Learning from the Hill Tribes of Laos

The raggedly-dressed children were scared of us and the adults stared somberly as we passed. Mangy dogs barked at our muddy sneakers, our English commands doing nothing to quiet them.

We were delighted.

Jason and I had hired a guide for a trek, who had promised to bring us in contact with the hill tribe people of Laos, but we had initially feared we would get a Disney World experience. As we have noticed throughout our travels, it is often difficult to experience the real culture of a place because locals cater to tourists.

The main village road at dusk

Ask any backpacker and they will probably have one of these fairy tale experiences to share. For example, many towns along the backpacker route turn into a show of locals selling cheap souvenirs and enticing tired travelers to frequent their air conditioned restaurants with the promise of free wifi and Western food. While sometimes it’s a joy to stumble across a familiar meal, the traditions and culture of a place can be quickly swept away by foreign-run businesses and English-speaking touts.

The fact that the natives were not calling out to us to buy their goods or pestering us to book a sightseeing tour was a sign that they were just living their normal lives in a place where we could carefully observe and learn. Continue reading “Learning from the Hill Tribes of Laos”