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Riverside Ramble

Set amongst soaring rock mountains dotted with greenery flows the river Nam Ou, reminiscent of the Yangtze in China only a few miles north of here. The quaint riverside town of Nong Kiaw is a typical Laotian town on one side, and a traveller hang out on the other, but most travellers, like us, rest here only one night waiting to get the small boat down the river to the relaxing village of Muang Ngoi.

 

Another baguette breakfast saw us board the slim and wavering boat that in a Western country would carry no more than ten. But this is Laos. 14 backpackers plus backpacks and two Laotian families boarded the boat and off we went, drifting through the power of the engine down the wide river. It was a beautiful journey past vast rock mountains and a jungle that seemed to thrust forward into the river. The trees in the front line bobbed their heads against the water, helpless against the flow and the expansion of the Nam Ou.

 

The journey took two hours and would have been more enjoyable had our legs been given a little more room, but the sight of the charming town of Muang Ngoi made the journey worthwhile. Locals washed clothes in the river, and young naked children splashed around the tourist canoes while Westerners watched from their hammocks, book in hand, letting the time slip away. There’s not much to do in Muang Ngoi apart from relax, but we managed to find some caves and a view point that required a rather strenuous climb up an unsuspecting mountain. The danger was somewhat exacerbated by our choice of foot wear; flip flops. We were rewarded with excellent views of the surrounding milieu but our luck wasn’t so good when it came to the caves. Our rookie mistake was to leave behind our trusty head torches, so the wonders of the cave went unseen. However, upon hearing noises from within the darkness Carl slipped inside to explore. I stayed put outside under the newly made decision that I was not too fond of caves; a fact to be confirmed on later trips in Laos… I stood guard outside and restrained myself from shouting after Carl in fear that an avalanche of rocks would trap him inside forever. Luckily with no head torch to guide him Carl appeared fairly quickly still unable to shed any light on the noises we had heard.

 

A few more days spent in our hammock and we started to see signs that the Lao New Year celebrations were starting. We made the decision to move on to Luang Prabang for the festivities but for us they came early; on the boat back to Nong Kiaw. This boat was much less crammed creating space for the young driver to welcome on board some of his friends, a mobile phone sound system accompanied by a chorus of singing, and most importantly a bottle of homemade Lao lao. In the Laotian language the word for alcohol is ‘lao’. Consequently the title of any homebrew made in Lao is aptly named ‘Lao lao’. The bottle got passed around the boat and Carl and I politely took our swigs and politely refused a second. Laos like things strong, and the Lao lao was no exception to this rule. As sampling the Lao coffee had also taught us, Laos like the taste of rocket fuel and that is how I can best describe the drink.

 

The party boat dropped us at a stop where a ‘non-party’ mini bus would take us to the party town of Luang Prabang; 3 days to go until New Year but upon arriving in the city you would have thought the midnight countdown had begun.

 

Set amongst soaring rock mountains dotted with greenery flows the river —, reminiscent of the Yangtze in China only a few miles north of here. The quaint riverside town of Nong Kiaw is a typical Laotian town on one side, and a traveller hang out on the other, but most travellers, like us, rest here only one night waiting to get the small boat down the river to the relaxing village of Muang Ngoi.
Another baguette breakfast saw us board the slim and wavering boat that in a Western country would carry no more than ten. But this is Laos. 14 backpackers plus backpacks and two Laotian families boarded the boat and off we went, drifting through the power of the engine down the wide river. It was a beautiful journey past vast rock mountains and a jungle that seemed to thrust forward into the river. The trees in the front line bobbed their heads against the water, helpless against the flow and the expansion of the —-.
The journey took two hours and would have been more enjoyable had our legs been given a little more room, but the sight of the charming town of Muang Ngoi made the journey worthwhile. Locals washed clothes in the river, and young naked children splashed around the tourist canoes while Westerners watched from their hammocks, book in hand, letting the time slip away. There’s not much to do in Muang Ngoi apart from relax, but we managed to find some caves and a view point that required a rather strenuous climb up an unsuspecting mountain. The danger was somewhat exacerbated by our choice of foot wear; flip flops. We were rewarded with excellent views of the surrounding milieu but our luck wasn’t so good when it came to the caves. Our rookie mistake was to leave behind our trusty head torches, so the wonders of the cave went unseen. However, upon hearing noises from within the darkness Carl slipped inside to explore. I stayed put outside under the newly made decision that I was not too fond of caves; a fact to be confirmed on later trips in Laos… I stood guard outside and restrained myself from shouting after Carl in fear that an avalanche of rocks would trap him inside forever. Luckily with no head torch to guide him Carl appeared fairly quickly still unable to shed any light on the noises we had heard.
A few more days spent in our hammock and we started to see signs that the Lao New Year celebrations were starting. We made the decision to move on to Luang Prabang for the festivities but for us they came early; on the boat back to Nong Kiaw. This boat was much less crammed creating space for the young driver to welcome on board some of his friends, a mobile phone sound system accompanied by a chorus of singing, and most importantly a bottle of homemade Lao lao. In the Laotian language the word for alcohol is ‘lao’. Consequently the title of any homebrew made in Lao is aptly named ‘Lao lao’. The bottle got passed around the boat and Carl and I politely took our swigs and politely refused a second. Laos like things strong, and the Lao lao was no exception to this rule. As sampling the Lao coffee had also taught us, Laos like the taste of rocket fuel and that is how I can best describe the drink.
The party boat dropped us at a stop where a ‘non-party’ mini bus would take us to the party town of Luang Prabang; 3 days to go until New Year but upon arriving in the city you would have thought the midnight countdown had begun.

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