Travelling is many times a struggle to get off the beaten path, and even being South East Asia one of the major backpacking destinations in the world, is still possible to visit interesting and uncommon places everywhere. In South Laos there are still some villages where people keep their ancient beliefs and traditions, the ones they had before the arrival of Buddhism to South East Asia.
Instead of a god living somewhere in the heavens, and due to their lifestyle still very connected to nature, they believe in a spirit of the forest, developing a deep love and respect for the environment around. For instance one feature typically present in animist villages is a big tree in the middle with all the huts built around it.
You can for instance visit Hor Kuan Ban Khiang Tanglae, a hamlet near Tad Lo in the Bolaven Plateau, a trekking paradise filled with waterfalls, pure jungle and small villages with genuine people. This hamlet has a traditional hut in the middle of the village where they practice ceremonial rites for the spirits of the forest.
According to Ngae rites, the ethnic group living here, an annual ceremony to honor the ancestral spirits is held around March (but with the date always changing depending on the Ngae lunar calendar), when villagers play their traditional music based on drums and dance while going around the hor kuan (the ceremonial building in the middle of the hamlet). Then a buffalo is slaughter on a sacrificial post has a gift to the spirits and the meat distributed to the whole community.
Besides that, you can experience the simple and humble lifestyle they have, play with the local children and notice the wood toys they make. Or talk with the elders and listen to their stories (for instance the man below explain me how during the American bombing many times he had to dive in the nearby river to hide from the napalm attacks, showing me the scars he still has in his body from that period).
Just a final reminder, while visiting these kind of remote communities always bear in mind the need to respect their culture and lifestyle. For instance, due to their animist beliefs, you can’t do any of the following: hitting or cutting of any part of the ceremonial building or the sacrificial post, touching any of items such as the bones and horns in the building, beat the ceremonial drum and tying anything to the sacrificial post. Other than that, they’ll be happy to share they life and you’ll be definitely enriched with the experience of other versions of our world!
Reaching Laos is not so easy, as there aren’t many companies running a bus from Cambodia to Laos. You can check CamboTicket for travel options:
- By bus: to Don Det from Phnom Penh or from Siem Reap.
- By taxi: if you want to go beyond Don Det or simply prefer private transport to Laos make sure to contact their team at email@example.com.