FEATURE: A village where time stands still

VIENTIANE (Vientiane Times/ANN) - It’s so easy to take a simple but wonderful trip in Laos, and part of the delight lies in the fact that because the country is so laidback you don’t need to do much planning. And there’s a surprise in store at every turn.

The country has some magical landscapes and is the perfect choice for those looking for relaxation during their travels, alongside some immersion in a traditional way of life.

Namdee village offers the traveller a step back in time and the chance to experience a centuries-old lifestyle. It can be found in a rural area of Namtha district in Luang Namtha province, just six kilometres from the provincial capital.

The people who live here are Lao Huay (Lanten) and still maintain their old customs. Among other interesting activities, this is a good place to observe the making of paper from bamboo bark.

Behind the village is Namdee waterfall and there are several other places nearby worth visiting, including a small handicraft shop managed by the villagers.

To get there you can hire a bike or tuk-tuk in Namtha.

The village runs home-stays, enabling visitors to experience the Lanten lifestyle, eat the local food, learn how to make paper from bamboo, use natural dyes and learn a bit about weaving, while you participate in the day-to-day work of your hosts.

Visitors can spend an enjoyable day walking around the community and observing village life during a day visit, or you can stay overnight at a paid homestay provided by a local family.

This is without doubt the best way to become acquainted with the village and you will soon find out how easygoing the locals are.

They don’t need much for their everyday life and use mostly simple handmade materials.

There are four or five houses that can be viewed by visitors to get a glimpse of local living. They are quite different from most Lao houses as they are small, wooden, have no additional rooms, and have thatch roofs made from dried grass. The thatch lasts for at least five years and is supported by one pole in the middle of the house and one in each of the four corners.

These houses have a single room so that people sleep together in one area partitioned by curtains. The kitchen has a dirt floor and all the utensils are hung up, as well as dried items including crop seeds. Inside the house are some looms that women use to weave silk and cotton fabric.

Both children and adults wear traditional clothing, which looks to be very comfortable because everything’s made of cotton.

A stroll through this village is very rewarding, especially in the evenings and mornings. At these times you can see the villagers feeding their animals, watering the plants in their kitchen gardens, weaving silk and applying dyes, while some make handicrafts or write in the Lanten script.

The Lanten use a language that is similar to Chinese and only few of the older people can still write and read it.

After a while I found my walk through the village quite hard work because each house is on a hill, and I wondered how the older people fared. Anyway, it was good exercise for all of us.

The villagers are very welcoming and talk and smile to guests even though they don’t speak English.

Most visitors like to go to the waterfall behind the village and the air is typically fresh, making walks through the forest preservation area a pleasant excursion.

The best time to visit Nam Dee village is after the end of the rainy season around October, when it’s full of green trees and the rice fields are yellow. You can also join the farmers as they harvest their rice in a large group.

The people of Namdee don’t have to pay for hired help when it comes to harvest time because, unlike most other places in Laos, they don’t need to bring in workers to help cut the rice. Everyone in the community bands together to cut the crop.

On a large rice farm surrounded by green hills, where the fields are owned by a large number of Namdee folk, you will see at least 20 people harvesting rice and listening to music played on a radio.

The scene revives buried memories from years ago of times when people were self-sufficient in terms of labour and didn’t need outside help at harvest time. It’s encouraging to see that so many traditions survive in this peaceable little community.