Since the seventh grade, it's been a life goal of mine to travel to every country in the world. Slowly but surely, I'm checking countries off the list and the most recent was number thirty-four, Laos. I was lucky enough to have two adventurous friends join me on a hiking, biking, and kayaking tour through the outskirts of World Heritage city Luang Prabang. Because of our somewhat short timeframe we decided to book an organized tour through Tiger Trail Outdoor Adventures, and we were definitely not disappointed. We got to visit temples, ride elephants, hike through the stunningly beautiful mountains, and drink our fill of Beer Lao!
The highlight of the trip was the evening spent in the small village of Fouyfy (spelling varies). As we hiked into the village, we passed through a forest of rubber trees, one of the village's main sources of income. Another major income producer for the town became apparent as we walked through the village gate; we spotted clumps of tiger grass drying on roofs, front stoops, and on the neatly swept dirt ground. The dried tiger grass is used to make brooms that are sold mainly to China. Since 2000, the village has welcomed tourists into their homes as part of a responsible tourism movement in rural places in Laos. Although we couldn't communicate much with any of the locals, we enjoyed waving and saying hello to the little children, and our hosts provided a delicious meal of vegetables, fried noodles, pork, homemade Lao whiskey and a local delicacy - fried buffalo skin.
With no electricity or running water, there wasn't much to do after dark except drink Beer Lao, so we turned in early in preparation for the next day's 20 kilometer hike through the mountains. We slept in a small bamboo hut with mats on the floor and surrounded by mosquito netting. The walls were constructed on woven bamboo, so you could hear every baby's cry, every rooster's crow (every hour on the hour it seemed), and every footstep. After a somewhat restless night, we enjoyed our breakfast of eggs, French bread, and Lao coffee (yumm!) and headed out for a day of hiking in the mountains.
We arrived back in Luang Prabang via kayak and very ready for a shower and electricity to charge our very dead cell phones. After cleaning up, we headed back out in town for dinner overlooking the Mekong River, another trip to the night market, and a massage. The night market was crowded will treasures and treasure hunters. Colorful textiles, jewelry, trinkets, clothing - there was something for everyone. One of my favorite souvenirs (besides these gorgeous bracelets shown below), were the bottle openers and keychains made from scrap metal salvaged from bombs that were dropped on Laos by America in the 1960s & 70s. Known as the peaceBOMB project, the transformation of bombs into trinkets that serve as a reminder of peace now provides income for rural villagers.