It was one of the hottest days we experienced in Laos shortly before we had to fly back to Germany. During mid-day the temperatures reached up to 40°C! It was even too hot for the mosquitos to come out. However, we did not stay motionless in the shade like everything else under the sun but hiked up a mountain. The mountain sits in the Phou Khao Khouay National Biodiversity Conservation Area and it is called “Phou Khao Khouay”, or “Buffalo Horn Mountain”.
What makes one come up with that kind of idea in such heat?
On our last weekend in Laos, some of the Lao teacher-students had suggested to take us, Laura, Rebecca and Veronika, on a day trip. What we did not consider when we planned the trip and the hiking tour was that it would be unbelievably hot. We had already been staying in Laos for almost two months and we had had very hot days before. How could we not think of the heat when planning a hiking tour?
It was a two-hour scooter ride to the starting point of our hiking tour. On the scooter we did not feel the heat yet because of the steady airstream. It was a nice ride along streets surrounded by little fruit stalls, rice fields, houses, people fishing in small lakes, and people selling their goods on the sides of the street.
The starting point for our hike lay in a temple area. In contrast to our Lao tandem-teachers who wore long trousers and long sleeves (and some even gloves), to not get tanned or burned by the sun, we wore shorts. Before entering the temple area we therefore had to put on the sihns (traditional Lao skirts) we had brought to cover our bare legs and to be properly dressed to enter the temple area. The first few meters of our hike led us through the temple area and past several Buddhist statues. In front of one huge Buddha statue the Laotians kneeled down and said prayers.
Then we started to crest the mountain. On our way up there was little shade and we had to pause very often because it was so hot and hence very exhausting to walk up. We sweated a lot even in shorts and T-shirts and we cannot image how hot it must have been for our Lao companions wearing jackets, long trousers, and gloves. But do they not feel the heat less? And as far as sweating is concerned, aren’t we always the only drenched ones?
At least they did not have to put sunscreen on their sweaty arms and faces. (Come to think of it: Probably they weren’t even sweaty.)
The ground was dark and rocky; at times it almost felt like walking on charcoal. At the beginning of our hike we were surrounded by thick brush and high trees but the higher we got the more barren the landscape seemed to become. Small bushes and withered trees started to surround us. It was about 40°C at the hottest time of day and because we had little shadow and no proper clothing for hiking (no hats, no solid shoes, but flip flops as we hadn’t been aware of how long and hard the hike would be) so it was unsurprisingly very hard on us. We paused approximately every ten minutes to take a breather and drink some water. By the end of our hike we had finished about 2l each! During the middle of our hike we stopped at a little shed and were delighted to be able to snack on sticky rice-coconut-rolls our Lao teachers had bought at one of the street stalls. Then we had enough energy to continue.
As we approached the top we were greeted by huge Buddha statues and our Lao friends prayed and made offerings again. We noticed many small hills of rocks and sticks put up against rocks. Our friends explained to us that this was supposed to bring luck to the visitors of the mountain. We added our own rocks and sticks, thanking the deities for the beautiful experiences we had made in Laos.
Finally we reached the top and explored the area a little bit and took a lot of pictures as the landscape was utterly fascinating.
As we were all very tired from the exhausting climb we rested in a shed on stalks which was located on the top of the hill. We were all sitting around a small table we found there. We shared the rest of the fruit, sticky rice and candy we had brought with us and chatted, and some of us took a nap.
After we had collected some strength again we were ready for the descent. Down the hill was a lot easier than up and moreover the sun was not burning that strongly anymore. On our way home with the scooters we had a short stop at a small stall with drinks and drank some coke and other soft drinks. Finally we arrived at one of the teacher’s places and had dinner there. Together we prepared spicy papaya salad and the teacher’s mother was so kind as to serve us a lot of different Laotian dishes with more sticky rice and a delicious candy made of – yes: sticky rice wrapped in banana leaves.
This day was our personal highlight and we thank Saysamone, Khamsee, Donekeo and Toukham for sharing this experience with us.
Text by L. Jakob, R. Dengler & V. Golla
Photos by L. Jakob, R. Dengler & V. Golla