South of Luang Phabang scattered on the river’s banks villages hide amid trees and bushes.
Ban Nong Bua Kham is a new settlement, in fact three villages put together. The government made the villagers move down to the river to stop encroachment on the forest. It paid for the removal, it installed electricity, a dirt road connects the village with the outside world. But the people can’t support themselves here. Fishing can’t sustain them, the teak wood grown around the village doesn’t belong to them. And so they keep commuting to their old fields.
Some have disassembled and reassembled their old wooden houses, some could afford new cement blocks and corrugated iron.
Nong Bua Kham village doesn’t look authentic. Yet its people don’t seem part of this more modern world either. The old still weave bamboo baskets. Rice is still being threshed with a foot-powered pestle and mortar. To the children that foreigner is a strange sight. Some laugh and follow him, though at a safe distance. Some shy away and start crying. And some come to see what’s up first, then after all decide it’s better to start crying.
Had Keo village has Had Keo temple where an old monk serves. In every other aspect too it is the typical traditional ethnic Lao village. Houses on stilts, palm trees, ducks and turkeys, people sitting in the shade. Clean and tidy. In all its simplicity it isn’t poor.
The village of Pak Hao sits, its name literally says so, at the mouth of the Hao. Its white waters splash and crash down between giant boulders. But they are swallowed up by the Mekong, slow and brown here, and in no time no trace is left of them.
And there is the village with the boy under the tree.