Muang Khua - riverside busy little town

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February 8th 2009
Published: February 12th 2009
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Sunday 8th

I headed to the boat office very early to see if there was a boat going up river to Muang Khiew. They told me to come back at 8:30am. Our fallback was to head back downriver although I'd prefer to go north Olivier is also heading north. We breakfasted at a lovely friendly restaurant that had only opened two days previously. The owner speaks excellent English and I found out that the visiting delegation were Thais from the tourism agency who are providing aid funds to help the locals develop tourism. There seems to be some consideration being given to not over developing ( as in Vang Vieng) but who knows how much of this is just lip service and that in a few years the simple guest houses will be replaced by flash Thai or Chinese owned hotels, There seem to be zero rate loans available to help locals build businesses. It was a good breakfast - ironically given the talk of investment it was interesting to note that when we asked for a knife to spread the butter on our baguette the owner apologised and said that he didn't have any yet and that we would have to use a spoon. (At another restaurant we asked for the menu listed baguette with cheese, butter and some jam - but they had no cheese and no butter so we settled for just jam - it is not a criticism it's just that the places are not rich enough to carry enough stock - unfortunately we've heard more affluent tourists in Laos complaining to staff as if they expected the same level of service as in a western hotel). Olivier had been to the boat station and said that only the three of us were wanting to go up river and that we could charter a whole boat for 450,000 kip (about £40) for the four hour trip. I'd planned for about £10 each do this was a little steep for our budget. However when we got to the boat station the price went down to 400,000 kip ( £35.50) so we accepted the offer. Jen had asked to see the boat first - which we did - Olivier commented with his Gallic wit that it was an acceptable colour. The boat was prepared for us which meant placing three little junior school chairs inside. We had acres of space compared to our previous boat trips. I think our driver was a trainee - he was certainly young - he was guided by an older man who later climbed onto the roof to get a better view of the river ahead and any obstacles such as rocks. He used hand signals to give instructions to the driver below. During the first hour, the scenery was tremendous with cliffs towering above the river and few humans other than ourselves. The scenery then softened to rounder wooded hills and more thriving riverside villages. Of course there were the now familiar water buffalo - at times we passed very close to bathing herds of these. Luckily they are far more docile than the hippos that they resemble whilst bathing. We passed through some minor rapids but the 'trainee' was good and we never felt in any danger. At one point the river became busier with heavily laden boats full of vegetables and other goods. We then came upon the reason - a market on the riverbank in the middle of nowhere. I saw fleetingly some startlingly coloured birds of iridescent blue - presumably kingfishers of some sort and a blackbird with a vivid red tail. The strangest thing I saw all trip was a sheer cliff-face that appeared to have a small window half way up. Perhaps there was an occupied cave inside it. It would have been great to investigate. We stopped for a wee stop in a very exposed position right in front of a village. Jen declined the opportunity. A went to say hello to a group of local boys but they were forming up balls made of mud in their hands and I thought they might hink it fun to hurl then at a foreigner to I retreated. We also stopped at one stage to pick up some wooden planks at a village having rejected the ones he inspected at a previous village.. We made good time - presumably because the boat was light with only three passengers and two crew. It had been a special journey. Our destination is a small but thriving rivertown which has a car ferry which allows trucks and cars to cross the river and head 100km down the road to the Vietnam border. We headed for the guesthouse which is on stilts right by the boat landing. It is a rambling structure but with a superb restaurant terrace from which the riverside activity can be watched - and lots of activity there is - in contrast to our last stop. Most pedestrians cross the river by a normal small boat - but whenever a motor wants to cross a large platform held against the flow by cables is pushed across river by a very smoky rusting tugboat that may even have been left over from the French. Small stalls line the road going down to the ferry. The sandbank in front of the hotel is used as the place to hang out the laundry and small allotments that fenced off to keep off animals. People were using the river to wash their cars, motorbikes, clothes, themselves ad their children often within a few metres of each other. Strange to see someone having a wash just downstream of someone washing a truck at the water's edge. Boats loaded and unloaded various cargos. Our favourite thing to watch was a big black pot-bellied pig with had free range of the riverbank and snuffled backwards and forwards foraging the whole time we watched. We headed uphill to the main town. There was a busy market and a few shops. Selling all kinds of hardware. One even sold boat propellers. From the large stock he had I think that they must get through quite a lot of them here. We had beers with Olivier who is in the room next to us. We dined with him and found out his profession. I had assumed that he was a university lecturer but he is actually a researcher into the history of physics although he does some lecturing. He was in Japan for over a year and has learnt some Japanese. It was fascinating to to hear him talking about Faraday and Newton. Strangely the main electricity is provided by petrol driven generators the usual 6pm-10pm but water driven generators provide sufficient for lighting even after that so we had the luxury of being able to have a pee in the middle of the night without using a torch.


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