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Published: January 31st 2013
the joy this woman showed when we bought a scarf from her, was priceless
Our boat trip north from Luang Prabang, which was supposed to take 7 hours at best, began with one hour searching for petrol, continued into a rather large and relentless rainstorm and through freezing winds and river water constantly flushing inside the boat as if to make friends with all the passengers. Consequently, we saw nothing but mist of the beautiful scenery we were supposed to pass by, were wet and cold (not to mention stiff from trying to sit on the only corner of the stool not washed by rapids) and too late into Nong Khiaw to try and convince the boat men to take us all the way to Muang Ngoi (rapids are many, and they will only do it if they have time for the retunr trip before nightfall, which due to our 9-hour trip and earlier search for petrol, we didn't...).
We had met Ruth and Stuart, a lovely Dutch couple from Utrecht, on the boat, and together with Monica, Meagan and Mike, we were now quite the group. We found some French guys intent on getting to Muang Ngoi as well but no sum seemed high enough to convince someone to take us. No one
This is the first sight that met us as we came up the stairs from the boat in Muang Ngoi
is that lazy. If they didn't want to go, then it just wasn't safe. So we resigned ourselves and found lovely accomodation accross the bridge at Sunrise Bungalows, where Joy, the sweetest girl in the world, gave us a good rate is we promised to eat breakfast at her restaurant. She was 23 going on 13, and with that smile, we couldn't refuse. We all went out for dinner, and though Nong Khiew was not where we wanted to be that night, we had a great time.
The next morning we got breakfast served to us in our hammock overlooking the river by the lovely Joy, and we got together a larger group in order to charter our own boat to get to Muang Ngoi (the regular boat leaves at 11, which seemed a bit late). It was still foggy and cold, but we had now dug out all our warm clothes, and the boat trip up was magical, lush green karsts and quiet little villages, and the only other boats were local ones.
Muang Ngoi charmed us instantly. A one-street affair, quiet and mellow and somehow managing to stay that way even though it is chockful of
Meet the locals 1
There are a lot of very charming and charismatic old people living in Muang Ngoi
guesthouses and restaurants, there are no paved roads and no cars, no internet and no hot showers (solar showers provide a less-than-icy experience, but with the mist it really is just a placebo effect) and the electricity is only on from around 6pm to 9 pm every evening. This was a place for us to get lost for a while, we could feel it. We stayed at Verdanda, where the bungalows are made of simple rattan and mice crawl freely around at night, but the beds were super comfy and the views unbeatable. Our plans had originally been to just spend a night or two there and then move on to Luang Nam Tha and Muang Sing, to do some trekking from there in Nam Ha National Park. But the more we spoke to people the more we realized that Nam Ha was overrated and very touristy, and the hilltribes in the area were putting their costumes on for the tourists and not because they wore them daily, and putting on shows in the evenings and the like. The area around Muang Ngoi was not so overexposed to longer treks, and thus the interior mountains were still quiet and had
just begun opening up to tourism. And the fact that we loved Muang Ngoi and wanted to stay there forever helped as well...
We hunted around and met Mr. Xiong, the enthusiastic head guide at Lao Youth Travel, who. after our insisting, put together a 3-day trek for us on a route which he assured us very few had gone before. This would include 2 nights spent in homestays in H'Mong villages, and several stops in Khmu and H'Mong villages along the way. The price was right (82 dollars per person for everything including meals) and we knew his company was the best at giving back to local communities and doing things the right way. We lost Stuart and Ruth but got Isabel and Jorn, a lovely Belgian couple, to join us, and the seven of us were off into the wilderness (the trek gets its own post).
When we were done trekking, we had the option to go to Nong Khiaw and go to Nam Ha (mostly to get to see another part of the country), but our conscience nagged us back to Muang Ngoi. So upriver we went again, and spent another 4 days in bliss.
We visited Ban Na, and Huay Sen, small villages we could walk to from the town. We did a lot of hammock-hanging (the trek had taken its toll and we both got colds) and became regulars at the morning buffet spread (Muang Ngoi is just a lovely little haven) as well as getting to know many people in town, which was really great. Eventually we said goodbye and took the boat one stop down, and stayed once again with Joy in Nong Khiew (we thought we had just chosen the first place we found the first time around, but it ended up being the best deal in town by a mile) in order to try and ease our transition back into civilization. The dream was wonderful while it lasted, and we hope to come back (Joy did say she would see us next year...), but that first hot shower in Nong Khiaw was also rather amazing...
- best breakfast buffet in Muang Ngoi: Penny's Place (the wife of the Swedish guy we met in Luang Prabang) - they make delicious coffee and there are free refills 😊
- best lunch place in Muang Ngoi: Ning Ning, they have
The locals in Muang Ngoi fish the river, have animals and farm and every day there is everyday activities to tend to
the best laap in Laos!
- great for hanging out with friends and having dinner : Bee Tree
- average time it takes to get food in Muang Ngoi after ordering: 1,5 hours. This is not the place to be in a rush...
- daytrips : Ban Na, Huay Sen, Huay Bo, and Suan Chen, the weaving village we took a boat to where the scarves were not only affordable but we got to meet every person who made them, and their families...
- heartbreak: China's outlaw on logging means they are bulding big roads in order to be able to slash down Laos's timber and import it. This is visible from the Nam Ou on the way from Luang Prabang. They even build their own housing complexes, adn are now building dams all the way to Phongsali. This is devastating to the country but with so much corruption it is widespread. Who knows what this lovely remote area will be like in just a few years...
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