Natane Village, located a kilometer from the upriver side of Tham Kong Lor Cave, is a real working village of about 20 houses that allows tourists to spend the night to experience how locals live. It would be difficult, but not impossible, to stay in the village without a guide as there is very little English spoken and guests are expected to bring and cook their own food.
The families of the village take turns hosting. The living quarters of the houses are upstairs with storage and animals below. With a temperate climate, it’s an open structure with few solid walls.
We are given a corner of the main room to set down our belongings and rest. This is where we will sleep. At first we feel exposed as there is no privacy. There is no furniture. Everything is done on the floor, a linoleum type covering.
In another corner 3 young women play with a baby while against the wall an older gentleman and woman watch TV. A young girl comes over and flops down on the floor next to the old man.
We are given pillows and later they make up a bed for us, thick mats on the floor. They are proud of the cotton mat they stuffed themselves. I had the privilege of sleeping on it and it was indeed firm but quite comfortable. Blankets are provided. A tent of mosquito netting is hung as well as a sheet for privacy.
One of the men of the house greets us and offers us their house made “whiskey”. The potent rice based potion is smooth, tasting something like grappa. Our host is friendly and curious but speaks no English. He wants to know how old we are (he is 52) and how tall we are. He is concerned that the sleeping area is not long enough for Don.
The toilet and shower are outside. Although we have no running water, thanks to a recently funded project the village is installing water lines which will have a dramatic effect on day-to-day life here.
In the kitchen corner of the room Tick, our guide, prepares our dinner with the help of the young women of the house. He likes to cook and made us his mother’s recipe for chicken in red curry and stir fried morning glory, a regional green. Both quite good, he is very eager to get feedback so he can improve his cooking.
Tired from the trudge over the mountain, we retire before 9PM. There are still people up in the main room. The men share the bottle of whiskey. I’m glad I have ear plugs. A sleep mask would be a good idea as well if you are sensitive to light.
The night is noisy with cell phone alarms going off, roosters announcing the day shortly after midnight and monks following at 4:30 with drumming.
For breakfast Tick made us tom yum soup with chicken. He wanted us to experience a local breakfast rather than having a traditional Western breakfast. It was served with hard boiled eggs and of course sticky rice.
Before we ate the head of the family sat with us, gave a talk and performed a small ceremony where he gave us each an egg and a small clump of sticky rice to eat and then tied a yellow thread around our wrist. Tick’s explanation was something out of “Lost in Translation” i.e., the head of the family talked for what seemed like five minutes and Tick summarized it in two sentences, something about welcoming us to their village and wishing us a safe journey onward.
After a photo op with the male and female head of the family we pack up our belongings and head for the river.
Generally I’m not a fan of homestays in local villages because they are often uncomfortable and feel manufactured. While this was not a comfortable experience it did feel authentic and was an excellent opportunity to get a glimpse of life in a rural community. It turned out to be one of the highlights of the trip.
Photos from around the Village
November 6-7, 2018
For links to all the posts in this series see the Laos/Cambodia page.