In early 2003, I visited for the first time Ban Nammat Gao and Ban Nammat Mai, two Akha villages in the protected NamHa Biodiversity area, high in the hills above Luang Namtha town. These villages had been selected by the Unesco sponsored eco-tourism development project as destination for tourism treks. It took six hours on foot to reach Ban Nammat Gao, following steep jungle trails.
The Project had built a small guest lodge which could house the maximum eight visitors allowed per group, plus their two guides.
The following day, a nearly seven hour trek to Ban Nammat Mai, and the third day six hours to get back to Luang Namtha.
My first visit to these two villages was an eyeopener, and I visited them twice again in the next few months, and again in december 2003. Each time on my repeat visits, I took back many of the photographs taken on my earlier visits, which were very much appreciated by the recipients. They also enabled me to take more photographs inside the houses, and build up a good general picture of life in these hillvillages.
Unfortunately for the eco-tourism project, both villages have since moved from the protected area to sites closer to the road and to town.
Recently, a visitor called cat, has added some very informative comments to my comments, on photo #5,#6,#15,#51,#58,#72.
I strongly encourage further comments from those who have more information then I have.
Technical note for photographers:
In 2002/2003, I used Sony Cybershot 717, later 828. Some of the colour isn't as refined as my later portfolios shot on Canon 20 and 5D. Those shots in the Akha village portfolio that do not have exif data were shot on 35 mm Contax rangefinder, and scanned. The interior shots were sometimes done on high speed colour print film, which results in grainy images.
Lantien people, or more correctly "Kim Mun Lantien Sha"
originally migrated to Northern Laos from China. their religion is Taoism, and all their religious manuscripts are in Chinese writing.
They have over the few centuries they have been in Laos kept fairly much to themselves as people, and preserved their culture.
I was fortunate enough to be invited by the priest of Ban Nam Lue, Mr Lao Lee, to attend several of their ceremonies over the past two years, in order to photograph them.
Most ceremonies take two or three days, with mainly the men participating in the formal proceedings, and the women being busy with cooking to feed the family and guests.
In order to not disturb the atmosphere during the proceedings, I restricted my photography by not using flash. This leads to somewhat grainy and sometimes high contrast images, due to often very low lighting levels in the house.
I wish to express my gratitude to Mr Lao Lee and the people of Ban Nam Lue for granting me the priveledge of attending their sacred ceremonies. I hope my work will in the longer term assist in preserving knowledge about the ancient Lantien traditions.
Laos is one of the poorest countries in SE Asia.
A number of international development organisations are working in this country to try and assist the local people with 'building capacity'.
In 2005, I was asked by GTZ, a German Organisation for Technical Cooperation, to document some of the work they do in Luang Namtha Province.
More detail to follow
The Akha Experience is a 3 day trek through the hills near Muang Sing, Luang Namtha province, which allows visitors to the district an opportunity to experience aspects of the Akha way of life. The trek was set up in 2005 through an initiative of GTZ (a German development organization) in cooperation with Exotissimo, a travel company operating in Laos.
Linkto Exotissimo webpage
The trek sets off near a temple on the top of a hill overlooking Muang Sing Valley, and winds its way over the hills and through the jungle. The first day, lunch is prepared by the Akha Guides from products grown in the village or collected from the jungle. The lunch is eaten next to a waterfall in the forest.
On arrival in the first village, the visitors are housed in a specially built lodge. This is built in traditional style, but furnished withsome un-traditional luxury such as a solar heated hot shower, very welcome after a long, sometimes muddy trek.
More traditional Akha food is cooked, the visitors are offered a drink of rice whiskey, and sometimes a dance or music performance. The next day, a walk around the village, and the trek continues, sometimes through jungle, sometimes through ricefields.
An effort is made to give the visitors an opportunity ofexperiencing some of the things the village people do in the course of their daily life, riding a buffalo, cutting (or planting) rice, harvesting cotton,carrying firewood, spinning cotton etc.
I was asked by GTZ to photograph the experience for their initial publicity campaign. Due to my busy schedule, I had to leave on arrival in the second overnight village, but it was a great trek, and maybe one day I’ll do the whole three day trip.
The primary purpose of the project is to enable thevillagers to earn some money, to improve their living condition.