Ancient skills in an unchanged place.
Whilst returning on my motorcycle from visiting the Tham Piu (see seperate tip) my eye was drawn by a sign indicating Tai Dam Cultural Hall, so ever the curious traveller I took off down an unpaved track, eventually ending up in a tidy but very old-fashioned village surrounded by a gaggle of frankly incredulous youngsters. I shall let a piece from my blog serve to tell you the incredible, funny and simply heartwarming story of what followed.
"I had heard about the Tam Dai weaving villages and saw a sign for the Tam Dai Cultural Centre. Down an unpaved track and into a village which could easily have been from 100 years ago except for the Centre mentioned. The Cultural Centre was closed, but the village and the culture associated were most definitely open for business.
I was wandering about, followed by a curious gaggle of kids, and took an interest in an old woman spinning thread. Usual greetings and smiles and then a man came out of the adjacent house and propelled me inside. The first thing he did was to stuff the pockets of my cargo pants with maklam (tamarind) which I love. I wasn't quite sure what he was up to but they later proved delicious.
Next I was dragged into the back yard, where half the village seemed to be assembled and offered a seat. OK, I am always game for a little interaction with the locals, it's why I travel. The centre of attention was a large oil drum sitting over a fire which was being periodically fed with the husks of eaten corn cobs as fuel. On top of this was a wok filled with cold water from a nearby tap. At the side was a small pipe out of which a clearish liquid was dripping into a bottle to be then decanted at regular intervals into a jerrycan. Yes, I had managed to find a working lao lao still.
You know what is going to happen now, I am sure. I was pressed to sample the goods. I protested that I was riding a motorbike with much miming of me falling off and hitting my head which seemed to amuse them no end, but to no avail. I said I would have a small one. The jerrycan lid served as a rather large shot glass and I lashed it down me. Now I have drunk some pretty rough stuff in my life in various countries but this really was "firewater" with a kick like a mule. I resolved to take a while before I got on the bike and to take it nice and steady on the way home. I knew I would be OK as I had had quite a large lunch.
The fun had only started though. The usual mimed questions about had I a wife and family were trotted out, and when I replied neither there was the usual amazement. In Lao, the concept of being my age and unmarried is unbelievable. One of what I took to be the daughters of the house had been quite unselfconsciously washing her delightfully long, black hair under the tap in the yard but in an instant another daughter was summoned from inside to "look me over" it appears. I know hand signals differ from country to country but I was left in no doubt as to the offer being made, much to my huge embarrassment which caused even more hilarity. She was a pretty enough young lady but having avoided the trap of marriage thus far I am not going to make that mistake. Time to make a tactical withdrawal, which I did in good order.
Once at a safe remove from the potential in-laws shack, I stopped to watch a woman doing the weaving for which the village is famous. You cannot believe how intricate it is. In the fifteen or so minutes I watched her she managed to weave about four rows or whatever they are called. I can see why the work is so highly valued. I had read in the TEAC centre in Luang Prabang that a traditional wedding dress can take up to a year to do. None of your mass-produced rubbish here."
It really was a remarkable afternoon. I know you can organise trips here as part of a days excursion from Phonsavanh so just ask at the many travel agents in town. I am not suggesting you will be offered a bride or forced to drink suicidal liquor but it really is worth seeing.
If you are coming from Muang Kham towards Phonsavanh after about two miles you will see the sign for the Cultural Hall. Follow that track for about half a mile and you will arrive at the village.
I am going to break my one photo per tip rule here to give you a flavour of this wonderful place.
- Budget Travel
- Arts and Culture
Tad Lang Waterfall
When coming through the valley looking for the Tad Lang Waterfall, we were searching the nearby mountain sides for steep slopes, cliffs and the sound of water. We found no such thing. Just when we thought the path we were going down was the end of a joke being played on our expense, there it was!
The waterfall did not start high in the wooded mountains and come cascading down to the valley floor on a wooded slope like we were expecting. Instead, the soft valley that we had been cycling was in fact the headwaters. The wide open clearing that we just sauntered through, starts with a modestly quiet stream and then around an unassuming bend around a hill, you realize you are on a high plateau, and in truth, the river quickly torrents away into the depths of the hidden valley.
Just before Plain of Jars Site #2 pay gate, take a left for another ~4km to the Tad Lang waterfall. Just as to be expected from dirt roads, they can be quite fun when wet. 4x4's are required during the wet season. Cars and scooters can be fun even when "dry". The quite and sleepy villages and country homes were open with lots of curious and smiling locals. The cost to visit the waterfall is free.
Please see my Self Tour Plain of Jars tip for details on how to get a scooter and how to get to Site #2.
At the end of this road, you will have to park, and cross a river (there was no bridge, so must walk through over the rocks but no deeper than your knees). From here, follow the only path for about 5 minutes. You will find yourself at the top of the waterfall.
- Hiking and Walking
- National/State Park