4/27/18: Killing Snakes & Eating Cicadas (Trekking In Northern Laos, Day 1)

I started the morning with a goodbye: Tim, who I had met on my first day in Nong Khiaw, was leaving to head back to Luang Prabang. It’s always weird when you spend a few days with someone and then say goodbye, knowing you will most likely never see them again.

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Pre-trekking breakfast

I learned new German word: na klar, which means of course. Very useful!!

Adrian and I walked to the office of Nong Khiaw Adventure Tours, where we would be meeting the rest of our trekking group. We had signed up for a 2-day trek through northern Laos.

Our guide Pet arrived, and immediately asked if Adrian and I were dating. We told him no, and he seemed happy that we were both single.

A few minutes later, two more came in: one French girl named Melanie and one German guy named Marius. Pet almost immediately asked them if they were “husband and wife,” and the girl (rightfully) started bursting out laughing. Pet said he only asked because they’re the same height, as if similar height should be the main reason for two people to get married, and then we all started laughing. It was so ridiculous and quite bizarre.

Two more joined us– an Italian couple called Francesco and Jessica.

We started our trek on a boat. We rode about an hour before we got to a village, and then started trekking through mountains and rice fields.


Water buffalo!


We walked through a huge herd of cows, and at first I felt fine. But then I started taking pictures, which slowed me down, and the cows started surrounding me. Some had horns and it was quite scary. Cows are odd because they just stare and I never know what they’re thinking. I got really scared and sort of panicky, but I backed up so that I was with Marius and Melanie, and we all walked through the herd together and I was fine.

Entering the cow herd


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At one point a group of boys was running down the hill towards us, chasing something with sticks and stones. We realized it was a snake. They beat it up with their sticks and stones until it was dead. It was like something straight out of a book— it was amazing to see that country kids actually do this sort of stuff.

Chasing the snake
Beating it up…

The killing made me really upset. It was so meaningless; they just left the snake after they killed it. They didn’t even want to use it for food.

Our guide picked it up and put it in a plastic bag to cook that night. It was pretty gross, but I was glad the snake at least died for something.

We stopped at a big village for lunch. Our chef was in a meeting, so after some bananas and tea our guide showed us around the village. We saw lots of chickens, ducks, dogs, and pigs.

The village




By the school
Jessica and the kids

While we were all sitting near the village’s school, Pet told me I didn’t look American, I look Asian. I explained to him that I am half Japanese, and he was satisfied.

This happens to me literally every day while I’m traveling. I know I shouldn’t care, but it does start to chip away at me when my identity is questioned/rejected every single day. It’s like I can’t be both American and Japanese– I must only be Japanese because there’s no way an Asian-looking person can be both ethnicities.

While we waited for our food, Pet made us share how many wives/husbands we’d want to have. All of us, a bit confused as to why he insisted on knowing, said 1. Pet told us those who are not sure are not settled in their heart. You can have 3 wives, but the third one is the true love because it’s the last one. I’m not quite sure the point of this discussion, but I found it interesting how focused on love and relationships Pet seems to be.

Our lunch was pumpkin, gourd, spinach noodle soup, eggs and rice. My favorite was the gourd (the green stuff).

The spread
Melanie and food

After lunch, we walked for another 2 hours on a pretty easy trail.

During our walk, Pet asked me if Kyoto was a real place. I told him yes, it’s the old capital of Japan, and he was shocked. He didn’t know Kyoto was an actual place; he just thought it was a funny word that sounds like Tokyo. It made me wonder if that’s a thing around the world… do people think Kyoto is just a funny word that sounds like Tokyo?

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We eventually got to a little swimming area where we all swam around for a bit. The water felt really nice after a long day of sweat.

Swimming area


The kids who splashed around with us

The boat picked us up from there and took us to Muang Ngoi, a bigger town with more tourism. We walked around and then had a drink at a random restaurant we saw on the main street. Everyone got beer, but I got a coconut/pineapple shake because I didn’t really feel like drinking yet.

Muang Ngoi

We all got back on the boat and got dropped off at the village we would be staying in the rest of the night, called Sobjam. It was ridiculously picturesque.

Getting into Sobjam


So many butterflies!


We walked around the town and everyone seemed so happy: kids playing, adults chilling. It was strange because they seemed happy, but they are also stuck in this village. The kids only have primary school education, so there’s no real option to get out of the village if they wanted to. So, I couldn’t quite tell if the villagers were actually happy or if they deep down wanted to leave.

The village
Lots of weaving here
Francesco trying out the weaving


These bikes had bags full of clothes for the children


We all got beers and sat at the beach until dinner. There were kids playing soccer on the beach (which seems like the hardest thing ever!) and families bathing in the river.

Soccer on the beach
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The crew
From left: Marius, Adrian, Melanie, Francesco, Jessica

Dinner was greens with peanuts, Chinese cabbage soup, chicken, and sticky rice. I didn’t realize the salad had peanuts until I started eating it. I immediately noticed my body reacting, so I pushed the salad to the side of my bowl and stuck with the soup and sticky rice for the rest of the meal. They also had fermented chili paste, similar to gochujang, which was cool. I’ve never seen non-Korean fermented chili paste before.

The spread


The family who cooked our dinner made us take 3 shots of Lao Lao, aka Lao whiskey, during the meal. It was so strong and burned so much, I didn’t really enjoy it.

After dinner we were going to play cards, but then our guide invited us to the beach for a bonfire.

We went down with a bottle of Lao Lao and some beers. We chatted, our guide told us a story about the Naga snake and the Buddha that went on forever, and then around 10 pm a fisherman arrived with a skewer of 3 little freshly caught fish. He put the skewer on the fire to let them roast. A few minutes later, he came back with a handful of cicadas, still alive and very loud, and started roasting those, too.

Fisherman at the fire

Once the fish was ready, Pet went around and gave us little pieces. I didn’t take any because I just didn’t feel comfortable eating fish, however fresh it was. Next up was the cicadas. I was curious, so I ate a small piece. It was actually pretty good— nice, crispy texture and a mild taste.

Roasted cicadas

The fisherman then got more cicadas to BBQ, so we each had one more.

It really felt like the real Lao. It’s the most involved homestay I’ve done. Most of the time you just hang out by the home and play cards, but here the locals actually interacted with us.

Everyone was taking shots of whiskey and we ended up finishing the bottle. I didn’t drink any because I didn’t want to be hungover, but it was pretty funny watching everyone get progressively drunker.

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