On the river

Trip Start May 01, 2010
Trip End Apr 30, 2011

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Where I stayed
Sunrise Guest House

Flag of Lao Peoples Dem Rep  , Louangphabang,
Wednesday, November 24, 2010

From the pretty riverside settlement of Muang Khua, we, along with Maxime, Laureline and Bob, boarded a boat bound for Nong Khiaw, located five hours downstream. Unfortunately we were sat at the back where the engine was so it was a noisy journey in cramped conditions. However, this was more than made up for by the incredible scenery. This section of the Nam Ou is reputedly the most dramatic stretch of river in the country as green mountains and limestone crags soar above.

We reached Nong Khiaw in good time. On the banks of the Nam Ou, underneath a towering peak covered in a tangle of jungle, the setting here is gorgeous. The village itself is tiny and laid-back, the people smiley. We chose the Sunrise Guesthouse as our base for the next couple of days on account of its location right on the riverside, not on its squat toilets!

The next day, the five of us hired some bikes and explored the local area. We passed through a timeless landscape dotted with small picturesque villages of thatch, bamboo and timber houses, saying ‘sabaidee’ to little children who jump up and down and wave madly when they see you. For lunch we went to a little restaurant in Nong Khiaw where the friendly owner let us come into her kitchen and watch her cooking our pumpkin curry with sticky rice, which was absolutely delicious. In the afternoon we cycled in the other direction and stopped at a cave where villagers and the Pathet Lao lived during the Second Indochina War to hide from American bombing. We continued on to a small river where we went for a quick swim much to the amusement of the local children who gathered to watch.

The following morning we were going to take a trek organised through our guesthouse but it was cancelled at the last minute because Bob got chatting to a local policeman who explained that it was forbidden to go on treks that weren’t booked through one of two agencies. We are not sure why this should be the case but anyhow didn’t want to get ourselves or the guesthouse into trouble so decided to go for a walk ourselves. We followed a path alongside the river and arrived at a tiny village. We soon got chatting to the village teacher who offered to take us to a waterfall and then go fishing. We were well out of the way of any police so readily took up his offer! The walk to the waterfall was a bit of a scramble down a steep slope and then across slippery rocks. Luckily our guide was very strong and held on to me while I nearly pulled him into the water several times! Once at the little falls, we had a dip in the cool water trying to dodge the spider webs strung out in the tangle of vegetation over our heads.

Then we headed down to the river where we clambered into a couple of narrow fishing canoes and motored a little way upstream to a sandy beach. Here we had a go at casting the fishing nets, rewarding us with one small fish, and a lovely swim in the deep, fast-flowing water. Back at the village, our guide invited us into his house and shared his lunch of fish, chicken cooked in lemongrass, chilli paste and sticky rice. He also passed round a bottle of potent Lao Lao, the local drink distilled from rice. After lunch, he walked us to the edge of the village and gave us all hugs before waving goodbye. It was a wonderful experience that we won’t forget and we all felt very lucky that the day turned out the way it did.

The next day we reluctantly said goodbye to idyllic Nong Khiaw and got on board a boat to take us five hours downstream to Luang Prabang. Luckily this boat had comfy seats with lots of legroom as opposed to hard benches and we had a very enjoyable journey, listening to tunes on the iPod and watching the ever-changing scenery as we drifted by – green mountains, fishermen casting nets, water buffalos having a cooling soak and naked children splashing about. We arrived in Luang Prabang just as the sun was starting to sink towards the horizon. I have wanted to go to Luang Prabang for many years and first impressions did not disappoint. This could easily be the most beautiful town on earth.

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