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Northern Lao: Muang Ngoi Neua

January 30, 2012

26th January

I left Phongsaly with Juzie and Fabio and a bunch of other falangs in the morning to go to Hat Sa (1h bus) take the boat for Muang Khua. Delphine took a bus to Vientiane. Phongsaly was wrapped in fog that morning.

Phongsaly foggy

There was this Akha woman waiting at our bus stop too for some ride and she accepted to be photographed for the pleasure of all of us. Her traditional clothes are so beautiful.

Akha woman

On the trip to Muang Khua, there were also three German guys, Michael, Akim and Mark. Michael and Akim were from Stuttgart and were travelling for a year and had started their trip with a transsiberian from Moscow to Irkutsk then Oulan-Bator, and then 2 months in Mongolia and one month in Nepal and some time in China too. Their experience was pretty fascinating. Mark was from Freiburg and travelling around for a few months too. There was as well an American couple Lee and Amber who are teaching English in Vietnam for a few months and were on a break to travel. On the boat trip down the river, there were some rapids and we got wet sometimes, it was a fun ride.

Rapids

The boat arrived in Muang Khua around 4pm. In Muang Khua, Fabio was our guide of the city. We crossed a bridge and ran into this small centre place where kids were playing pushing wheels with some wood stic. It made me think of my grandfather who had told me he used to play like this when he was a kid. I wish he could be there to enjoy seating here and watching them, he would love it.

Kids playing

In the evening, we had a photo session night with Fabio, Juzie and Michael who were all passionate photographers too. We discovered the beautiful landscape and people of Mongolia and Nepal that Michael showed us, and then the ones of remote parts of India that Fabio and Juzie showed us. This is the beauty of travelling. You actually travel 2 times. You travel in the country you visit, but you also travel by talking with other people or reading travel writing, via their stories, via their photos. It gives you ideas of other places to explore one day yourself too.

27th January

Here is a picture in the streets of Muang Khua to give you a glimpse of this little charming city.

Muang Khua

In the morning, we all moved together down to Muang Ngoi Neua. On the way, we kept stopping as usual to drop some Lao people and take a few more onboard. At one of the stops, the boat driver purchased a huge fish caught by a fisherman. We had a great laugh when Lee said “That fish better pay 100,000 kips too to get on our boat, he is fat!” We tried to see how much money the boat driver gave to the fisherman, possibly 650,000 kips (about 80 dollars)

Big Fish

This was the most beautiful boat ride I had on the Nam Ou river, as you see dramatic cliffs and beautiful landscape mountains the closest you get to this village, like this:

Muang Ngoi Neua nearby

A friend of Mario, that I had cycled with in Muang Sing, had recommended him this place as the most beautiful village setting of Laos. So far, I have to admit I agree. It is a quiet place, with no cars, and no roads arriving there, only the boat and small walking paths around with lao villages nearby.
This is where we had agreed to meet with my friend Neringa. She arrived in the afternoon at sunrise from a long trip from Ventiane to Luang Prabang to Nong Khiaw to this village. It was awsome to meet again, finally! In the evening, we had beers and played cards and enjoyed the night falling on the mountains.

Night in Muang Ngoi Neua

We also had a visitor on our table, a very strange insect we all had never seen, a mix between a dragonfly and and scarabee somehow. It finally stopped on a candle and didn’t move again, and we all stopped the card game in order to observe it and photograph it.

weird insect

28th January

Amber and Lee left kayaking the river down to Nong Khiaw. We started the day with a buffet breakfast, and I have to admit that after so many soups it was great to eat some fruits and fried bananas, etc. With the three German guys and a last-minute adopted dog that followed us all the way that we decided to call Fritz and who was hurt on his front left leg sadly, we walked the countryside to a cave that we explored thoroughly to not all but many of its corners with torches.

cave

Then Akim, Mark and Neringa wanted a beer, so the photographers Michael and I were continued to the village where we saw some men singing and drinking Lao beer and lao-lao. Men are more lazy in Lao, women are the ones working.

village

There were also lots of kids playing. The way those boys kick out each other “toupies” that they built themselves is quite amazing.

Kids and toupies

On our way back, we heard some singing, and went to the women at a back of a restaurant and were invited to drink Lao beer with them and eat some food. I recorded their songs that I will try to add to the blog if I can. They were really powerful and beautiful, I wish we could understand the lyrics. Then we joined Neringa, Mark and Akim and had some drinks and beers and enjoyed the beautiful setting.

29th January

I woke up feeling some bumped painful little thing in my leg. I looked at it and here it was, my first tique. Brrrr. Neringa helped me take it out. Let’s hope I don’t get the Lyme disease. Funny enough, I kept talking about tiques with people the last few weeks. That quite scares me, as much as getting leeches on your legs! Beeeeee.

Mark left the village and went to Luang Prabang to meet some friends there.

It was a Sunday and people from all villages around came for the market. The atmosphere was great.

market

Akim chilled out all day, and with Neringa and Michael, we walked in the countryside again and enjoyed the beautiful setting.

around Muang Ngoi Neua

We went to another village near Muang Ngoi Neua where we just walked around. We ran into a mother and three daughters and the youngest was the prettiest little girl I have seen so far, and her smile was really beautiful. We were in awe and couldn’t stop taking photos of her.

Little Girl

The life of the villages is so laid-back that you even wonder sometimes if it hasn’t been just set for looking like this when tourists walk in. There is always some woman or child taking a shower or washing some clothes, some kids playing, with their “toupies”, or other toys, or some men like here  making a basket, patiently and meticulously:

Man making a basket

You always have often some local shop selling some local chips and other goods.

Small shop

And some people gathered who just seem to be enjoying the time seating together and talking.

Talking

In the villages around Muang Ngoi Neua, there were also old bombs reused for daily life as pots for oignons, or other kind of recipients like here. Muang Ngoi Neua was one of the most heavily bombed village in Northern Laos by Americans during the Second Indochina War. The three important monasteries of Muang Ngoi Neua got destroyed.

old bomb reused

On the way back, we saw again Gulliver lying on the mountain. From right to left, see his forehead, and nose, and mouth, and chin and big belly, and cat on his lap and folded knees.

Gulliver

We wanted to share more beers with the singing women and asked them and they said ok for 7pm. We had some beers and came later again, but someone had died so they said they couldn’t sing that evening, so we went for some Indian food instead for our last meal there.

30th January

We all left Muang Ngoi Neua and went to Nong Khiaw.
On the way, we saw some kids in a boat made of a bomb.

boat made of bomb

I was quite impressed also by this boat on which the couple had charged bags full of rice. It is so low on the water you feel it could sink within a minute.

In Nong Khiaw, Michael and Akim who have more time to explore went to take a bus to go East, to a Tiger Trail and to Vieng Xai, near the Vietnamese border, where people lived in caves during the Indochina war. With Neringa we took another boat to Luang Prabang. We arrived there at sunset although the sunset was really cloudy. The boat ran out of petrol in the last few meters only luckily, and the two boat drivers had to paddle to arrive to the shore. Funny Lao, ahah.

Back to Luang Prabang! After almost three weeks freezing in the North and wearing two jumpers every night, it is time to go explore the South and also get warm again!

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