laos lanten village

The reward of independent traveling is freedom, adventure, travel adrenalin and most of all learning about foreign land, culture and local people. The best way to learn about the way of life the locals live is, when I get to spend at least a few days with them.

Long time ago, when, as a student, I traveled to, then safe Syria, to visit my friends from dormitory, I was surprised by the hospitality of the local people. I did not make any plans ahead of time and allowed all the plans be opened and flexible. Especially because of the hospitality of the Syrians, I did not have to deal with the most basic problem that haunts every traveler, that is, where will I lie my head the next night.

Every time I met one of the locals, I was immediately invited to visit their home and there I was introduced to all the relatives and friends and neighbors and acquaintances, who later invited me to visit their homes. In the village we all ate together. Everybody gathered around a tablecloth spread out on the floor and ate. We slept mostly on mattresses, on top of the roof of the family houses, right under the stars. Days went on and I ended up wheeling the roads of the whole country of Syria twice, in the five weeks of my stay. During that time, I was able to peak pretty well into everyday life of regular Syrians.

It does not always turn out to be as easy as back then and there. It can depend on the destination. If you travel to an area frequently visited by tourists, the local people are more accustomed to travelers. The length of the travel also plays a certain role. There is a difference in experience if you travel “slow”, or if it is a “quick”, two or three-week journey. Because I don't have as much time these days and I go only on “quick” trips, I rely on websites offering Eco-tourism, while planning my journey. If I find a multi-day trek with accommodation with local families, I jump right on it. When I search for accommodation, a home-stay with locals is always my first choice. For those who want to try it, I recommend a website

What stays with the locals I cherish the most?



Cambodia – Cardamon Mountains

My journey to Cambodia has been one of my most favorite ones. I really enjoyed Mekong, Anchor, beautiful beaches and beautiful nature of Cardamon Mountains, where I spent a few days in a village called Chi Phat.

Cambodia Chi Phat 1 Cambodia Chi Phat 2

In the village Chi Phat

During my trip I contacted a company called Wildlife Alliance, which operates in the village and they arranged a stay with a local family for me. When I arrived to the village, I was picked up by an older lady arriving on an even older motorcycle. Meanwhile I rented a bicycle and tried to keep up with her on the way to her house. After about 15 minutes of strenuous paddling on and orange dirt road, we reached her family house. The house was standing on poles and was divided into several sections. It had a little house for sleeping, a house with open fire for cooking, a small house with a large water barrel and a ladle for washing. I stayed in a separate room, which was tiny, but cozy. We all got up at 5am and went to bed at 8pm. We pumped water from the well, the waste was ecological and electricity was used only exceptionally from 12V car-batteries, that had a transformer for 220V. Nobody could speak English, so we were just politely smiling at each other. I paid USD 3 per night.

To go eat I rode my bike every day to the office of the agency and when I was coming back in the evening it was already dark, there was no electricity in the village back then and the light on my bike did not work so there was nothing else left for me but to navigate myself by the stars on the sky. Sometimes I passed local, so called, cafes, where the local folks got together to drink tea and watch three TV’s at the same time. There was a different movie on, on each of the TV's and all of them had fully blasted volume. I did not understand, how can the watchers concentrate only on their own program. When I made it “home”, my family was already asleep, only Cambodian dad was up listening to a quiet radio. When he heard me coming, he got up to light my way with a large portable lamp. I offered him a cigarette and indicated, that there is no need to shine the light. So we just quietly sat there together, smoked and watched the stars.



India - India Darjeeling

I traveled almost seven thousand kilometers through India. One of my stops was the famous tea-town, Darjeeling. Darjeeling is only a shooting distance from the Himalayan eight-thousanders and after spending many days in the cities, I came here to relax and experience some tea-magic. I was really interested in how the local small farmers harvest and process their tea, so I chose Zimba’s home-stay in the village of Mineral Spring (USD 31/day including food.

India Dardziling 2 Indie Dardziling 1

In the vilalge Mineral Springs

When I came to Mineral Spring, I was greeted by the landlord, a small man named Pason. We started walking together up a steep hill and in between tea bushes we zigzagged all the way to his house. At the house I was greeted by his young wife and her three brothers. I stayed in a cozy, colorful room with a large bed, mirror and a dresser. When I unpacked my things, I went with the family to a small wooden house, which had a kitchen and a dining room and there I watched the young couple, making dinner together on an open-fire oven. After a tasty dinner I sat on the yard and observed, in the dark, the mountain ridge and shining town of Darjeeling on it. It looked like The Milky Way on the night sky.

In the morning I went to wash up to a small bath-house. I had to transfer water from large barrel to a smaller bucket and with a ladle I poured water over myself. That was a great waking style, here, high up in the mountains, on a chilly morning. Meanwhile, Pason prayed. On wooden slopes, outside on the yard, colorful Buddhist flags were hanging. Pason was reciting prayers, with an unnaturally deep voice, and he was walking with a lit aroma candle through different rooms.

I really liked my stay in Mineral Spring, I either went fishing, or went for small hikes, or I helped pick tea leaves. After picking the leaves, me and Pason, later in the afternoon, squeezed and dried them over a fire (I describe how to make tea with the locals in a blog). When I had to say good-bye after a three-day stay, I got to take with me a whole kilo of a first class tea, which I made with my own hands.



Laos - Nam Ha National Park

Northern part of Laos is ideal for eco-trekking. Near Luang Namtha you can find national park Nam Ha, where local travel agencies offer over-night trips, with a stay in one of the mountain villages (about USD 50 for two-day trip with a guide, accommodation and food). Me and three other backpackers took this trip to the mountains to the village of a tribe called Lanten.

Laos Lanten 1 Laos Lanten 2

Village of a tribe called Lanten

After six-hour slog up the mountain with a guide we finally reached the targeted goal of our hike. Before we could enter the village, we had to stop and wait for the village mayor to show up. The mayor made a fire on a dusty road and we had to jump over it to get rid of all mean spirits. After that we were finally invited to the village.

The village was very rustic. Most houses had only rattan/bamboo see-through walls, straw roofs and dirt floor. The villagers usually had a small house for sleeping, another small house for cooking on open fire and they all had, a very necessary, small dry-toilet house. The village did not have aqueduct and all the people went to take a bath to the river. Surprisingly, they did have electricity, which was installed just during the previous year. Lanten Tribe comes from Southern China and has its own spoken and written language. Its people are animists. Most villagers were dressed in blue folk costumes. Married women had their hair tied up in a bun and carried their children in a scarf on their backs.

After we dropped our things at the mayor’s house, where we stayed, we went to sit down with the local villagers and watched what was going on around us. There were dogs and pigs running around freely on a dirt road, children were attempting to spin a bicycle tire on a stick, man were sitting around a fire and smoked some strange cigar. The children had taken to us shortly and they brought their English textbooks and we had to read out loud for them and they repeated and practiced their pronunciation.

When dinner time came, we went to the cooking house to check on what they had been making for us on an open fire. For dinner we had, of course, nothing less than sticky-rice and cooked vegetables. When we finished eating, the mayor’s father came and invited us for dinner to his house. Even though full, we could not decline his invitation, so we went and ate another meal, this time it was sticky rice with spicy, miniature river shrimp and bugs. At least we did not have a dog for dinner, which is quite common in this corner of the world.

After sundown we went to unroll our mosquito nets for sleeping. The mayor’s family slept in a tiny bedroom surrounded by rattan walls. The four of us slept on a long wooden bunk-beds, in the main room. We could not fall asleep for a long time, because the pig had its accommodation just behind the thin wall and it was grunting deep into the night. When we finally fell asleep, we were woken up by the roosters, squawking one after another, starting at four in the morning.



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