Getting Local

The whole point of having a guide in Laos was to gain access to places we wouldn’t otherwise get to see. Laos has over 50 (some say over 100) different ethnic tribes, each with their own cultural traditions and language, and we wanted to visit as many as we could. Plus, Mel and I – we’re severely geographically challenged, and I do mean SEVERELY. We can barely get around the block at home without getting lost. Really. But I digress.

The first village To took us to was called Ban Hoay Houn Tai (ban = village in Lao), and was occupied by Katu people of the Mon-Khmer minority. The Katu are animists and polygamists and have a tradition of keeping carved wooden coffins stored under their houses in anticipation of their own deaths. (When someone dies, he is buried in a coffin for three years, then exhumed. The bones are removed and placed in special receptacles, and the coffins can then be used again. So practical! So environmental!)

When we entered the village the women brought out their textiles to show us – blankets and scarves, mostly – everything made completely by hand. Villages that don’t have access to Thai- or Chinese- imported supplies even have to make their own thread: they grow, harvest, spin and dye the fiber themselves. Their handiwork was really nice and featured signature patterns that were passed down from generation to generation.

The Katu women were very friendly, and the group hanging out in the picture above was having a good time, joking and laughing. (That’s not opium they’re smoking, though.)

We left the happy Katu and continued on to our guesthouse for the night, the fabulous Tadlo Lodge, which was owned by a couple of young, amiable Lao/French guys, and situated right on the Mekong. Literally.

the view from the lodge restaurant

Whisky, the lodge mascot

The main house was a beautiful open-air pavilion with a bar for late-night drinks, a restaurant overlooking the river, and Whisky, possibly the only labrador retriever in all of Laos. There weren’t any backpacker types there, though, since a room will set you back an extravagant $30 for a double.


Oh, and did I mention there were also two Asian elephants and a baby river otter living at the lodge?

Moonma the elephant

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