07/10/2014

The Akha hill tribe people in Laos

The Akha people of Laos are an indigenous hill tribe who live mainly in the mountains of the province Phongsaly. The ethnical group of the Akha people originally settled in the Kuaichao and Yunan province of China, from there they moved also to Myanmar, Thailand, Vietnam and Laos. The population of the Akha in southwest China, eastern Myanmar, western Laos, northwestern Vietnam and northern Thailand is estimated about roughly 400,000 people. In all these countries the Akha people are an ethnic minority.

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The best way to visit the Akha hill tribe people of Laos is doing a several days trek to the villages in the mountains. One possibility is to start the trek in Phongsaly. A guide is mandatory for the trek, because the Akha people don't speak English, and the accommodation or the food could be a huge problem without guide. Guided tours are offered in Phongsaly from the tourist office or a small local tour operator. There are not many tourists in Phongsaly, but it isn't a problem to find a guide, or if needed, other foreigners to join the guided trek.

The other possibility is to go by bus to Boun Tai and start a 3- or 4-days trek from there to Akha Loma, Akha Mouchi (Mochi) and Akha Eupa (Eurpa) people. Boun Tai is a small town on the way from Oudomxay to Phongsaly. The trek from Boun Tai is lesser known than the treks around Phongsaly and it starts by a songthaew to reach the first Akha Mouchi village. From there a hiking trail, sometimes pretty steep, leads from village to village and ends at the main road, where it is possible to catch a bus either back to Phongsaly or to Oudomxay.

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03/26/2014

Novice for one week: Novice hood initiation in Bagan, Myanmar

For a boy in Myanmar it is customary to enter a monastery between the age 10 and 20 as a Buddhist novice for at least one week. Sometimes the boys are even younger, and in rare cases they are only 5 or 6 years old. For Burmese people, the novice hood initiation is a very important ceremony and a big event as a family. The novitiation ceremony is called "Shinbyu" in Burmese language. Shinbyu ceremonies are held throughout the whole country, in villages as well as in big cities. Often families send their sons at the same time to the monastery and celebrate the Shinbyu ceremony together. Celebrating together saves costs, because the event with music and traditional dresses is expensive. But it is also a wonderful opportunity for the families to organize a procession through the village as a kind of village festival.

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Money doesn't matter for a Buddhist monastery, so they take every boy, regardless of the wealth of the parents. Poor boys or orphans are also welcome to join the monastery for one week. But there is a difference. Although the Shinbyu is without doubt a religious Buddhist ceremony, it is not organized from the monasteries. Of course the monks support the Shinbyu, and they open the monasteries for the families to come and pray. But the ceremony itself is more a secular event, with loud music, a procession on horses through the village, a lot of food, many flowers, wonderful clothes and a big colorful ceremony tent, where the celebration, the dinner and many speeches take place. Sometimes rich families or families who are not blessed with a male child support poor families who cannot afford the ceremony. The boys of the supported families and also orphans are invited to join the ceremony as well.

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02/22/2014

Muay Lao: the Kick Boxing Scene in Vientiane, Laos

Ask a European about Asian kick boxing, he for sure will answer: "yes, Thai boxing!". Ask Thai people about kick boxing, you most likely get the answer: "Of course, it's Muay Thai, we invented it, and we are the best!". But Laos’s people will probably explain, that "Muay is a Southeast Asian traditional martial arts with its roots in Cambodia, the Thai people call it Muay Thai, and here in Laos the name is Muay Lao." 

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In Southeast Asian sport events the term "Muay" often acts as an umbrella for all traditional kick boxing styles mainly from the Indochinese countries like Thailand, Myanmar, Laos, Cambodia and Vietnam. The word "Muay" comes from the Sanskrit term mavya and means "boxing". Unarmed martial arts have always been a constant part of Southeast Asia since ancient times. Evidence shows that a style similar to kick boxing was practiced by the Khmers in the Angkor era. Since the kingdom of Angkor at that time dominated and controlled most parts of Indochina, it is highly probable that Muay started with the early Khmer people. In this context the often used label for Muay Laos as "the little brother of Thai Kickboxing" seems to be wrong, but there are also historians who claim that Muay Lao originated in Northern Thailand.

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