Seeing Laos via the River

Trip Start Nov 20, 2013
Trip End Nov 24, 2014

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Monday, May 5, 2014

We've heard the best way to see Laos is via water. The Mekong River runs through a big part of the country and many people who enter Laos via Thailand the way we did take a 2 day slow boat along the Mekong to Luang Prabang. Since we visited other spots we decided against this route, but we knew at some point we wanted to take a boat ride in this country. Nong Khiaw was the perfect place to do so. 

We set up our tour upon arrival in Nong Khiaw with the only locally owned tour company. It was pretty funny when we arrived at their empty hut to book the tour since a little boy who was probably 2 or 3 years old emerged from the back room, went to the desk, took out a pen and a pad of paper, seemingly waiting to take our order. The kids in Laos are probably the cutest we've encountered through our travels. Finally after a minute or so, the owner of the company, Home, came out from the back and we all had a good chuckle about the boy who was the first to greet us. Home was so nice and genuine and spoke better English than anyone else from Laos we had met to this point. We were more than happy to give him the business.

Along with 3 girls from Holland and a couple from England, we did a day trip via longboat along the River Ou. We also had Home's brother, For, come along to guide us. We took the boat for an hour or so get to Mueng Ngoi, our first destination. However, for us, the joy and amazement was in the journey to get there. First of all, the scenery was stunning from the boat. Mountains, villages, and greenery surrounded us. We saw people working in the water, while countless children were playing. Laos children smile and seem to have so much fun, which is one of the reasons we're drawn to them. Also, along the ride we saw countless water buffaloes in the water, staying cool. It was such a peaceful and serene ride and I told Garyn it was certainly one of my highlights of the trip to this point. 

Once we arrived in Mueng Ngoi, we walked around the village a bit. Mueng Ngoi has 700 residents and is a popular destination for tourists. It's quite peaceful like Nong Khiaw and only got electricity last year. We saw a temple on the island and walked through the unpaved main road of the village. During the day, the tourists are trekking or doing some kind of activities, so it was fairly quiet and the majority of people we saw were locals. Definitely a cool, relaxed vibe here.  

We then got back on the boat and went back in the direction of Nong Khiaw when we stopped at a local village. We didn't talk to anyone or learn about their customs, but parts of the village reminded us a bit of the village we stayed in during our two day trek through the jungle. Something that makes this country so beautiful and interesting are the many villages we've come across either from the road (when we're traveling by bus), water, or through the jungle.

From the village we hiked about an hour to get up to a waterfall and since the weather was hot, we were all thrilled to jump in. The water was cold, but incredibly refreshing. Then, For served us lunch. Like usual in Laos - all natural. The "plates" were big leaves from the forest, and there was no cutlery. Of course there was sticky rice and also some traditional Laos dishes (vegetables, meat, egg, etc.). Just as we finished the hike back to the boat after lunch it started to pour. We all got a bit wet on the boat ride back and because we were focused on staying dry and warm, we weren't able to enjoy the scenery the way we were on the ride out. 

Overall it was a fun experience. We would have preferred if Home came with us and guided us as we really didn't feel we gained much from having his brother there, even though he was a nice guy.

At night we watched a documentary at a restaurant all about the CIA's "Secret War" in Laos which nobody knew about. It took place the same time as the Vietnam War and during that time, Laos was bombed every 8 minutes resulting in destruction and mass casualties. Laos is the most bombed country in the world and there are still about 80 million bombs that failed to go off,  making much of the country unusable. Each year, some people are killed or injured as a result of these unexploded bombs going off. We were both fascinated by the hour long video and intrigued about the incredible history and terror in this country, but both of us were confused at times and still don't fully understand what happened and why. It's important to us to better understand Laos' history and what it went through during the dozen or so years it was bombed consistently.

The next morning after breakfast, we said goodbye to Nong Khiaw and took the 4 hour winding bus ride to our next destination, popular Luang Prabang.
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