— Written by Tom Partridge

A big thanks to Hokkaido International School and Tiger Trail Partner Would Volunteer for helping Fairtrek to improve the lives and prospects for people of Nong Khuay!

Nong Khuay is the middle village on a 3 day Eco Bungalow Trek in Luang Prabang. The Village is pretty remote, its 10km to a tarmac road and you can only get phone signal at 6.32pm for 10 minutes if you hike up a mountain at the end of the village.

The community is only 80 families and is Hmong and Khumu in origin. There are 2 small shops, one in the Khumu half the other in the Hmong area of the village. The Khumu shop has many functions. It is the local Starbucks, Irish bar and Wal-mart all under one straw roof. The village Chief is Mr Khamdee. He is energetic, passionate and big hearted and much loved by the people.

I took the small group of incredibly patient and enthusiastic 16-18 years old to help maintain and complete the Eco bungalow in early March. Hokkaido International School are experienced travellers and groups often go overseas to learn and contribute to different projects, the emphasis for this particular tour was for the students to make a contribution to a responsible tourism program and to learn more about the ideas of rural diversification and Social Enterprise.

It was obvious from the start that the group were keen and open minded, On arrival in the village after a 3 hour trek their smiles and warmth shown to their host family was very heartwarming.

Our work at the Eco Bungalow site consisted of firstly making the mud pit. Shoes off and let the stomping begin! Soft mud, water, sand and straw are stomped together to make the clay mortar needed for the building and setting of walls and bricks. We also needed tonnes of tapioca plaster for the finishing and sealing of the walls inside the guide hut. To do this we make a thick starchy glue from Tapioca flour and add a mud pigment and sand then you smear it evenly on the walls to create a waterproof and smooth exterior.

There were plenty of bricks on site and the group set themselves a challenge of building the guide toilet in two days. Class Hokkaido arranged themselves into work groups to support this particular effort, so shaving bricks for the walls other providing the mortar and a team of four students laying the bricks.

Job Done! 3 walls and a door frame set in 4 work sessions! A great example of teamwork and application. With the help of a local junior labour force we also managed to re pave the garden path.

The itinerary for this group was packed with activities. We climbed Mount Phousi and shopped in the Night Market. Visited local social minded enterprises Laos Buffalo Dairy, Khaiphaen Vocational Training Restaurant, Saffron Coffee and Big Brother Mouse.

As a reward for the contribution to the village the group were treated to a local dance show and a Traditional Local Blessing on their final night with their host families.

Never had I witnessed a group bond so well with the community, they laughed and played ball together in village with the Chief and tourist police. Kids were always had in hand with the students and the host mums and students shared genuine tears in very emotional goodbyes. Thanks for the Amazing Memories and I hope you come back to visit all of us again soon.

The Eco Bungalow Trek is available through Fairtrek and Tiger Trail Travel and school projects are run by Tiger Trail Travel and World Volunteer.

You can book a stay in the village in the Eco Bungalow on a number of tours exclusively run by Tiger Trail Travel.

Written by Tom Partridge