A little side adventure up the River Nam Ou

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January 27th 2012
Published: February 3rd 2012
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Muang NgoiMuang NgoiMuang Ngoi

Heading up river
27th Jan ’12 Luang Prabang to Muang Ngoi via Nong Khiaw

And everything we had read about Laos said nothing ever happens on time and you always have to wait at least an extra hour….HUH! once again despite being up and down for breakfast a full 30 minutes before the earliest pick up time we had been given, our drinks had only just arrived and the tuk tuk guy was there and we had to set off without any breakfast once again!

We were travelling ultra-light as we had arranged to leave our ruck sacks at the Merry Laos until we get back in 3 days and I’m so glad we did. We joined another 6 people who were amazed we didn’t have any luggage and had all missed their breakfasts also! We got chatting to a really nice Australian couple who gave us lots of suggestions and ideas for great Thai Islands to visit when we return after Vietnam which was great.

The tuk tuk took us to the bus station where we piled into a minibus and sat and waited an nothing happened, eventually the driver said no leave til 9.30 (its about 8.45 at this point) so we all cursed and climbed out.

More tuk tuks arrived and everyone got sorted out into various minibuses and 3 more people were added into ours which meant one English girl ended up sitting on a kind of a stool for the 3 ½ hour journey, she didn’t mind she just joked she was practising being a monkess.

The driver made good time considering he ended up being the last to leave (despite being the first at the bus station) and also considering the number of stops we made – for petrol (why do they always leave it until after you leave???), his sandwiches, to tighten the wheel bolts!, to have a wee and to drop off an axle at someone’s shop. He wacked the cd player on and soon we were bumping along to some Laos pop songs all played at full blast.

We pulled into the bus station at Nong Khiaw which is actually about ¼ mile out of the town and 1 mile away from the guest houses on the opposite river bank. We were greeted by men with minivans who separated us into those staying here and those for the boat and 50p each later we were deposited at the boat ticket office. As we got to the window the ticket man announced he was off for his lunch and would return in half an hour and the boat would leave an hour after that. So we headed into a little café to wait and braved the disgusting squat (situated right next to the kitchen).

Half an hour later ticket man arrived and we bought our boat tickets to Muang Ngoi. The boat was a long tail narrow boat with about 6 chairs on it and already there were way more people than that waiting. In the end the party of fat frogs stormed the boat first and claimed the chairs so we opted for the second boat which only had little wooden ledges to sit on but there were less of us in it. We had to have a bit of a paddle in the river to get into it but that was ok as it was so hot!

This boat ride was supposed to take up to 1 ½ hours and despite the awkward seating was absolutely stunning, no other words for it, the scenery was awesome – great towering mountains with wooded bases leading down to the river’s edge. Vast stretches of jungle with strange and unusual trees. There were herds of water buffaloes wallowing in the river, men wading out into the river and fishing with nets, small children waving and dancing around, 4 young people balancing on a log attempting to fish, stay upright and howling with laughter in the waves from the boat, a few rapids which caused several people to get wet and lots of assorted small boats going up and down the river. Then there was Howard bobbing around with the bloody camera again, harassing people on the opposite wooden ledge as he leant between them to take yet more pictures of small boats and mountains!

We rounded a bend in the river and then saw the tiny village of Muang Ngoi up on top of the river bank, with small bungalows built on stilts and verandahs hanging over sheer drops but with amazing views. On the river banks were people washing in the river, carrying baskets of goods up the steep steps to the village, men lounging on their boats, ladies working and children playing.

We got off the boat and made our way up to the village and walked down its one street trying to spot a likely looking guest house for the night. We were ‘adopted’ by a large jolly Laos lady who took us to see her bungalows and it turned out they were the ones we had spotted from the river. So despite the fact there was no hot water, the walls were woven bamboo and the big gaps in the floorboards we decided to rent a room just for the verandah and the view. Well for £5 for the night what do you expect?

This village has no electricity as such they do use generators once it is dark for a few hours so we decided to explore while we still had light. Again it was just one main dirt road (no cars here either) with dogs, chickens, cats and kids all wandering about and at one end was the rubbish dump and at the other a very small temple. In between were lots of tiny shops, tiny restaurants and small guest houses with local peoples’ houses squashed in between. We then found a restaurant with a great view over the
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A room with a view!
river and sat and watched the sun go down over a beer.

As we never got to eat our sandwiches we decided to have them for tea instead and went back to our verandah. By now the generator had kicked in and we had a light so we sat down outside to eat and were soon joined by one cat yowling for food, then another, then another! The sandwiches smelt a bit dodgy and so neither of us really ate anything but just spent our time feeding the cats and reading. Just before 9.30pm the lights flickered and dimmed a couple of times which seemed to be a 2 minute warning as soon we were sat in total darkness with very little noise apart from the cats and insects.

Once our eyes had adjusted the sky was amazing – full of stars so we sat star gazing for a while and then went to bed as there was nothing else to do – once the power goes off the whole village goes to bed it’s incredible.

28th Jan ’12 Muang Ngoi back to Nong Khiaw

Well we were woken up by the cockerels and chickens at 3 am and then on and off for the next 4 hours. The bed was the most uncomfortable we have slept in on our trip so far, it was either the bed springs jabbing you or the straw stuffing I’m not sure which. Neither of us could face a cold shower as it was bloody cold, the sun was nowhere near getting over the mountain so the whole place was in shadow. Already the village was bustling, with all the locals eating a kind of breakfast buffet from a long table in the main street.

We had decided to stay the next night back down the river so Howard headed off to get the boat tickets up the road. Our landlady arrived and soon we had hot drinks and delicious chocolate banana pancakes.

The boat ride back down the river was maybe not quite as interesting as the one up the previous afternoon, cloud obscured most of the high peaks and there wasn’t as much activity on the river itself in the morning.

We soon arrived back at Nong Khiaw and clambered up the steep stone steps and walked through the town, past the newly
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The only street in the village
dug ditches – which I can only assume are going to be for drainage and along the rough road and so onto the massive iron bridge. This spans the river and joins the town with what looks like a kind of backpackers village of small guesthouses and restaurants that line the river bank.

We quickly found a guesthouse and although we didn’t get a river view it has a lovely verandah looking onto some grass and the high cliffs and most importantly the bed seems comfy! We found a nice place to eat some lunch which had fabulous views along the river and whiled away a couple of hours. The owner of the guest house had made a kind of little fence edging his garden out of defused bomb cases and explained to us that he had spent 5 years as part of an NGO clearing the area around here but that the money was really bad so he had now left and had the guest house.

We then decided to walk to some caves we had heard about, where the villagers lived during the war to escape the bombing. We found a sign and set off along a rough track up and into the countryside. Every few minutes we were looking for signs of a cave but found none, a couple of people on motorbikes passed us shouting out sabaidee (hello) and another very fit looking couple passed us but apart from that we saw no one else. The track wound up and down the mountainside and it was very tranquil and lovely but we found no sign of the caves! The sun was baking down and after about a mile and a half we gave up and walked back only to find on closer inspection of the sign that we had misread the distance and if we had only carried on for another ½ mile we would have found the caves!! Not getting to our final destinations seems to be a theme of this trip, but the journey itself was lovely!

Unlike getting to places in Laos – which has so far been pretty straightforward, the getting back part doesn’t appear to be as easy and all we could discover was there was a bus to Luang Prabang and you had to walk to the bus station (about 1 mile away) to get it, no tuk tuks etc. Howard did a dummy run (the office wasn’t open and he was told tickets in morning) and as a result we decided to get up and get the first bus at 8.30am.

We found an Indian restaurant for tea! What a nice change it made not to have fried rice and chicken but a pretty good curry and naan bread instead.

What we hadn’t realised until we were in bed was that the row of little rooms we were staying in all carried sound and we spent the night listening to people going to the loo, washing and other assorted things!!!

29th Jan ’12 Back to Luang Prabang

So we were up bright and early and loaded with our rucksacks did the mile walk back to the bus station. Sure enough there were no tuk tuks and very few people around, it was hard to credit it considering when you arrive there are lots of tuk tuks to take you across the bridge to the guest house area.

We got to the bus station in plenty of time and discovered there were only 3 other tourists apart from us waiting, the ticket office hadn’t opened yet so we all got chatting. One couple were German and a young Belgian girl. They were full of tales about Burma and soon had us wishing we could go again – ah well perhaps we will re think our plans?

There was one minibus, one coach/bus and one songiathaw – a kind of mini pick up truck with wooden benches running along each side and although it is open at the sides it does have a roof of sorts. According to the time table there was a bus at 8.30, 9, 12 and 2, so when the office opened we bought our tickets. Then we discovered the 8.30 wasn’t going, but the 9 would if there was enough passengers otherwise it would be 2pm – im sure they just make up whatever they want! We found the minibus driver and eventually figured out it was a private one and we could hire it between us for just over double the bus price, however we couldn’t get the money back on our bus tickets! Grrrr. We then discovered that the 9 o clock bus wasn’t a bus at all but the songiathaw!!

In the end we piled on the songiathaw with our rucksacks tied on the roof and a few local people joined us. We knew it was going to take at least 4 hours travelling by this method but unless we waited around until 2 there was no other choice (as apparently the 12 o’clock bus wasn’t running either!). The benches were really narrow but as there was room – the truck can hold up to 15 people it stated on the side, we could kind of sit side ways and hang on. It was bloody cold as first as the sun hadn’t got over the mountains yet and pretty windy too but at least we were on the move.

What none of us had counted on was the fact that we stopped to pick up passengers at all the little villages on the way (again we were told it was non- stop ha ha). Soon there was 25 of us plus all the bags of goods for the market, 2 little old ladies were crouched down on the floor and each time we jolted they ended up rolling around legs in the air laughing their heads off! It was totally mad, one old boy tried to get one of the ladies to sit on his lap and everyone was howling with laughter. When they got off they were waving and shouting out goodbye.

What did surprise me was that none of the Lao youngsters gave up their space on the bench for the older people – considering they venerate their elders this seemed really odd and I’m yet to find out why.

Next stop and we are again 25 (including the driver and 3 passengers in the tiny cab!), 8 ducks, a couple of chicken, 2 huge 5 gallon containers of the local hooch, 4 enormous logs (which people had to put their feet on and one man sit on), plus all the bags of goods and a couple of young lads had to hang off the back of the truck!!! We stayed like that for the last 3 hours of the journey! It was actually brilliant and the most interesting journey we have taken so far.

Additional photos below
Photos: 16, Displayed: 16


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Nong Khiaw

Our guesthouse's garden

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