Published: February 24th 2009February 2nd 2009
One hour up river from Nong Khiaw is the villade of Munag Ngoi. The boat trip was typically scenic of river trips in Laos. The banks were lined with imposing cliff faces and forested hills rolled into the horizon. The morning cloud hadn't yet lifted and it blanketed the hill tops with only the tallest peaks poking through. We passed other small riverside communities along the way where children wearing snorkling masks were diving for river weeds which they then roll into sheets, dry out and eat.
The trip wasn't quite as relaxing as our trip to Nong Khiaw. The boat was packed and half way to Muang Ngoi we reached a section of rapids where we all had to get out and walk for twenty minutes in the baking sun along the sandy river bank as the boat was too heavy to get up them. We got there in the end but our bums were sore and about to fall off.
Muang Ngoi's location is sublime. It is situated next to a bend in the sparkling Nam Ou river which is fringed with beaches and lush, tropical vegetation. Like Nong khiaw it is watched over by towering forest clad cliffs and mountains and it is one of the most beautiful and dramatic landscapes we've seen.
The village is only accesable by boat so it has no roads and therefore no cars and feels beautifully isolated.
We found ourselves a nice little bamboo bungalow with a balcony, complete with hammock, overlooking the river. However the bungalow seemed to already have an occupant, a very noisy and cute black kitten. We didn't mind sharing and we named her Poppins McScreechy.
We went for a walk around the village which didn't take long. It had one maindusty street with a few smaller side streets leading of it and the only traffic were the many chickens and roosters mincing up and down. Most homes were single roomed bamboo structures where whole families live together. The room is used as a kitchen, living room, and bedroom with families all sleeping together in a line on matresses on the floor. Some more savvy locals have built decked, sheltered extensions and opened them as restaurants and many offer fishing trips and treks to cater for te increasing number of 'falangs' (foreigners) who are coming here.
Life is slow and easy going here and river life seemed to be rather easier than the life of those in the north working in the fields. A group of locals were palying Petanque, a french game similar to bowls, at the side of the street, and others were sat around barbequeing kebabs. Children swam in the river whilst boats opf singing viallagers from neighbouring communities floated past. It was very serene and laid back and seemed unafected by its new found status as a backpacker hide away. But for how long remains to be seen.
The people here don't need much, their lives aren't complicated with mortgages and car loans and despite the increased money coming in from tourists they still live like they have for generations. They cook over wood fires, grow their own food and as i mentioned earlier live in one roomed homes. What they do with the tourist dollars i dont know, i guess it provides them with some security and they wont have to worry about where their next meal is coming from, i just hope they dont start building red brick houses and driving speed boats anytime soon.
We stayed four nights in Muang Ngoi and decided to do like the loacals and relax. We spent our days swinging in our hammock, reading, playing guitar and watching village life. Much of the activity revovled around the river of which we had perfect views. Boats were coming and going and every afternoon a group of young monks, dressed in their bright orange robes, would come and bathe in the waters. As the sun started to set villagers would go down to the river to wash whilst we sank cold beers and watched the sun sink behing the jagged mountains. To quote the lonely planet it felt like we had stpped into a slik screen painting.
In the evenings there were a clutch of tasty restuarants to eat at, all serving good and cheap food. We got into the habit of taking scraps back for Poppins McScreechy.
After three days of doing nothing but eating and relaxing we decided to excert some energy. On our fourth and final day we rented a small wooden boat and took to the river. We rowed upriver, which was slow going especially as we had a leak, until we reached a nice beach area. Here we did some more relaxing and paddled in the clear waters of the river. Needless to say the views were magnificent. We then let the current take us back down stream to town and used our expert rowing skills to manouvre the boat into its parking spot on the river side.
The nest day we left to head back to Luang Prabang. We took the boat back to Nong Khiaw and then a songtheaw to Luang Prabang. We thankfully managed to find chaeper accomodation this time around and therefore we weren't quite as poor as our first visit to the city. We ended up staying another three nights, seduced by its charm and happy that we'd worked out how to live cheap in the most expensive place in Laos. We ate at the nightly food market which was down a narrow street where there were many stalls cooping up delicious food fresh in front of us. Our favourite were the big bowls of noodles and meat in a simmering broth to which you add your own herbs, spices and leaves from a selection layed out on the table. We laso splashed out on a Laos style BBQ one night where we cooked our own meat over hot coals on our table.
We visited Luang Prabang's most magnificent temple dating back to 1560. The main buildings rear wall was decorated with an impressive 'tree of life' mosaic. There were other smaller chapels whose walls were adorned with glass mosaics dipicting Lao folktales, many of which seemed rather violent. People were getting their heads cut off and one cheeky scamp was killing a monkey.
After being so lazy for so long we fled the city the following morning to head to Phonsavan.