We stopped at a small village along the road, laid out on both side were piles of identical melons in different shades of orange to green. The only other product on offer were live grubs, still in there hives, which presumably you eat while wriggling in your mouth? your guess is as good as ours. Declining the protein hit we jumped back on the bus and rode our way along dirt roads, passing recently overturned trucks and small hill-tribe villages, towards the small town of Nong Khiaw… This really was rural Laos…
Nong Khiaw is a small northern laos town, nestled in a curve of the Nam Oo river and surrounded by beautiful limestone karsts. It is one of those rare towns that is (in our opinion) best appreciated from a hammock, which is exactly what we did for the most part of our time in Nong Khiaw. However when we finally managed to prise ourselves out of the hammock we found a few more hidden charms than just the view. One of the towns main attractions is a nearby cave where locals used to hide in during the “American War”, however when we got to the cave we quickly realised that the bridge over the river blocking the entrance had washed away in the recent rains. A local guide tried to convince us that it was shallow enough to walk through, but when the water went above his waist… we weren’t convinced. Luckily the views made up for it, and as we walked through small villages being greeted by puppies and groups of boys offering foraged fruit the lack of cave viewing was quickly forgotten.
Moving on from Nong Khiaw we jumped aboard a flat bottom boat for an hours journey upstream to the even smaller village Muang Ngoy! Ryan’s newly discovered (on this adventure) fear of small, unstable boats (rational, no?) was put to the test more and more as people climbed aboard the ever increasingly unbalanced boat, and more and more water leaked in the sides. Luckily for us we made it, not a minute to soon, and even managed to make some new friends on the journey. We set of with Ben, Sarah and Laars down the single street of the village looking for a place to stay and instead found a little piece of paradise. River View Bungalows offered a nice wooden hut, overlooking the river, with not one… but two hammocks. There wasn’t much more to do but lay back, relax and watch the boats drift downstream with the current.
The next morning brought rain but unperturbed we set out into the surrounding countryside. This is one of the great things about Muang Ngoi: you can do self guided walks to local villages, without having to pay for a tour! So we walked first to the nearby cave, another one used for shelter during air raids, but without a pesky river to block the way. We were greated by the preparations for a party by some locals, all of whom were in varying degrees of sobriety (it was around 11am and so we learnt that in Laos you start drinking early). As we waited to pay our entrance fee we looked on as two ducks were peirced with a wooden stick through their necks to drain their blood while still alive, the blood then mixed with fish sauce to be used later…apologies to any vegetarians or readers of a nervous disposition (it did look tasty tho)!
After adventuring through the cave, climbing over rocks and stalicmites, we headed on through a super muddy but breathtakingly beautiful rice paddy, before reaching the village for lunch. Ladies sat at their looms and kids played volleyball in the streets, while one woman who’s hands and forearms were covered in tatoos, insisted in speaking to us in Lao and showing us some banana leaves. By the time we walked back past the party, serveral hours later, it was in full swing; everyone drunkly swaying to the music blaring from some speakers (we learnt later that the family had won the Lao lottery the night before, winning about $900, and to spread the luck they were throwing a huge party!).
Our days on Nam Oo had been lovely and relaxing but it was time to move on to the tourist capital of Laos, Luang Prabang. Tune in next time to see which British celebrity we bumped into in a temple there!