Ruth: Overnight the Hmong villages in the mountains between Phoukoun and Nong Tiang were transformed into a colourful display. It was the first day of their multi-day New Year celebration, and we were lucky enough to be passing through. Everyone was wearing their very best outfits with no two alike. 

Hmong are the third largest recognized ethnic group in Laos. The majority of Hmong follow both animist and ancestor worship. We could hear shamans ringing gongs in a few houses as we passed and later learned that this was to summon back all the ancestors to help bless the house. In every village boys were playing with large wooden tops and the girls were playing a ball tossing game. Cock fights were also a big attraction, perhaps drawing too many of the young men and boys away from the ball tossing game, which traditionally was an opportunity for courtship. 

Our ride yesterday was another tough one, with the biggest climb at the end of the day. Accommodation at Nong Tiang was a very basic bungalow with a large bucket of cold water and a squat toilet. When Gord asked if there was a shower our host just laughed. It would have been OK, but it was a particularly cold and windy night and the gaps in the siding let the wind blow right through. 
When we woke up in the morning it was only 4 degrees and very foggy. We decided the only way to stay warm was to start cycling.  Two kms down the road we saw a much nicer guesthouse that had solid walls and, I’ll bet, even hot water. The ride to Phonsovan was only 50kms, but after only 7 kms my hands were going numb. We pulled into a yard with an open fire and joined the family to warm up. Houses here are often open to the elements and so on a cool morning most families will be found around an outdoor fire.

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