Laos, p1

Written by on February 22, 2013 in Asia, General with 3 Comments

The border crossing between Vietnam and Laos was quick and painless, and the final 70 kms to Muang Khua went by quickly as the countryside was beautiful, and we were blessed by a brand-spanking new paved road, which shaved about 4 hours off of our ride that day. Nine of the eleven on the bus were looking to travel to towns another 4-5 hours down river, so we negotiated to hire a longboat for about $15 each and off we went. I can’t say it was the most comfortable boat, but the scenery was spectacular!

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I had low expectations for all forms of transportation in Laos, so didn’t mind in the least, especially after the last 2 long days on the bus.

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I decided to hop off at a town called Muang Ngoi Neua, which was gorgeous and rustic and exactly why I came to Laos. With no roads and electricity only on throughout the town between 630-930p, Muang Ngoi was super-chilled out. The river was lined with bungalows that cost about $8, each with its own hammock. Nice! All of my new friends from the bus had planned to go on to the next town, but when our boat pulled into Muang Ngoi, half of them made a (smart) quick decision to hop off with me 🙂

We arrived just before the sun set behind the beautiful limestone mountains across the river, giving us enough time to find accommodation before it got too dark.

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I ended up hanging with several cool Germans, Toby and Theresa, Anita and Willem, as well as a friendly Polish guy named Jacob. We all met up for dinner, but had a very early night as everything shut down when the generators went off (and we were exhausted from the trip!)

If there is one monster complaint I have about Laos, it is that all the locals seem to have at least 3 roosters and none of them know what time it is! Aren’t roosters supposed to start making noise at sunrise? Not in Laos. The fucking roosters start cock-a-doodle-doo-ing around 4am. Then the dogs start barking. And then more roosters. Its no wonder everyone goes to bed at 9p…they know the damn roosters are going to wake them up bright and early. Ear plugs were useless.

Anyway, one of the restaurants in town had a big breakfast buffet for about $3, so we met there and decided to go “trekking” to a couple villages in the area. I put “trekking” in quotes as it was really just walking along dirt roads or paths through rice fields. Still, it was nice to be exploring the countryside.

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We stopped for lunch and some lukewarm Beerlaos in a village, and then in a village known for weaving for more beer laos and to just soak in the peaceful setting. I couldn’t pass up helping the local “economy” and bought a couple pretty handmade scarves before we headed back to town for some hammock time…and more Beerlaos 🙂

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The next morning I took a one hour boat ride down river to another small town called Nong Kiauw, which was also in a gorgeous setting.

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I booked into a small bungalow overlooking the river and decided to take it easy and enjoy the slow pace of life here. My hammock and a Beerlao helped!

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Earlier I had stopped for coffee at a cute place called Alex’s, where I’d met Julia and Ali, who were trying to convince me to join them in a 3 day kayak trip down the river all the way to Luang Prabang. I definitely was up for kayaking, but I don’t think my back would deal very well with sitting on the river 7-8 hours a day in a kayak. I decided to pass, and instead opted for a 2 day trek/kayaking trip that was leaving the next morning. Once that was booked, I went for a walk out to a couple caves just to get a littler exercise, and caught a sweet sunrise on my way back to town.

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I met my guide and the 3 others going on the trek at 9 the next morning and we hopped into a tuk tuk to take us to the beginning of the trailhead. They had told me it was a moderate hike, but the first hour was pretty much straight up so we were all breathing pretty hard when we finally started to descend down to the first village.

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Only a few families lived here, along with a bunch of roosters, chickens, goats and pigs. We continued on through the hills, taking in the scenery and making picture stops every few minutes.

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I was surprised at how much the terrain changed, as at one point we were walking in hills like these, but then all of a sudden we’d be in a bamboo forest…

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and then we’d be crossing streams with lusher, more tropical vegetation…

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but then across terraced rice fields…

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and through an area of beautiful trees like these.

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We arrived at the village where our “homestay” was at, which was quite large, with over 100 families. Like anywhere, the kids were adorable and smiles and waves came easily. You could tell this village doesn’t see too many foreigners and we felt very welcomed.

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We’d arranged the trek with a local outfitter, which was a lot cheaper than the more popular Lonely Planet recommended companies, which were outrageously priced, in my opinion. Our two guides were a father/son team, and we stayed on the floor of the house they grew up in. Their family welcomed us with open arms, and had a lovely ceremony before dinner where they tied white strings like bracelets around us and said prayers for us. My guide was young and funny, and when he tied the bracelet on me, he told me in broken English that he was wishing that I meet a young, handsome and rich man who will love me and take care of me forever. Ahhhhh….such a sweetheart.

We were up early (more roosters…of course!) and walked a couple more miles, made a stop at a temple, and then hopped in kayaks for what was supposed to be a full day, but turned into about an hour and a half, including a lunch stop!  I wish we had longer in the kayaks, as I love to be out on the water, especially when I’m so far removed from cities.  It was nice to be sharing the river with these guys.  Anyone ever see “Hot Tub Time Machine”?  Pretty sure this is not what they meant when referring to ‘great white buffaloes’ (said in a whisper).

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The river had almost no current, so our guides didnt mind when we asked if we could extend the trip and continue upriver. In the mean time, they picked up Beer Laos for everyone, which were waiting for us when we returned. Nice! After a few more beers with my new friends, I said farewell and treated myself to a relaxing $6 Lao massage before turning in early.

This is long-winded already, so I’ll stop here for now.  Stay tuned for part 2, including an amazing Elephant Festival!

 

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3 Reader Comments

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  1. Jenni says:

    These photos are amazing!! Have you started writing a book yet? You should! Incredible. Thank you for sharing.

  2. Tammy says:

    Aloha Deb,
    Your travel in Laos sound more like what I was hoping Thailand was going to be like. I guess if we had traveled more up country we probably would have found that. I really enjoy hiking/kayaking too. Wish I were with you . It will be fun to keep in touch and see where life takes you.
    We are headed back to Alaska in several weeks and I am starting to get excited to enjoy Spring sunshine, snow & ski trails, also starting some seeds for the garden.
    Take care of your goodness,
    Tammy

  3. Herb says:

    “red bull/vodkas” Priceless – Enjoy!

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