Laos they say is Thailand moving at a slower pace. Replace the skyscrapers of Bangkok or the full moon beach parties of Ko Pha Ngan with a quiet day along the river or a hammock swaying in the breeze and you will have a better idea of what to expect. On this particular night I had found myself in a home stay with a family in Kong Lor village. Nearby was Kong Lor cave, a vast four mile underground river that attracts tourists, the brave ones anyway, from all over the world. many come to see the cave, but I found the real treasure on this current expedition was not the cave, but the unassuming village next to it and my gracious host family that lived there.
The first thing that struck me when entering the village was how quiet and calm it felt. The feeling was in more than just the decibel level. Outside it wasn’t completely silent, I could still hear a group of children chasing a soccer ball through the small paths along the wooden stilted homes, I could hear the hypnotic humming of a woman doing laundry in the distance and the faint ever present rhythm of footsteps, heard not seen. It’s not the sound of the footsteps that grabbed me, it was the pace. Slow and uniquely satisfying. All these sounds, set against the backdrop of the limestone mountains don’t ruin the quiet, rather, somehow they only enhance it.
Inside, my host family and I sat together on the floor for dinner. I seated next to Chu, the father of the family. Chu was a large presence in the room, if not in height, in width and confidence. His jolly smile was contagious and though he could speak almost no English he was quick to offer me through pronounced gestures all he had in his modest home. The meal itself, sticky rice and chicken was simple but filling. With an obvious language barrier, my time with the family was spent sharing a series of pronounced smiles and nods.
The next day, at the end of my stay, Chu sat me down and placed sticky rice in the palm of my left hand. He then said a prayer while tying a white thread bracelet around my wrist. Unaware of it’s meaning at the time, I later learned the ritual is called a Baci ceremony and the bracelet is meant to bring peace to the wearer’s life.
Now two years later, the bracelet has yet to fall off. It’s now ragged and far from in style but it’s still on my wrist. I look at it and remember the family in Konglor village. I touch the bracelet and remember the peacefulness, I remember the calm, and then on my good days, so too am I.