Wednesday 6 December 2006
We ventured 85 kilometers from Pakse to visit Salavan Province, Mae Boun’s home town.
I had been lamenting to Mom, pretty much the entire trip, that we have yet to see an elephant in Laos. (No, I’m not childish at all.) It was the one thing I wished for, as I boarded the plane: “I hope I get to ride an elephant!” In my mind, Lao people just roll around on elephants all the time. I had clearly watched too many old Thai boran soap operas with Mom.
As we were leaving Tad Lo, our crazy driver slammed on the breaks, seemingly for no reason. But when I looked up ahead and to the right…
While the view was pretty nice up there, I couldn’t imagine it would be very comfortable after half an hour. You know who’s not riding through the countryside on an elephant any time soon? This girl. But the moment stands out as one of the brightest in my memory.
Next stop: a village, where the shells of exploded ordinance rust among old tires and other yard debris, quiet but powerful reminders of the Vietnam War. Across the street from a monastery, charred foundation posts are all that remain of a house built on a pond. There is a picture of it in the village’s archives, before the bombing.
Just outside of Lao Ngam, where we lodged with relatives of Mae Boun, there is a Lao Theung village called Pa Suam. The Lao Theung are an ethnic group whose territory ranges between the central and southern mountains. The village is also a tourist attraction, providing a means to continue their way of life as the world of “progress” rapidly encroaches upon them.
When we arrived, we were greeted by dancing girls in traditional dress. In a nearby hut, women wove silk textiles on ancient looms.
An old man – probably in his 90s – makes musical instruments. His hat is also handmade from tree bark.
A part of me wants to tell you to visit Pa Suam one day but, like all things in Laos, a bigger part of me wants it to stay hidden.