Mung Ngoi and Hilltribe Trekking

Trip Start Aug 01, 2005
Trip End Feb 16, 2006

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Friday, November 18, 2005

So here I am, on my way to the hills in northern Laos with Hailey, Rich, Ally, Flo and Chris. Seth convinced me to go trekking with them for 3 days in the Mung Ngoi area while he is battling his nasty cold. I feel uneasy about it and almost turn around when I realize that there is no internet access within 4 hours of where we are so that I check on his health. But here I go.
The trip to Mung Ngoi was kind of interesting. I was crammed close to this woman who kept on spitting over my shoulder and pushing her elbows into my ribs. I'm not quite sure she liked me so much... Then we got on a little narrow wooden boat that was taking water every time we crossed a rapid. Kind of scarry, but we finally made it there and we were all happy to be able to unfold our legs and get rid of the cramps.

Mung Ngoi is a tiny village consisting mostly of little guesthouses. We got a bungalow for one dollar a night (!!) overlooking the river. There's electricity only about 2 hours per day, but hey, for that price. Then we set off to find a guide who would take us up in the hills. After some searching we had the choice between a somewhat boring but reliable teacher and a somewhat drunk, less reliable but more fun guy. And the winner is....the drunk guy. We need some fun we thought.

So next morning we take off with our backpacks and first walk along the rice fields. We stopped at a cave where we were told that a french woman got stuck and died last year. But we tried exploring it anyway. We were quickly blocked by pretty deep water, which didn't stop Flo who showed us his beautiful blue boxer shorts and heroically continued by himself for another, well, 5 meters. It would have been fun to continue though.
Then we crossed some more fields and watched people harvest the rice. Tough work. The scenery was beautiful with these really steep mountains rising like pinnacles from the rice paddies. We visit a few Khmu villages and get introduced to an old woman who has tatoos all over her arms. Apparently she got them when she was 14 and she was married when she was 15. Man did I feel old. I should have grandkids by now if I was from there...
The guide doesn't really budget our time correctly and less than 2 hours before sunset he tells us that we are still more than 2 hours away from the village where we have to stay. And it's all uphill. So here we start our crazy hike, me huffing and puffing because of my lungs that haven't totally recovered from my bronchitis yet. But we make it and we get to this little village in the middle of nowwhere. We get to a wood and bamboo house and while they prepare us some basic food, the kids are staring at us. Ally becomes their best friend by playing hide and seek with them and Rich films them with his camera. They go crazy about that when they realize that they can see all the faces they make on the little screen. We watch the full moon rise and the village looks eeire in the bright light. We also get to experience the pleasure of the bush toilet in the jungle. Kind of scarry when there's barking dogs, snooping pigs and scarry snakes and other critters. We don't sleep so well since the roosters already start their crying at 3am. Who has ever said that they start at sunrise???
After breakfast we hang around a bit then set off on our hike. This time we hike more through the jungle and overgrown fields. They do slash and burn cultivation here and every few years they abandon village and fields and go somewhere else. We try to make our way through the grass tunnel. At some point we get followed by a group of angry pigs. I'm not used to be scared of pigs but they are pretty ferocious here!
In a village we meet the village elder who welcomes us in his house. It is amazing to see how simple their life is. Almost everything they have is homemade, even their clothes and they use bamboo to made furniture, baskets, etc. There are animals everywhere. We're trying not to think too much about SARS since we share our house with chicken and ducks...

That night we get to another village. This time we even have time to take a "shower". We actually get to a river where a bamboo is used as a hose. Since there are two we have a girl's and a boy's shower. We hide behind our sarongs and just have enough time to wash before the whole village shows up for their shower. That night we have a good dinner and get to drink some freshly distilled Lao lao, a rice whisky. We play cards and our guide gets pretty drunk. Afterwards we go to a bonfire outside of the village. We have our own huts because they have figured out that tourists are a bit sensitive to roosters crying all night. We drink some more and in an effort to entertain the village people we try to teach them a silly song. They just look at us in a very perplexed way and we feel very stupid. Suddenly a local guy jumps up. We wonder why and find out that a huge centipede (about 20 cm long!) has stung his toe. They catch it and start roasting it on the fire. We wonder why and soon find out after they peel it that this is going to be their dessert. Flo and Ally try it and say it tastes like chicken. So I try it too. I guess it's not too bad!

We sleep well and after a good breakfast set out for the last part of our trip. We mostly hike downhill. A big part of the hike is through a river and it's a bit hard. I'm happy when I reach the end without falling into it. We get to a village along the main river from where we are supposed to take a boat, only there is no boat. There seems to be some problem with the organization. While we wait I play around in the water a bit. Suddenly I see something floating towards me and it's only when it's about 1 m away from me that I realize that it is a snake. I jump out rather quickly. Apparently that one is not "too venimous". Enough for me though! We finally get a boat and on the way down, see the second guide coming up in another boat. There is some swearing going on between the two guides but we finally get to the place where we are supposed to take the inner tubes. As soon as we are sitting on the tubes, the guide says that he will meet us in Mung Ngoi. He doesn't want to wait because he is hungry. We're a bit annoyed and let him know that we want somebody to be there in case something happens to us, like another less friendly snake. So we float down river in the beautiful scenery. The river is pretty slow so there is quite a bit of paddling involved.
When we finally get to Mung Ngoi we're pretty tired, but it was an awesome trip! We really had a good time with a great and fun group. Thanks you all!

We spend one more night there and find out the next morning that the beds were infested by bed bugs. I must have about a hundred bites and they're driving me nuts!!!!!!!!!!
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