As much as I hate to admit this, I wasn't much of an expert of Laos' demographics and culture before I started my backpacking trip. (Not hinting that I hold a Ph.D in that now...) Anyway, I discovered km 52 village by chance while searching for a couch in Vientiane. Km52 village is literally 52 kilometres away from the city centre of Vientiane and easily accessible by a local bus.
Directions: The bus station at the Old Market, walk all the way to the end and board pay only USD 2 for a bumpy but interesting ride to Km52 Village. Definitely, there’ll be heaps of touts for more comfortable ride, but if you’re low on budget, why not just squeeze yourself on the local bus with a delicious Bahn Mi. (Advisable to write ‘km 52’ and ‘Hmong’ on a piece of paper, else no one is going to understand you. But given the decades of animosities between Laotians and Hmongs, you’ll probably get a few snares.)
So our couch hosts, Yukivang and Soukha, gave us directions to alight at Km52's bus stop. To put it bluntly, we were just two city dwellers staring aimlessly at all those straw-topped stalls and desperately trying to figure out which of them were actually bus stops, while balancing our butts on the miserable wooden planks with backpacks strapped on our legs. Not unexpected, we missed the said bus stop and the driver probably hit the end of the route, turned around and asked where we were headed to. I actually felt the blush of embarrassment instantly.
Fast forward; met our hosts and they settled us in a lovely little guesthouse but the price was jacked up doubly because it was the Hmong New Year. Yuki picked us up from the guesthouse and brought us to his village by foot. The experience was beyond words because all I was capable of were snapping pictures of the place with my eyes and storing them in my literal memory. Sat at his porch for what seemed like eternity before the other teenagers from the village came to join us. Later at night, Yuki’s family prepared dinner for us, I ate so much, I think I finished one week’s supply of food. It was simple home cooked dishes but it warms my insides to be eating together at a small table with just a light bulb suspended and hovering above our heads. It was at that moment where I realized I took 20 years of my being in a developed city for granted. From the streetlights to the cemented roads, water heaters, proper bedding and of course, the weight of education that is a luxury good sought after by them.
Ditched Vang Vieng’s tubing and massive drinking for another day in Km52 village for Hmong New Year’s celebration and time with our new friends. That sincerity in their eyes definitely outweighed the pre-planned activities and schedule. The day spent celebrating New Year with them can easily be one of the best moments for my entire trip. Has been four months since Ping and I came back to our concrete-jungle-paper-chase reality but that particular experience had definitely changed us, for the better, or not. I wished we didn’t have to leave the village and we dragged our feet back to the hostel because it was about time we move on to the next destination.
PS. All these pictures just brought back all the feels. The slow music playing from my Mac isn't helping. :'(