winter, flip flops for the river crossings.
- Note: there are no banks, ATM, internet or 3G signal.
- Tip: I left my main luggage in a guesthouse in Muang Ngoi and went there with a day pack.
- More infomation in wikitravel
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