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Published: December 7th 2008
--- I arrived in Bangkok from Vientiane last night. The PAD got what they wanted and the PM has been banned from gov't for 5 years. The "siege" on the airport ended at 10am on the 3rd of December. Today is the 5th, the king's birthday. For me plans are rapidly changing, I am now considering going to see friends in Malaysia and Singapore, as well as visiting Indonesia. This would meaning passing on Northern Thailand and Cambodia. I can get a flight out to HCMC from Singapore for a decent price. Once I book the flight my plans will be pretty set. For now though... Back to the 20th of November and Northern Laos... ---
I want to just digress quickly on one funny thing about travelling and travel writing. Most people travelling have a clearly defined amount of time before they have to head back home. Even I, in this phase of my travels, have a (hot) date (more or less the 16th of January) by which I must meet my girlfriend in Vietnam. So instantly, what people do, is they tend to try and squeeze in more than they should. The result is a bit ironic,
I enter the vehicle through the open back window and sit next to chris.
as they inevitably end up spending more of their time getting from point A to point B to point C and more of their time recovering from the long journeys than they spend actually seeing the places at point A and point B. But hey, thats traveling. Some call it a neccesary evil, but I actually relish (to a certain extent) the time on the road. Its a time to contemplate, an opportunity to meet locals, a chance to see dramatic scenery, and the only way to get a feel for the size of a place. The important thing is that the traveler recognises the importance of finding the right balance.
In any case, the funny thing is that travel writing
usually covers the actual travelling with a sentence like this: "Chris and I left luang namtha right after the trek. Two bus rides and one boat ride later we arrived in Muang Ngoi about 4pm the next day." But when you travel, its never this simple. Or that easy.
So without further ado, here is an example:
After our trek out of Luang Namtha, Chris and I hopped a bus to Udomxai. (For anyone planning to go
to laos, keep this in mind: try to buy your bus tickets directly from the bus station. Quite often it seems that when booking it through someone the reservation cost and the included tuc tuc to the bus station ends up being more then the bus ticket itself. In this case, Chris and I were offered tickets for 70,000kip each. We declined the offer. Instead the (overpriced) tuc tuc was 30,000 between us and the tickets were only 32,000kip, so we saved ourselves 23,000kip each) Saying that we "hopped" a bus to Udomxai though is a bit misleading. Buses in Laos leave on Lao time. So a 2:30 bus will leave at about 3:35. The bus to Udomxai is about a 6 hour trip and extremely bumpy and uncomfortable, but before darkness fell the scenery was impressive. The gravel and dirt roads twisted and turned and went up and down through a dramatically lush and mountainous terrain.
A few hours into the trip we had a funny experience. Chris desperately needed to take a piss. I myself was not far behind him. The bumpy road was only making things worse. With each bump in the road, pressure was placed
where pressure should not be placed. We hopefully and expectantly waited for the bus to stop and every little village we passed through got our hopes up. The bus slowing down for a pothole would get us half out of our seats, thinking we might be stopping, but we never did. We were seated way in the back of the bus and neither of us knew the word for "stop" in Lao and I was not sure how to pronounce toilet. Finally, when chris looked like he was about to burst, I turned to the Lao guy behind us and asked "Jiao kao jai... hawng nam bo?" and indicated to Chris who was at this point practically dancing in his seat. I have no idea whatsoever if I was actually understood, but I suppose that Chris' face would've been understood in any language because the guy then yelled up to the front and the bus came to a grinding stop. Apparently we werent the only ones who were needing relief. THE ENTIRE BUS practically leapt out of their seats (even the driver) and lined the road outside or wandered off into the bushes to take care of their business. AHHHHH!
Tommy paddles away
Once satisfied and relieved we could now relax for the rest of the journey.
We stayed the night in Udomxai, I could be wrong but the place felt like it served really only as a crossroads. In the morning we got the first bus to Nong Kiao. The bus, once again, left on lao time. While we waited for the bus to get going Chris and I met Tommy, an aussie traveling for a month or so, and Nadine and Mike, an english couple who were at the very beginning of a year of travelling around the world. Eventually all 14 passengers piled into the minivan, (designed to hold maybe 10) and we were off.
After about 3 hours of bumpy travel we stopped off for lunch in a small village. Well, the driver had lunch, the rest of us just wandered about the marketplace. We piled back into the van 20 mins later(some of us found it easier to climb in through the windows) and after another 20 mins down the road, we arrived in Nong Kiao. Our arrival time was exactly four hours after leaving Udomxai (as promised). Our travelling for the day was not over
though. We went down to the docks and bought tickets for the next boat up the river, which also left right on lao time, exactly 1 hour and 5 minutes late. The boat was a typical Lao long river boat. About 30 meters long, and very narrow, you squeeze in and sit on the floor. We headed up the river for about an hour and a half and finally arrived at about 4pm. Our destination: Muang Ngoi. It had only taken 26 hours from Luang Namtha.
Just 2 or 3 years ago, Muang ngoi was still pretty much undiscovered. Now though, Lonely Planet and Footprints have written it up, so its no longer so lonely, and there are a few more footprints to be found. Still, because of its location, the tourist trail has not quite yet fully extended this far. Muang Ngoi is still an idllyic lao river village. The main difference now is that the traditional trades of fishing and farming etc.. have been replaced by tourism. Muang ngoi is only accesible by the river and has a single main strip of houses, guesthouses, tour organisers, shops, restuarants, and not much more. Power in the evening is
provided by personal generators, cold showers is the only option, and there is no internet (GASP!). At one end of the town is the temple, behind the village is the school. It takes approximately 15 minutes and 36 seconds to see everything.
We arrived at the docks and instanly met Penny. Penny is a slightly insane Lao girl whose mother, sister and herself run guesthouses in the village. We got rooms with penny and hung out, ate at Penny's vegetarian buffet, and went to bed sometime after lao midnight (9pm).
It wasn't until the next morning that I recognised the complete and total absence of cars and motorcycles and scooters in the village. There were none. Instead of waking up to the customary sounds of traffic and light pouring in through the window, I was woken up at 6am by the cocks crowing and dogs barking. It was still pretty much dark outside; I got up anyways. The agenda for the day was FISHING at 9am. The night before we had wandered around asking questions and finally we worked out a deal with Hom, one of the village boys (16 yrs old) to take us up the river
in an old-school boat with paddles. We went for brekky at 8am and our three simple dishes (two of which were the same) took an hour to come out (maybe they had to get the bananas from the next village?). Normally this might have aggravated us, but we were getting used to the lao pace of life. "Besides" as Tommy said, "I'm on holiday." It tooks us another 20 mins to pay and so we showed up at Hom's right on (lao) time. At the river Chris, Tommy and I clambered into our small boat and we started paddling up the river.
It was hard work actually, and slow work, but it was fun and the sun was out. We stopped off at a beach and all of us learned how to cast the small traditional nets, but we were unsuccessful catching anything with this method. Obviously, there were no fish in this part of the river... yes, that must have been it, simply no fish. We continued up stream and for the rest of the day we used the large net to catch about 12 fish in total. Hom would string out the large net in a big
Yeah, he was pretty cool. Also he was the most reasonable guy in the village
arc, while the rest of us moved the boat along up the river, then we would float back and smack the water inside the net with a large bamboo stick to scare all the fish hanging about into the net. This usually succeeded in catching 1 to 4 fish. So after a long day being the hunters and gatherers that all men naturally are, we found a beach far up river and took a nap while Hom and his friend went about making bambook strips to BBQ the fish on. The fish were delicious and more than we could eat.
The best thing about the fishing trip was the ride down the river. We had no rush so we decided to just float very slowly all the way back to Muang Ngoi. We paddled out to the middle of the river, and all of us, except from Hom's friend who was steering, lay down in the muddy bottom of the boat, and drifted downstream and off to sleep. Then Hom's friend began to sing. That float down the river will go down as one of the most surreal moments of my travelling life. Lying back, being rocked to sleep
yum yum yum
by the boat in the water, staring straight up at the blue sky framed by the green canyon walls of the river, watching them slowly drift by... Hom's friend's voice singing out lao songs strong and passionately, his words echoing off the walls, chasing us down the river. After a day of hard paddling, sleep, sweet sweet sleep, was quick to come.
Possible future travel plans:
Malaysia (west peninsular): 2 weeks
Indonesia: 1 week
Thailand: 3 weeks
Malaysia: 2 and a half weeks
Singapore: a few days
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