A Travellerspoint blog

Village Life in Nong Khiaw & Muang Ngoi Neua

all seasons in one day 18 °C

Hi Everyone,

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
xxxxx

Posted by charlieandross 22:39 Archived in Laos Comments (5)

Slow boat to Nong Khiaw

overcast 16 °C

Both Charlie and I were really enthralled by river travel before we came away, particularly within SE Asia, so this first experience of a long river boat journey was really a very exciting prospect. Our 14 seater boat, skipper and oarsmen, picked us up from the main pier in Luang Prabang early Thursday morning for the daily slow boat ride to Nong Khiaw. The boat was a very narrow, rickety, wooden vessel that had a rather basic cabin for the skipper, a handful of car seats bolted to the front of the passenger section, two rather crude wooden benches in the rear, and a sectioned off eastern squat toilet behind that. Unfortunately for Charlie and I we were the last on board so we were left with the low slung bench seating option next to the squat toilet rather than the relatively luxurious Ford Orion reject seats at the front!

Needless to say though; the journey along the Mekong, and then the River Nam Ou, was breathtaking. Meandering at a very slow speed we traversed the waters of both rivers to a constantly breathtaking backdrop of jagged mountain ranges and blue and green karst's. Lush green trees, jungle, fields and rice paddy's were interwoven into this backdrop and the only visual diversion to this scenery was the odd local fisherman or herd of water buffalo drinking from the banks of the rivers.

The journey was taken at typical Laos speed - very slow - and included two pit stops. The first was a rather unexpected break that entailed our rather weather beaten looking skipper stripping to his BHS Y-fronts, getting in the river - fag in mouth, and replacing a broken propeller. Great entertainment for all of us passengers, if not a scary at first! The second pit stop was around 4 hours into the trip where we stopped off at a small village. Whilst there is nothing too unusual about this it was a little disconcerting when the skipper started the empty boat back up and left with us all waving goodbye to him, along with our bags, wallets and passports from the bank of the river! As it turned out we had a minibus drive us a few miles along the banks past rather treacherous waters before we re-embarked our journey back on the river.

The journey finally came to an end eight hours later at a tiny village called Nong Khiaw where Charlie and I are currently residing. The boat ride was fantastic, if a little cold at times, and certainly gave us a really good view of the country from this traditional transportation means. We just have to work out now how we get back to Luang Prabang when we finally return!

Ross and Charlie
xxxx

Posted by charlieandross 05:42 Archived in Laos Comments (0)

Indochine Heritage in Beautiful Luang Prabang

overcast 22 °C

Hi everyone,

The last week for Ross and I has been fantastic.......we have spent the last 3 days in Luang Prabang, a beautiful heritage town, North of Vientiane. Our journey here by night bus was an interesting one. We boarded our bus to discover double beds that we could lay completely flat in - we were not expecting such a luxury and got completely over-excited by the prospect of a decent nights' sleep for the first time in transit.

....Before we began our adventure, someone very special told us to 'expect the unexpected', ...so with this, we thought we were in for an unexpected treat. But then the journey began. The bus was unnervingly speedy but would slam on the breaks frequently to prepare for the 'unmade road' which consisted of huge pot-holes, bumping and shaking, while swinging hair-pin bends. It was actually good fun (for a while) but it meant that even if we managed to get ten minutes shut-eye, we had to hold on to the metal bars that were designed to stop us falling out of bed (apparently). This went on for 11 hours, suffice to say we arrived at a rather cold, damp and overcast Luang Prabang feeling jaded.

We checked into our guest house managed by a coupe of guys with eyes far too close together, who greeted us by asking where we had been that day - it was only 8am but we were thankful to be there.

The roads are awful in Laos (the worst in three years, one traveller who visits frequently told us) caused by an all too common story. The people of Laos were promised huge infrastructure investment from the neighboring SE Asian countries, so they proactively (and possibly naively) began digging the road surfaces all over the country, in earnest. Of course, the money arrived but not given to them, so the dug-up roads have been left. Hopefully the next band of investment that Ross mentioned in the last blog will correct this.

After a long nap, we walked through the old town of LP to discover some of the most picturesque, picture-postcard lanes and streets dotted with 1930's French villas, wild gardens and patios and, most importantly the Mekong Riverside setting. The antique shops, silversmiths and architecture was reminiscent of French and English countryside villages - the only thing missing was a cream tea!

Speaking of food, Ross and I are proud of ourselves. In a bid to reign in the budget, we ate at an outside vegetarian buffet every evening for about 10,000 KIP each (80p). Bland though it was, the atmosphere was magical and we met and ear-wigged a number of other travelers' stories. One thing we keep noticing is the luxury of time we have. We hear so many travelers and tourists who are literally in each place for just a night due to time constraints which we have yet to deal with. We are getting to absorb each place in detail. We are really learning to live in the moment which is surprisingly hard to do for anyone I think.

We spent three days lapping up the beauty of the place, the river, night markets and a handful of art galleries, but we will be returning to LP in just over a week, when we plan to watch the monks taking their alms at 6 am.
After a thoroughly relaxing town break we were craving the great outdoors and a bit of activity, so we headed for Nong Khiaw which we'll update you all on on the next blog.
Take care for now,
Charlie & Ross
xxxxx

Posted by charlieandross 05:57 Archived in Laos Comments (3)

Vientiane, Laos

sunny 28 °C

Charlie and I are currently sitting in a coffee shop in Vientiane, the capital of Laos, waiting for our night bus to Luang Prabang. We normally wait a day or two after we have left a location before we update the blog. However, due to the fact that we have had such an exciting and enjoyable time in the city we are adding this next installment before we even leave the city!

We both agree that, so far, Vientiane has been the most interesting, inspiring and friendly city we have visited during our journey. The city is nestled on the Thai border - separated only by the Mekong river - and is fast becoming a 'must see' for the SE Asian backpacking community. Money is being poured into the infrastructure here to help cope with the rapidly increasing number of tourists, businesses and entrepreneurs in the city and it is easy to see that this place will grow and grow over the next few years. Vietnam, Japan, France and Thailand have all invested heavily into the area to help create a really vibrant and inspired environment. More akin to a small town, both in size and population, Vientiane is steeped in French colonial and Chino-soviet influences. You are as likely to see middle aged men playing boules, locals eating croissants and drinking coffee, as you are to see the ghastly remnants of 1960s soviet/socialist architecture and the constant flying of Chinese and soviet flags!

Needless to say the French influenced cafes, restaurants and coffee houses have been very hard for both Charlie and I to resist and we have eaten our fair share of cake!! We have also eaten at some nice restaurants and at around £11/12 for a good three course meal even our backpacker budget has accommodated some really nice food. I think we will come down to earth with a bang when we start eating noodles and rice again, oh well, it has been lovely whilst it has lasted.

Luang Prabang will hopefully give us the chance to see more of rural Laos and we will update you with our next adventures about the area in the next few days.

Ross and Charlie
xxxx

Posted by charlieandross 01:02 Archived in Laos Comments (2)

Thank you Bangkok!

sunny 32 °C

Hello to you all, happy new year to everyone once again and hope that you all enjoyed the celebrations. We have been a little slack in our blog writing - having lots of fun and and a few to many night buses to make any sense.

We enjoyed a superb New Years Eve in Bangkok, the day started with the usual tourist sites, on and off the river ferry, visiting the palace, emerald bhudda and a walk through the Khao San road. We must have walked for miles and decided we deserved a massage, before taking the boat at sunset to China Town. What an experience, such a lovely evening sitting on plastic chairs in the middle of the night market enjoying king prawns, noodles, veg and beer. I then decided to have one of my favourite desserts - Sago in ice cold milk, which I insisted Ross should try ....wasn't one of his favourite moments of the day. The atmosphere was lovely, so simple and easy.

We headed back towards our river ferry pier nearest to our guesthouse, and in front of us, on the platoon itself, some locals had created a makeshift New Years Eve party - about 24 of us balanced on plastic stools on the pier, drinking Chang beer overlooking the river. We got to meet some people and enjoy the celebrations with them, while watching no less than 6 fireworks displays at the same time - each top hotel (we were near the Peninsular and the Oriental) competing - so we got to see them all - fantastic.

Walking back we were greeted by every tuktuk driver with 'happy new year' the streets were happy and not too racuous....perfect!

We are now in Vientiane, Laos and will update soon, but suffice to say, we likey....a lot!!!

Love to everyone - photo's to follow once we've bought a new mac charger.

Charlie & Ross
xxxx

Posted by charlieandross 22:55 Archived in Laos Comments (1)

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