Thanksgiving in Laos found us in a cave. I was not sure what the holidays would feel like here, whether they would make us nostalgic or if we would even notice that we were missing them. We were in Muang Ngoi, a small town one hour up the Nam Ou river from Nong Khiaw by boat. Its a small town with a single dusty walking path below lush jagged mountains that stop you in your tracks. Every night groups of people sat by a fire in the middle of the single path. There are no roads. The only way to arrive in Muang Ngoi is by boat or by walking from the next village over. The town has been here since the 15th century, but none of the old temples survived the US bombing.
On Thanksgiving Mark and I walked down a footpath to a soccer field to a series of caves along a shady stream. Locals lived in these caves for years to escape US bombing during the war and farmed at night as bombs only dropped during the day.
We followed the path by the stream out of the woods until it crossed the stream. Women with no shoes carried large bags of rice by a strap across their forehead. We shuffled to get out of their way as they gracefully climbed over a cattle fence and through the stream. The path lead us to a wide plateau of rice fields which were being harvested by men in straw hats.
With some helpful directions from the rice farmers we arrived in the village of Bana and drank ginger tea in a small cafe with a couple from Switzerland. The owner pulled out a bottle of lao lao which is a local whiskey. It was a small water bottle with only a few inches of lao lao left, but he offered each of us a very small shot making the few ounces of hard alcohol last for three rounds for the five of us. Clearly, the sharing was more important than the actual drinking.
We played petang with the owner next to some old bomb parts. After lunch we were invited to drink more lao lao with the rice farmers as we were walking back to Muang Ngoi across the rice field. They already had a young Argentinian man with them in the shade of their baan ( a shelter used for eating and resting next to the rice field) but they happily made room for us. Soon a single glass of lao lao is circulating. I pull out a bag of peanuts and the Argentinian pulls out some bananas to share. Both are well received and soon sticky rice is passed to us. We talk about work, soccer, rice and how cool it is to be a rice farmer.
Soon a Spanish couple made their way towards our shelter. The rice farmer with the best English (who is now red in the face from drinking) stopped the woman and apologized for not inviting them to drink with us- the lao lao has run out. The Spanish woman thanks him and explains that she doesn't like lao lao and is happy that it has run out. They all laughed. After the Spanish couple left we sit for a moment and reflect on this Thanksgiving. Soon it is time for the soccer game back in Muang Ngoi and the rice farmers head back to town.
The vally near Muang Ngoi
Playing Petang (note the bomb part in the background)
For more pics see our flickr page: markandjuliah
Mark and Juliah