My Trips: Laos 2008

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Luang Prabang, Laos to Hanoi, Vietnam

Abs is still not feeling well today, but we decide to try and make our flight. I reconfirm the flights and we spend the morning killing a bit of time. After taking a tuk tuk out to the airport we sit around waiting for check-in time.

The airport is one of the smallest we have seen, not too dissimilar to Newquay airport, back home.

Time passes quickly and we checkin and then board the small propeller aircraft.

The flight only has a few people on-board. We fly fairly low, giving good views, but it is turbulent at times. The views of the mountains are beautiful. As we near Hanoi it is obvious it has been raining here. The landing is fairly rough, reminding us that Laos Airways has a bad reputation. They don’t publish their safety record. At least we are on the ground safely.

We get inside and are quickly through immigration, an advantage to having to get the visa before arrival. We grab our bags and are surprised by the neat and tidy order of everything outside. However, the taxi touts are keen for our busy. We settle on a taxi and our driver drops us to our guesthouse.

Our chosen guesthouse is a lot more expensive than listed in the Lonely Planet. But, the room is lovely, and we take it for a bit of luxury whilst Abs gets back on her feet again.

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Ahhhhhh, back in Luang Prabang, Laos

After a night of hearing various things crawling around our room, we get up early and head down to catch the boat from Muang Ngoi Neua. After sipping an iced coffee we wade through the muddy water and jump on-board the thin narrow river boat. After waiting enough time for my bum to go numb on the tiny wooden plank I am sitting on, and for what seems like too many people to get on board, we set off.

There is quite a bit more water in the river on this trip than on the way up. The rapids are really flowing and the boatman shows great skill in piloting his riverboat down the pumping water. We see more water buffalo and villagers fishing and collecting various resources.

I’m very pleased when I see the unmistakable sight of the bridge than spans Nong Khiaw. We are quickly off the boat and I start asking about a bus to Luang Prabang. A pickup style tuk tuk is about to leave, but we don’t fancy the 4 hour ride in such an uncomfortable vehicle. Now, I like to consider myself fairly hardy. I can tolerate being uncomfortable for quite a period of time, and I think I can tolerate much more than most before I speak up, but a tuk tuk I wouldn’t take for this trip. The seats are tiny, the padding non-existent and the roads are pretty bad. Instead I find that a mini-bus is leaving at 2pm, about 3 hours away.

We go back to a cafe we like and grab a salami and brie sandwich, a luxury anywhere in Southeast Asia, especially this far from real civilisation. We head back to the bus stop, and eventually, we catch the mini-bus back to Luang Prabang. The driver is not hanging around and makes what was a 4 hour journey there, a 2.5 hour journey back. I didn’t sleep, but I’m glad to be back so quickly.

In fact, I’m very glad to be back in Luang Prabang. I can remember first arriving here, thinking it was a beautiful quiet town with not much to do. But, having spent the last 5 days in such remote surroundings, Luang Prabang now seems like a metropolis. And I like it a lot.

A guesthouse tout meets us from the mini-bus, and does a good job of selling his place. We take a look and are very pleased with it. It’s in a new area for us, and is luxury compared to the last few days. No spiders!

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Muang Ngoi Neua, Laos, again…..

We knew the first boat for Nong Khiaw left at 9.30 am this morning, but thought that this was a bit early and that we’d chance a later boat. We get to the boat landing at 10.30, and even after waiting until about 2pm there is still no chance of another boat. Whoops. We decide to stay another night and get the boat in the morning. I find a room which seems fairly bug free.

After eating in the evening we come back to the room, and as I am placing out candles, as the power has gone off, I notice a big spider, as big as my hand. I hit it with my sandal, and get it, but we’re a bit on edge after than. We secure ourselves inside the mosquito net, and manage to get a reasonable nights sleep.

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Muang Ngoi Neua, Laos

Our guesthouse restaurant isn’t open in the morning, and we actually struggle to find somewhere to eat. The villagers have all got together in what seems to be a ceremony to pin money on a tree and to build a small house, which we guess is a chicken house or something similar. Eventually we find somewhere to eat. We notice people coming and going with the various ingredients to make our breakfast. The food is good, and we tip the lady, who is delighted.

I take a walk down to the river jetty and task about tubing, but it seems we would have to charter a boat, which would cost more than we’d like.

We spend the afternoon taking photos down by the boat landing. Muang Ngoi Neua is such a beautiful place. A real taste of old Laos, and Southeast Asia. Where chickens, dogs, cats and children all play harmoniously together. And, where the village is a collective, with everyone working to help each other.

I think he have had our fix of ‘off the beaten track’ for now. We are looking forward to getting back to Luang Prabang, and to a room without a collection of insects. But for now, we have to get back to Nong Khiaw by boat tomorrow.

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River boat ride to Muang Ngoi Neua, Laos

I’m feeling much better today, and we both are up early. We settle our bill and get some breakfast on the way to the boat jetty, from where we intend to catch a river boat to Muang Ngoi Neua. I ask around but no one seems to know much about a boat leaving. We grab a drink and wait. Eventually a boat is set on leaving and we jump in.

The ride and scenery is speculator. We see water buffalo lounging in the shallows, local people frolicking on the rive banks, and ride over several rapids which wakes everyone up. After stopping at many little villages along the way, we eventually get to Muang Ngoi Neua.

We had hoped to stay in sturdy accommodation tonight, as we have been sharing our room with a lot of wildlife recently. But, after checking a few places we can only find basic thatch huts, which is fine. Accommodation here is cheap, just £1 a night. We eventually find Nicksa’s, who’s newish huts we had seen from the river. The rooms aren’t quite as nice as they looked from a distance, but they are the best we have seen yet.

This is a remote part of the world. There is no electricity, although a few places have generators, there are no roads, all transport is by river, and there are no phones. With that said we find a fairly well stocked shop run by an enterprising little girl, who is probably about 10. Everything seems to cost 5,000Kip (25 pence). We grab some essentials and lazy in hammocks for a while.

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Poorly day in Nong Khiaw, Laos

I wake up early, as normal, but go back to bed, feeling tired. When I wake again I’m not feeling well. I spend the day on the toilet. After a lot of drinks, bought to me by lovely nurse for the day Abby, I do feel better in the afternoon.

We take a walk through the small villages, watching the people going about their daily chores. This is an interesting little settlement, quite a way from anywhere, and in not much of a rush to modernise.

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Luang Prabang to Nong Khiaw, Laos

Up early to catch the mini-bus to Nong Khiaw. After picking up a French couple our driver is keen to get away. On the outskirts of Luang Prabang we stop for fuel, but the cues are long, after the New Year celebrations I guess. After about 30 minutes we get fuel and are on the road.

We wind through some stunning countryside, hugging the river than we will ride down in a few days. I feel our driver is a bit unsure in some circumstances, but I guess he’s never had any proper driver training.

We make it to Nong Khiaw and take a walk across the massive bridge, looking for somewhere to stay. We settle on SunSet, which is highly recommended. The places isn’t quite as good as the guide book makes out, but it’s fine and the people are friendly, although not very organised. We get a good hut with amazing views. There are a massive amount of insects in this area. Our neighbours are the French couple from the mini-bus. The guy actually works as a butterfly catcher, and I chat to him briefly about his work.

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Very wet in Luang Prabang at the New Year (Pii Mai), Laos

We head out for breakfast and get a taste of how the day will unfold. Today is the main day of the Laos New Year, Pii Mai, and everyone is soaking everyone else with water. There is such a good atmosphere. We spend the day walking around, laughing and getting absolutely soaked. We soak a few people ourselves by turning their buckets back on them, which the Laos people love. We get attacked with flour and what initially looked like old engine oil, which made me a bit concerned at first. But, it all washed out of our clothes in the end, so we figured it was face paint or similar.

We didn’t do any of the sightseeing we had planned, there is just too much celebrating going on. We book tickets to leave tomorrow to go to Nong Khiaw, where we intend to spend a few days moving up the river to explore a few out of the way towns.

Today has been a fun and interesting day. This is the 3rd New Year I have seen on my trip.

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Luang Prabang, Laos

We catch the tuk tuk to the bus yard outside of town, where we jump on the bus that will take us north through Laos, to Luang Prabang. There are a lot of people wanting to catch this bus. Tomorrow is the start of the Laos New Year (Pii Mai) celebrations, and locals and travellers are on the move. After some people are moved to a minibus we get going.

After only an hour we stop at a small town. We jump off for refreshments. When we jump on there are a line of locals wanting to catch the bus to Luang Prabang. As if by magic a stack of plastic chairs appear and are placed in the aisle of the bus, the locals sit in the chairs, but they cram more and more in the now packed aisle. As the last of the extra passengers try to fit on a old French couple at the front of the bus start to protest, saying that the bus is already crowded, and is now unsafe. They saw they have paid $6 for this VIP bus ride, and yet more people are being packed on. The guy organising listens for 10 seconds, before shouting something in Laos at them and getting back to packing in the extra passengers. Although this is a bit unsafe, this is probably the busiest time of year in Laos for people migration, so I thinks its part of traveling here.

We get going again, passing through steep terrain, often with the road hugging the hillside. We pass many remote villages and even lonesome houses, perched right on the roadside, and although noisy these houses have amazing views. The scenery here is the closest I have seen to that of Nepal, and Laos is the country most similar to Nepal that I have visited, and yet there are still lots of subtle differences. I think Laos is more developed than Nepal, despite being one of the World’s least developed countries.

At exactly 5pm the bus arrives at Luang Prabang. We catch a tuk tuk into town. We had been a little concerned about finding a place to stay, as the New Year celebrations had already started. But, we find a place fairly quickly. It’s more expensive than we would normally pay (US$18), but it is a beautiful room, perhaps the nicest we have stayed in on our entire trip.

We grab a drink overlooking the Mekong river. We are fascinated watching the boats run about on the river. The sun sets and we think about our journey so far, and how lucky we are to have the privilege of being able to travel to such amazing countries, and seeing such glorious sights.