Getting lost in Laos

23 Feb
Ricefields and mountains is all there is...

Ricefields and mountains is all there is...

There’s not all that much to do in Muang Ngoi, once you’ve done the tubing (did that) and fishing (not interested) and when you sampled all the different restaurants of the different guesthouses besides the daily plunge at the beach. The only thing left to do would be to go trekking to the neighbouring villages. You can have anything from a one day leisurely walk to a 3 day serious trekking visiting different minority villages.

With the adopted traveler family of Italians, Luxemburgish and Dutch we decided to go for a walk to the caves nearby, visit the 2 closest villages and go for a shower under the local waterfalls. It was great to be with people again, hanging out, making jokes, talking about more than the eternal ‘where do you come from and where do you go’. I needed that.

Schools made inaccessible on purpose - for the animals

Schools made inaccessible on purpose - for the animals

So we walked out on one of the paths departing from Muang Ngoi school. (interesting detail: the schools have fences all around to keep the animals out (don’t know why?), and sort of stairs to climb over the fence – so I guess that makes the schools not very accessible ;-) It was a lovely 2 hour walk through rice fields, making our way through buffalo herds, wading through some small rivers (because no bridges, some stones at most).

I thought that Muang Ngoi was already laid back and basic, but the villages we went to were even warped further back in time. There were not even streets, most of the houses were made of bamboo or wood. And people were carrying out their daily chores: one guy was clearing out the inner bits of some rats he caught for supper, someone else was weaving bamboo basktes for the sticky rice, some women were pounding river weed and drying it to bring to the market, etc.

Signpost to guesthouse in the middle of huge ricefield...

Signpost to guesthouse in the middle of huge ricefield...

But believe it or not – there were some guesthouses and restaurants in those villages! Instead of a view over the river, there would be an incredible look over hundreds of meters of rice-fields. Beautiful. Most of the guesthouses didn’t have any customers, but those who would decide that the ‘hustle and bustle’ of Muang Ngoi was too much, and reaaaaaally wanted to be away from it all – they could stay at 3 hours walk away from Muang Ngoi. Staying in a bamboo stilt hut, with mattress on the floor and mosquito net would set you back a whole 5000 Kip (50 Eurocent!). Food would be a bit more expensive (and more basic) as everything had to be brought by porters from Muang Ngoi… I was seriously considering it, but then it would be a pitty to limit my Laos experiences to mountain villages.

Lunch in the middle of nowhere...

Lunch in the middle of nowhere...

So we ended up in one of the guesthouses cum restaurant, where we played petanque, and even badminton (finally – first time since I left Belgium) while we waited for the omni-present ‘banana-pancakes’. When we ordered the girl would start a fire, and take a bike into ‘town’ (at 150 meters) to get the ingredients. After half an hour the message arrived to us that ‘bananas no have’. So we settled for ‘peanut pancakes’ instead. The pancakes were huge (4 cm thick – so actually rather a cake baked in the pan) but as they were a bit dry, we added some condensed milk (the only milk here). That must have been a calorie bomb with all the eggs, sugar and condensed milk.

We continued our little trip into the jungle, following a little river, and arrived at the (in)famour waterfalls that were promoted by the trekking agencies. Waterfall is maybe a big word for some water cascading down a meter or two from one of those make-shift turbines which provide the villages with electricity enough for a 5 watt light bulb in each house (between 6 in the evening and the next morning). The waterfalls were nevertheless big enough to take a shower under, which we did. But the feeble electricity generated from it definitely didn’t get us cold beer or coke – so we drank it warm ;-)

Well, let's say it is a cave...

Well, let's say it is a cave...

On the way to the villages there were also caves, but they were not so interesting – after having seen the caves in Halong Bay – uncomparable. But as it was one of the ‘things to see’ we did go and have a look,… 5 minutes.

During the day my old massive & primitive Sony camera broke down (no more contact with the battery – so no more lens coming out or retracting – so no more pictures) so I asked the other guys to take some pics for me, which we shared that night at the restaurant, plugging in my little netbook in one of the light-bulb-sockets. The simple slide show of pictures, down there in Muang Ngoi, in the middle of nowhere, felt like a grand movie premiere, with all of us watching full excitement the 9 inch screen of my netbook, oh’ing and ah’ing as if we’d never seen pictures on screen before. It was as close as we’d get to any cinema or TV entertainment….



One Response to “Getting lost in Laos”

  1. eric 13 March 2009 at 17:14 #

    Nice to see that you’re venturing (brave enough) in to the small villages and towns of the country. I believe that this makes your trip more interesting. Keep it slow and take the pace of the locals.. You have all the time in the world!

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