19.01.2012 18 °C
After our long & chilly but scenic journey to Nong Khiaw, we were craving a hot shower and a hot chocolate to warm our bones (if we weren't soft Southerners before, we certainly are now after spending 11 weeks in tropical temperatures!). Unfortuantely, we arrived to a power cut, with no water at all, but we are getting quite used to this. Having said that, we were staying in a wooden cabin / cabana with wonderful views of the glorious cloud-covered mountains and the flowing river - very idyllic and our cabin gave us the most comfortable bed yet on our travels - much needed. (we have endured bed bugs and the like since being in Laos).
Nong Khiaw is a tiny village, self sufficient but with not much going on. While the mountains and river begged us to kayak and trek, the options were just not available in our budget, so we hired mountain bikes and explored the area. We travelled through a few villages and really got to see the way of traditional life in Northern Laos countryside - self sufficient. We met a small family - pregnant Mum with a trio of sons under the age of 10 who live a meagre life by the river - Ross and the four year old got acquainted and we witnessed the boy grab a crab from the river bank, which he then threw into a pot that balanced on a log fire next to his Mum's outdoor bed and bamboo-made clothes line. They live on crabs and sticky rice. We had bought some tangerines for the journey, which we handed to the kids, and we all sat down on logs together while they tucked in. (I never thought I'd get so much pleasure from giving a child a tangerine!).
After the bike ride and a walk over two days, we were bored and decided to head an hour upstream to Muang Ngoi Neua - the scenery even more spectacular than Nong Khiaw, but even less to do. We spent the day exploring more villages - these were more primative but incredibly self sufficient. We checked into our guesthouse (essential a family home with a couple of rooms, enabling us to witness family life at it's most natural). We were greeted by the husband who was carrying two half dead chickens into a barn. Every family has a tiny home made out of coconut husk and banana leaves (bamboo is clearly an high grade material out here and not for the masses). They all have large open spaces for their dozens of chickens and ducks to roam freely; some families are lucky enough to own pigs and hogs, but the staple meal is duck meat & sticky rice; and eggs from the chickens.
Before going any further - kids & vegetarians / animal lovers, may not want to read on.
We ventured down a pathway that evening to a small 'restaurant' but I instantly felt we had intruded on a small family group. Still, they welcomed us with a basic menu but as I began to read, I looked up to see two ducks being slaughtered next to their log fire. We didn't want to look, but I couldn't help myself. It was actually fairly humane, peaceful and quick, but rudimentary. While one guy held the duck still, the other cut the throat, bled it quickly, retaining the blood in a small bowl. This all happened incredibly quickly, no squeals or apparent suffering. Then they did the same with the other duck. After that, despite loving duck (to eat), I wasn't hungry and we decided to move on.
Muang Ngoi Neua was charging ridiculous prices for kayaking and trekking, so the next morning, we decided to pack our backpacks and head back to Luang Prabang. We shared a minibus for the 5 hour journey back with a really lovely group of Europeans and a Lao mother with her sick child who needed urgent medical attention. The usual 'pack em in, get more money' approach was taken by our bus driver, but with a strong and unanimous 'No' (this took twenty minutes), we enjoyed a relatively comfortable & scenic journey back to Luang Prabang. The last two days has been spent enjoying the town once again, we also have obtained our Vietnamese visas, and we are preparing for my Mum to join us which we're pretty excited about!
We will be adding plenty of photo's over the next day or so.
Take care for now,
Charlie & Ross