Written by markiemark on 28 Oct, 2002
Hiring a bike is the way to really discover Muang Sing, and a bit of hiking from the end of the road can get you to some pretty remote villages. The bikes for hire around town are ordinary street bikes and not really suited for…Read More
Hiring a bike is the way to really discover Muang Sing, and a bit of hiking from the end of the road can get you to some pretty remote villages. The bikes for hire around town are ordinary street bikes and not really suited for the rocky dirt roads around Muang Sing, so give your bike a thorough check before setting off, because anything slightly loose will be shaken free just when you're miles from anywhere! A couple of basic sketch maps are available from guesthouses and bike-hire shops, but there's little detail. Just pick a direction and cycle off! I found that heading off the main roads and down the narrower tractor trails not only avoided any passing traffic and the following dust cloud, but also took me through some less-visited villages.
The road leading southeast by the visitor centre has a couple of dirt options about 20 minutes from town. Inevitably, after an hour or so pedalling steadily uphill, the tracks ended at an Akha village characterised by the spirit gate at the entrances and exits to the village. A basic wooden arch was decorated with symbols and carved figures to ward off bad spirits. Don't walk under these gates; definitely don't touch them; taking photos of them will also make you unpopular in the village if you're spotted. By walking through these villages, I found each time a steeper walking trail or unused vehicle track running into the mountains. If you have the time, stamina, and curiosity, you can find some very remote villages here. I walked for three hours up a steep track from Huay Kham village through forest and past stunning views of the area the higher I got, until I came to a grassy plateau on a ridge. I met an Akha villager here going hunting with a homemade rifle. The metal trigger mechanism on the wooden stock was like an old-fashioned Flintlock pistol with a small pan for the gunpowder.
The safety catch wedged between the pan and the trigger was a school pencil eraser tied on with a bit of string! I can't begin to guess how far I could see from this point, but it was a really spectacular vista of valleys and mountains when the clouds cleared. Unfortunately, at around noon, the clouds decided to settle here and shed their cargo, and I faced a 3-hour walk back in heavy rain. The track had become a slippery, muddy stream within 10 minutes, and I was a very bedraggled, forlorn character arriving back in Muang Sing, where the sun was shining and had been all day! Undeterred, but slightly sore, I was off again next day!
The Akha people are very shy about having their photos taken, some believing that you take part of their spirit away, but Akha villages are always full of curious kids, and though they were a little scared of me and kept their distance at first,…Read More
The Akha people are very shy about having their photos taken, some believing that you take part of their spirit away, but Akha villages are always full of curious kids, and though they were a little scared of me and kept their distance at first, a bit of larking about and letting them play with my binoculars soon had their parents gathered around having fun. After everyone seemed happy that I was there, then I tried to take pictures of the kids first. Akha women wear their traditional clothes here: usually a loose black tunic edged in red and yellow, a short black skirt, and a headdress decorated with coins, keys, and any other bits of silvery metal they can find—and it's them that I wanted to photograph. Some of the villages are more used to tourists and their cameras, and I could take a few pictures without too much problem after a while. In others, the women would scuttle into their huts and hide when they saw me! Unfortunately, some tourists have come to Muang Sing after hearing of the Akhas' predilection for smoking opium. Walking out of these villages to others further up the mountains, I didn't have the problem of the people thinking I was there just to smoke. I was viewed with as much friendly curiosity as I had about them. Now, if only I could speak Akha! Close