After a sleepy dawn of giving alms to the monks we headed out towards the river to board a house boat. We wouldn’t be spending the night on the boat, but instead be traveling on it down the river towards Thailand. We were the only ones onboard except for the family whose home it was that cooked for us and covered us in blankets while we napped and made sure we arrived safely in Thailand.
It was a beautiful way to travel, watching the mountains and forests pass on the embankments and water buffalo grazing or drinking the water. Some of our group spent the time sunbathing (burning) and napping on the section of the boat without a roof, others spent it just relaxing and reading. I spent it hiding in the roofed part trying not to get burnt from the sun, writing and playing cards with some of my group.
Our boat had only one stop before we’d arrive in Thailand. A village up in the mountains that had graciously offered to let us spend the night with them. The house boat family cooked us dinner and we hiked up the steep sand bank up into the village, watched cautiously by children as we entered the village with our local guide and CEO. The local guide spoke the language of the village, which wasn’t Lao, but one of the other many languages still spoken. We were given a tour of the village which included visiting their elementary school that was at the highest point of the village and a miniature game that some of our tour played with the villagers who were playing to relax after a long day of farming on the other side of the mountain. (Tourists lost of course)
After our tour we settled in the benched area near the chief’s house. I made friends with a local puppy who refused to leave my side until dinner began. We learned that the houses were built off the ground so that animals could live underneath, especially important in the rainy season. That they had no worries about the animals running off, pigs, chickens, and dogs wandering about the village on their own because they knew which house to return to at night because they would feed them. And that the village had a little bit of electricity usually only enough to power lights or for houses with larger solar panels about an hour of television.
Our dinner was delicious and afterwards we were swarmed by the village children. It felt a bit like a sports game where kids studied you and decided whether or not they wanted to play with you. We’d been warned not to use our smart phones, previous tour groups had lost their phones to curious children and found all of their photos and information irreversibly gone by the time they got it back. And I…I went into panicked teacher mode. While some of our more sporty tour group members tried to teach the kids how to flip a water bottle and get it to land right side up, I found myself figuring out how much English they knew and tried to expand on it with paper and pencils I had. Things like weather and counting games that my students in Korea demand we play as often as possible. They knew how to count to ten and say “My name is” but spoke it like a mantra without finishing the sentence or seeming to fully know what it meant.
A lot of us wished we had been warned that we’d be playing with the children ahead of time so we could have come up with games or left our boat a bit more prepared to bring something like cards to play with them. So I suppose this is a heads up. If you go to stay at a village or are invited bring some sort of easy ice breaker good for all ages. So you’re not throwing water bottles or playing clapping games, or struggling to play Uno. (Uno works at an easy level by matching colors rather than trying to play the actual game if you have a short amount of time.)
After the kids left, running off to go play or to bed we were led to the houses that were letting us stay with them. We broke off into groups, separated by genders and found ourselves stumbling with the flashlights of our phones through the steep spaces between the houses towards the ones that had set up beds and mosquito nets for us. I didn’t sleep well, but luckily when we got up at 5am to head back to the boat it was still dark out and the boat was prepared for us with blankets set out. I spent most of my morning curled up like a mummy in one of the seats with my head on a table trying to stay warm and rest.