Upriver, downriver


After Luang Prabang we headed north to Nong Khiaw, a small town on the Nam Ou that most tourists seem to just pass through, which is weird, because it is a quiet, pretty place, with all the  limestone karsts and cheap lemongrass cocktails you could want.



Because we like to make things difficult for ourselves, we spent a lot of time and effort trying to find the perfect river bungalow.  The first night, we stayed at a place that had a nice breeze, but no hammock and no wifi.  Nights two and three, we stayed at a place with a hammock, but no breeze, and the wifi didn’t reach our bungalow.  We finally found a place with a hammock and a breeze for our fourth night, but alack, I regret to report that we never found a place with wifi that would reach our breezy hammock.  Ugh, why doesn’t anything ever work out for us?


oh woe

Then we took a longboat a little farther north to Muang Ngoi, an even smaller village with no roads and no electricity (but, incongruously enough, with guesthouses and English speakers).  We stayed there for another few days, repeating the rhythms we’d established in Nong Khiaw: Eat, hammock, eat, beer, hammock, eat, beer, hammock.  It didn’t take long before the proprietress of one of Muang Ngoi’s two cafes would say, upon seeing us coming down the road for our 3:30 snack,  “Two big Beerlao and french fries?”

But we did manage to expend energy on things other than the 50-meter commute between our bungalows and the closest cafe.  Two things, specifically.  Those things were:

An afternoon of bike riding around Nong Khiaw.  By “an afternoon” I mean about 90 minutes, but hey, it’s still pretty hot around here, and stuff.


We passed through villages on our way to visit some kind of cave system, which turned out to be closed (we found out it was closed only after we tightrope-walked across the ricketiest of the many rickety bamboo bridges we’ve encountered so far on this trip).  So we rode back and decided to stop for a drink in town, outside of the tiny backpackers’ ghetto we’d been lazily confining ourselves to.  I was immediately bummed that we’d waited until our last day to do this, because the busy street scene was basically everything you could want while you sit and drink your frosty Beerlao:  Schoolkids passing by in the street, dudes playing a rowdy card game down the road, and a friendly family across the way, selling kebabs and THESE THINGS:


(they were, we have since learned, bamboo rats)(and we did not buy one, but the guy in the photo informed us that they are very tasty barbequed)

A day of self-guided trekking in Muang Ngoi, made possible by the clearly-marked paths that lead out of the village, through rice paddies and into even remoter villages.  After two years in Mongolia anything “remote” shouldn’t surprise me much, but I was still kind of blown away at how, to get to these villages, you need to 1) drive to Nong Khiaw, 2) take a 1-hour boat up the river to Muang Ngoi, then 3) walk for two hours.


Thus we were not surprised when we weren’t able to get a beer at our first stop.


Mountain crab, ahoy

So I’m glad we went on this hike —  we did have to ford a couple of streams and navigate some gigantic mud patches,  but at least it was all flat.   If we did it again, though, I would hire a guide.  As awkward as it is to stroll through a tiny village with a local showing you the sights, it sure is even more awkward to do it without a guide.
We also encountered a crowd of “Hello candy” kids, which just makes you want to go back in time, locate the tourists who first gave these children candy, and smack them.  And then eat their candy.

These boys, though!  We saw them when we were on our way into the second village, and they were on their way out.  They gave us a big sabai dee, and then posed for this photo like champs.  We saw them again an hour or so later, their heads bobbing above the rice in the distance.  When we passed each other, I peered into their baskets and asked, “Whatd’ja get?”

“PEEESH!” the littlest one yelled.


This is not exactly a thing that required a lot of energy, but at one point in Muang Ngoi my Friendly Monk Spidey Sense tingled.  I looked up from my hammock and said, “I think I’ll go poke around that wat at the end of the street.”

“Mmph” came the reply from Ryan’s hammock.

The head monk, who was all of 20 years old, spoke really excellent English and we chatted for a few minutes while the other boys watched and giggled. “Ask her how old she is!” they said. “Ask her if she’s married!”

When I finally asked if I could take a photo, the head monk smiled serenely and shook his head, saying, “I don’t do that.” Meanwhile, the six other guys bolted to their quarters to put on their best robes.


Very gangsta, fellas.
Oh man, I have more things to tell you about Laos and Bangkok, but Ryan and I have to go catch our flight to Myanmar now.  We’ll be back in three weeks; I shall leave you with these gifs, to keep you company.


1 Comment

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One response to “Upriver, downriver

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