Beautiful Hmong Children of Laos

My favorite part of traveling through Asia has to be the people, and more specifically the village children. Unlike American children which are locked indoors all day (for their safety), afraid of dirt (for their safety), and forbidden from speaking to strangers under any circumstances (for their safety), children in Asia are free range (to see what I mean, check out Free Range Kids). They are always out playing, happy to talk to tourists to practice their English, love playing football (soccer) with anyone who wants to join, enjoy having photos taken (as long as you’re not being a creepy freak about it like so many tourists), and are overall very friendly. I’ve shown plenty of young monks and kids how to use my camera and they literally line up and jump up and down in excitement to get a chance. Treat them like real people instead of some tourist attraction and you’ll find you can connect deeply with people who don’t even speak your language. Given that, I was thrilled to see Hmong villages along the side of the road on my hair-raising 12 hour cliff side bus ride from VIentiane to Luang Prabang. The Hmong people are ethnic Miao Chinese driven south through Laos, Vietnam, Thailand, and Burma and nearly two hundred thousand Hmong now live in the US. After spending a wonderful day learning how to use a loom and weave silk goods, I spent half an hour in a smaller village near Luang Prabang known for making textiles hoping to see some talented village women working their looms. I didn’t see many textiles but I did see tons of kids who ran up and wanted to play with me and my camera.

This little girl watched as I showed he friend how to use the camera.

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This girl proudly showed me that she could drink an entire cup of water in a single swig!

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A tourist near me lens was being pushy with the children and trying to get the kids to smile but they were having none of that. He was making farting noises to make them laugh but got sneers in response. I made fun of him by making mocking-fart noises and they laughed and joined in as we made fun of the other falang.

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This kid kept running up in front of the other kids to steal the thunder and was always making crazy faces… and I later caught him relaxing.

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In Cambodia I saw many children who looked half white with no white parents in sight and this was the first I saw in Laos. She spoke great English and asked me the typical questions: where did I live, where am I traveling to next… and then asked me if I liked papaya. Didn’t expect that last bit. For the record, I told her America, Thailand, and Yes.

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While the parents wore traditional woven silk garments, the kids loved their striped t-shirts. The boy in the back was yet another kid who kept trying to get in photos. OK, OK, I’ll get you next!

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Finally having his turn, this kid shot me a nice smile. I then spent a few minutes showing him how to use my camera.

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This bizarre chicken was following me for a while… perhaps he wanted a photo as well?

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It wasn’t ALL smiles though, this boy was upset that I showed his brother how to use the camera before him.

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I loved this girl’s temporary tattoo. That 2L water bottle looks absolutely massive next to her…

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A few kids were chewing gum and were quiet eager to show me what they’ve been chewing on. Thankfully none of them offered me any already-been-chewed gum.

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A girl walks through her village with a fruit picking device made from a stick and a soda bottle.

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Some of the kids were playing toy-guns but none of them had any guns. Instead they used sticks and chased each other around. I pointed my finger at them and made the same noises and they chased me around with their stick-guns and laughed.

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Another boy in another striped faux-lacoste shirt. Ever see “Made in Laos” in your shirt? I have a sneaking suspicion this textile village makes striped faux-lacoste shirts.

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Rule #7 of being a boy: anything and everything can be turned into a fort. I’m glad Hmong children agree.

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The more I hung out with the kids the more they opened up, and they were now mobbing me to get photos taken. I always make sure to show them photos I take, I never take photos of people who don’t want photos taken, and I often fall on my butt intentionally to show them I’m silly and willing to get down-and-dirty to play with them and that I’m not just some tourist who wants to chase them around with a camera and then leave.

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These boys kept showing me their shirts and I gave them high fives. They were very proud of them, probably because everyone else had striped faux-lacoste!

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This girl was watching all of us play and smiled when I waved to her. Afterwards I looked back and she was watching all of us play and had this serious face on.

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BFFs with super big shoes.

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The villagers all loved my shirt as Communism is still quite popular in Laos. I purchased it the day before for $2 in the night market because I saw lots of locals sporting it… and I was out of laundry. This photo was taken by one of the village kids as I was trying to show him how to compose a photo. My new friend snuck into the frame on the right.

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As I left, all of the kids too turns giving me high fives, fist bumps, and hand shakes and one girl even busted out the low five action.

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Bye bye, I will miss you all too!

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I wish I could have spent more time hanging out in this village but my minibus was leaving. I encourage everyone who travels through a third world area to venture off the beaten path and spend time with the locals. If you stay in the most heavily touristed areas as most people do (hence, the most heavily touristed areas) all you see are pushy sales people harassing you for tuk-tuks, cheep beer, and massages. Venture out a bit and find a football game to join. I’ve yet to be turned away – I might not be a great player but I’m big and fast! Climb the trees with the local teenagers – they’ll be excited to show you some tricks. Try to speak some of the local language – don’t worry about sounding like an idiot! They will usually love the effort, will help you with your pronunciation, and will enjoy the opportunity to practice their English. You’ll be surprised at how rewarding a single visit to a real village is compared to a whole day of looking at beautiful ruins surrounded by hundreds of other tourists. Don’t worry if you can’t find a “real” village, even the more touristy villages are full of real people. Just make sure you get out of the cities and please, please, remember that they are real people who should be treated as such.