Chillin and kayakin (and running for cover) in MNN

Trip Start Feb 29, 2004
Trip End Apr 12, 2005

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Flag of Lao Peoples Dem Rep  ,
Friday, July 2, 2004

And yet another stunning little place this is, tho smaller than Nong Khiaw and verrrrry relaxed. You can go on a trek, sure. You can go kayaking, yes, explore caves and rice paddies, no problem...but swinging on a hammock on the veranda of your $1/night bungalow, drinking mango shakes and reading, dozing and watching fishermen (and fisherboys) and boats and water buffalo out on the river is awfully enticing as well...

There's only one dirt street going thru the town, with palm trees, wooden houses and lots of chickens and ducks (and chucks/duckens/whatever you call the offspring of the two of them!) all over. It's all very peaceful until....The first two afternoons we were there at about 2:00 there were some muffled announcements over a loudspeaker, then a few minutes later a series of HUGE explosions. JAYZUS, what was that???

We all ran out from the GH's to look for the trouble. Turns out it was the daily bomb disposal unit a few hundred meters away, blowing up the UXO (unexploded ordinance--bombs and mines left over from the war that haven't gone off for whatever reason) found on the previous day. We were told that an average of 30-40 bombs are found each day around the MNN area, and so far over 120 had been found that week. It's quite safe for all us farangs in the towns and tourist and trekking areas, but for all the local people in the country who have to go off the paths into the forests and fields to farm, hunt, etc. it's a daily crapshoot of whether or not they'll inadvertantly find UXO. Lao is the most bombed country in history--even tho it wasn't technically part of the war, it's estimated that an average of 900 bombs a day were dropped on it (someone with a calculator decided that was one bomb every minute for 8 straight years), mostly over the Ho Chi Minh Trail along the eastern border with Vietnam. But as there were Viet troops secretly stationed in Lao, the US secretly bombed all over to try and root them out. A guy told me a Vietnamese saying that sums this up very well--

"When two bulls fight, only the ground suffers."

And the people still suffer, just like in Cambodia where there was also secret bombing and millions of UXO laying around.

in fact, after a walk up and down the main drag I started to notice that old bomb casings were visible everywhere, but blend in quite well as they're used as steps, fence posts, planters, etc.--pretty ingenious. Some of them even still have original stenciled writing and lables on them.

But on to happier topics...

So I ended up spending 3 great days in MNN, one more than I'd planned, and most of which were incredibly chilled and wonderful. But I did go kayaking up river with Eric, Sylvia (a really nice Dtuch woman who's been teaching in international schools in the UK and now Japan) and Saang, a very eager young guide. Some of the others had done the trip the day before and had rave reviews, so we had high expectations and we weren't let down. The scenery, as I keep saying, sorry, was amazing (but it really really WAS amazing!). We stopped off in a little village--a strangely well-organized and quiet seemed almost like a Hollywood set for some reason, and also had a kind of hot, dusty, mid-day deserted feel about it. I kept thinking of all the old Western films with show-downs on the main street and all the people scatter before the gunfire starts.

We gawked at the locals and snapped a few pics and then paddled down the river and into a verrrrry loooooong, verrrrry wet, verrrry DARK cave--very cool. The water was a bit too low to go all the way in, so we turned back, but it was a very groovy experience, seeing as I don't have too much caving experience. I have a feeling this country might change that tho...

We stopped towards the end to pick up some fresh-water shrimp for dinner--the happy shrimp guys were frolicking around in the water just in their skivvies, a new idea for a Calvin Klein ad? :) That night we had a scrumptious dinner fof BBQ'd shrimp, plus gorgeous spring rolls and more than a few beers and lao-laos. Ohhh, I'm glad I stopped accepting the shots when I did, judging from the state of Sylvia and Eric the next day...

The next night, Saang was nice enough to take us up river again (going up river in the dark was pretty exhilirating!) to visit a friend of his. Unfortunately, we just missed his friend (a bit of a mix-up with times and East-West ways of explaining and clarifying things...), but we got to eat dinner with his friend's family at the rice paddy where they're staying for a few months during the planting season. Typical Lao food--sticky rice, veg soup (kale seems to be the leaf of choice) and a verrrry fishy-smelling hot chilli paste, all served up on a gorgeous banana leaf table (well, ground) cloth--yyyuuummm. And of course, more shots of lao-lao (much to Sylvia and Eric's dismay!) were had, tho we all managed to politely turn it down after the requisite first 1 or 2 shots. Can't be impolite, ya know! Gulp.

We went back to MNN and then set off on a night walk (more of a night meander), thinking we were following Saang to a groovy night location. Well, turns out he was just walking, thru small streams and rice paddies, thinking we were going to tell him where to go and when to stop. Hmmmm...we decided the approaching thunder and lightning was a good deterrent to going any further, and we headed back to MNN for a good night's sleep to be up for the 7 a.m. (ouch) boat back to Nong Khiaw and then the bus to Luang Prabang the next morning.
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