French Connection Laos

18 Feb
Ze French couple - great to "causer" (chit chat)

Ze French couple - great to "causer" (chit chat)

In order to get from Muang Khoa to Muang Ngoi Neua, I thought to take a boat 3 hours down the Nam Ou river. I had asked several people along the boat landing on the river bank, frantically pointing at my phrasebook, but with no result. It is only afterwards that I realized the sentence given in the phrase book was ‘when is the BUS going’ – so then I understood why the boat people were looking strangely at my question (and also because of my probably alien pronunciation of Lao language).

After asking a few people more, I found out that there was something like a ticket office (near bus stations and boat landings). There was a young guy who attended me in pristine English. Of course there was the usual question: “How many are you”, to which I invariably answer with a look over my shoulders and around me, and then point at my nose (like the Japanese do) and say “I am only one person”. A boat going down usually costs 1 million kip (100 Euro) – so if I’ll be the only one, that would be an expensive affair – but I was free to find up to 10 other people to share the boat – or just come down next morning at 8 to see if anybody else would want to go.

A lovely boat trip through the karst mountain valley

A lovely boat trip through the karst mountain valley

So the next morning at 8am (the roosters wake you up by 6am anyway), I go down to wait around the ticket hut and see what happens. Nobody so far expressed any interest to go to Muang Ngoi Neua – so just wait. 8 o’clock becomes 9 o’clock. 9 goes onto 10. Just as I start enquiring about the bus alternative, the boat guy agrees to 200.000 Kip to take me to Muang Ngoi, because he came up the river and needs to go down the river anyway. And then this French couple of (almost) pensioners arrives, checking for boats down the river. As soon as I hear the French accent, I take over the negotiations and after a few Belgo-French jokes and double-ententes, I’ve got myself 2 travel companions.

The trip by boat was great. No dust! Thank Buddha! Just some splashes of water every now and again. It was a lovely boat ride through a fairy tale like landscape, green covered karst mountains rising from both river banks. The boat took us through some rapids (with the bottom of the flat longtail boat scraping over the rocks), we floated next to some river side markets, picking up and dropping off the occasional passenger, passing the occasional fishermen, families or children on their long tail boats.

Roaming down the river by boat...

Roaming down the river by boat...

It was funny to see that I immediately felt ‘at home’ with the French, even though French is not my language, and I wouldn’t say I’d have French culture (ask any of my French speaking Brussels friends, who always react appalled when I don’t know the one or other French icon). But still, French, in the middle of Laos, felt like ‘mine’, something I could relate easily to, after having been plunged in Asia for almost 2 months… I’ve got a similar reaction with Germans: my first sentence would be “my partner is from Berlin” – used to be… It’s not much, but it creates bonds.

The French couple were seasoned travelers. They seemed to live from trip to trip – mainly in Asia, because it is so easy and safe to travel (compared to Africa or Latin America). It was funny to exchange travel stories, and jump from one country and trip to the next every other minute. I should have asked them if they never get tired of traveling then at the pace they are going and the large number of trips they are mixing up. But apparently not, as next year when the wife retires, they are going to travel ‘for real’ – not just a few weeks/months at the time. So that’s probably something that brought them together, and keeps them together. We exchanged blog addresses/pictue albums to see how we ‘covered Muang Ngoi Neua’ respectively ;-)

It doesn't get any more beautiful than this...

It doesn't get any more beautiful than this...

It was funny to see that the French man was into drawing and sketching. His wife was into taking pictures of their travels. And I write to digest my experiences. So we all used a different medium, but to capture (and share) a similar experience… Would be very interesting to compare.

The French couple gave me good intro to Muang Ngoi Neua, telling me where the bread is good, which guesthouse their friend raved about, what the old pancake lady sells her delicatessen on the corner of the street, etc. If I’d meet people like that on every boat or bus, I wouldn’t need a Lonely Planet at all. That evening we had dinner together – and some Lao Lao (the local rice whiskey).

There’s definitely something with the French (this couple, but also other French people I know): they master art of ‘causer’ – to talk, to entertain, to pass time talking, Unterhaltung as they would say in German. It is so normal and pleasant to ‘talk’ with them. And it’s not just American style superficial chit chat, the subjects of conversation are actually interesting. The French have this skill to ‘refaire le monde’ (make the world anew) over a good glass of wine (Lao Lao in this case) or a meal. They keep the conversation going as a second nature, whereas I mostly run out of things to say. Talking – just like eating – is a pass time.

  • So I am considering heavily now, if maybe I should get a French boyfriend next? (lol) Because I often get stuck for words in conversations – but then, if there’s nothing to say, should we be talking.

But I do also know from my job, that the French often have the tendency to talk too much/long, also when a little bit more efficiency could be useful e.g. in meetings an intervention of a French person tends to be longer than when a German or Belgian would make the same point. So I guess every coin has two sides…

The hole in my back from the too heavy backpack

The hole in my back from the too heavy backpack

I was also amazed at the size of the French couple’s backpacks – they each had a small backpack – of only 4kg!!!  Now that’s something – and I thought I had packed light with my ‘only 13kg’. No wonder my back is aching… (see also picture of the hole in my back because of the backpack) The French only have a few changes of clothes: when they arrive somewhere, they have their dirty laundry washed, and they just stay until its dry, before they move on. I washed nearly all my clothes today, which was 4kg. So what on Earth am I dragging along in those remaining 9kg?

  • I decided not to leave Muang Ngoi Neua before I have sorted out all the things I really need and what not. My back will love me for it (and the locals who I’ll donate my stuff to as well)

4 Responses to “French Connection Laos”

  1. fabrice 28 February 2009 at 17:31 #

    Oh yeah, French people are fantsatic when it comes to talk… but only in their own very language!!! Ah, ah…

  2. fabrice 28 February 2009 at 17:32 #

    fantastic is much better…

  3. travelony 1 March 2009 at 13:22 #

    As you say – it seems that the French are ‘at best’ in their own language – lol – thanx for the fantsatic comment – hihi

  4. fabrice 1 March 2009 at 18:30 #

    You’re always welcome, dear… I’m at your command.

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