Monday, November 16, 2009

Land of a million butterflies

Behind Muang Ngoi Neua a narrow path leads out through the morning market into paradise found. In the early morning, cloud rose off the forested lumpy limestone karst. Past a cave, sheltering knee-deep water, the scene unfolded into an exquisite landscape where nature towered over man’s perfect handiwork. Soaring limestone peaks, carpeted in forest, encircled fulsome fields of rice ready for harvest. After fording a stream, we entered the paddies walking along the bunds listening to the trickling sound of irrigation. The rice sheaves were shoulder high and just the rooves of wooden huts were visible above the canopy. Butterflies abounded — lemon yellow, turquoise blue and black, and burnt orange splashed colour around the paddy green.
At the village of Buan Hay Bor, two hours from town, a hanging stuffed civet cat greeted us, its meat long since swallowed. This Lao Lum village of 350 families also had 10 Khmu families living at its edge. We stopped for refreshments while watching chickens tumble down ladders.
Walking back through the paddies to the village of Ba Na, my guide tells me that monkeys used to live on the karst ridges. Where are they now, I asked. They’ve all been eaten, he explained.
Indeed, at the small restaurant at Ba Na, the huge curled claws of an eagle swung from the rafters.

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