I’m in Luang Nam Tha, a small town in the North of Laos, known as a jumping off point for treks into the Nam Ha national park and the ethnic villages that reside within it. Yesterday, Wei and I explored the option of doing an organized trek, ultimately deciding against it. We have both been on a number of these, and the organizations we spoke with all seemed to offer very packaged tours where we would not be the first visitors by a long shot. I decided that my last trek in Thailand was a remarkable experience and attempting to repeat it would likely end in disappointment. As an alternative we rented bikes in the small town of Muang Sing and cruised up to the Chinese border ( I missed the huge STOP sign and was quickly reminded by a few lads with big guns that I would have to back up!). On a side road we visited a couple of villages, I think they were Akha people. This village was very similar to what I’ve seen in the past – poor, wooden homes, trash everywhere, animals wandering about and a few curious glances from people who have gotten over any excitement of farang (white people) stumbling into their villages. It was interesting watching my emotions in such a place – I’ve noticed this in the past too. I always feel an immense sadness. The conditions that these people live in are simply awful. I rack my brain for things I learned in business school that could help improve lives here – while there are some, the great misunderstanding is attempting to apply a western mindset to a society that has subsisted on the bare minimum alongside a corrupt government for countless years. I understand that my views on joy and happiness and a life of contentment may be very different then those of these villagers. Yet I’m still going to throw my opinion out 🙂 I think that the extremely difficult physical labor and living conditions of these people is not providing a joyful life (if this can be measured). The catch 22 is that when we introduce western ideas on efficiency, division of labor, improved agricultural techniques, etc, often the ancient culture of these people degrades as individuals find an easier life through western means. That’s all I’m going to say for now, but the debate will continue. Getting to this part of Laos was always one of my mini-goals on this trip and I did it – despite not trekking I feel glad that I was open to a different approach and the ability to decide in the moment what was right for me.
What else is up for me? I’m feeling a lot of excitement and fear about traveling into China. I’ve been fascinated with the country for a long time and many of you know that I have about 80% of my savings invested in various Chinese ETFs and companies. I’ve also heard it is an extremely difficult place to travel with the cultural differences being so great. I’m fortunate that Wei has conversational Mandarin as this will help us navigate the southwest part of China that is not particularly used to English speaking tourists. I’m going in with few expectations or plans, hoping to challenge myself and enjoy what is supposedly the most naturally beautiful part of China. China restricts the Internet in a number of ways – I’m HOPING that WordPress, Skype and Gmail will still work for me, but there is the possibility of going dark for a while.