Monged in Muang Ngoi
Trip Start May 07, 2003
65Trip End Sep 05, 2005
Following a knee crunching day-long bus ride along the worst road in SE Asia, another in a freezing open-top pickup, high over the himalayan foothills, then over an hour further up the rapids of the Nam Ou river, I found Muang Ngoi, this was the word on everyones lips. "only accesible by boat" seems to be the tag of most of my favourite places, Muang Ngoi was no different, though with the river being so low, this was only barely so
The village, usually shrouded in mist or smoke, was dwarfed by sheer rockfaces and steep limestone mountains, surrounding it up the various valleys hid more tiny villages, completely traditional and very untouched by tourism or western ways - completely different to Thailand. I stayed in one such village, Banna, on my own with a local family for three days. On the second morning I was awoken by their older son, "come, come, lets go build hou". So up I got dreary eyed at 8am, we wandered thru the bush to another village where there seemed to be a huge party in full swing. "Ok we build hou now", the houses were infact three little Buddist shrines, no more than a few metres high. I did try and help, but the local lads were so intent on getting me fucked out ma bracket before midday on the local rice whisky "Lao lao", there was nowt I could do but join in. We sat round singing, playing music and passing the glass with a grimace as the lao lao burnt it's way down our gullets. Food was aplenty and they almost force fed me such was their desire to see me properly fed and watered. Then came the buffalo soup. The only tool a Lao butcher seems to know is the axe. The entire animal is litterally hacked into small chunks, irrelevant of skin, bone, hoof or bollocks, then they just boil the whole thing up for 3 hours and serve. To my amazement I did manage to finish one bowl of the stuff, but of-course as soon as that bowl was drained, here came another wifie with more of the dodgy broth
These guys seem to be well in tune with the rhythm of life though, almost completely self sufficient, they eat shoots n leaves, river weed, rats, tiny birds, lizards, catch fish, EVERYTHING! They have their own paddy fields in the mountains, grow their own tobacco and of-course distill gallons of lao lao. They even dam the tiny rivers in the valleys and generate power from a primative propeller turbine on a bamboo shaft. Incredible when you see the kids having to kick their football over the huge bomb crater in the middle of their football field. This area was one of the most heavily bombed in the Vietnam war. But Laos wasn't in the war eh? Yes indeedy do, but this country, in a clandestine operation by the good old CIA had 1.9 million tonnes of bombs dropped on it - per capita, the most heavily bombed country in the history of the world
I chilled in Muang Ngoi for a few more days, or was it a week... who knows. The clock stops when you're in ur hammock doesn't it? Anyway, yesterday we took a battered old river boat down the Nam Ou to Luang Prabang. I wasn't sure if our guy was a learner or what, but he turned back up river after half an hour as he'd forgotten something (mustve been VERY important!), we got drenched big time going thru the numerous rapids, hit a few savage standing waves that washed the whole boat down, clattered into heaps of rocks and broke the prop shaft (which he fixed with a piece of string) and even had to get out and push for some of the way cos the river was so low. Great fun, even though the supposed six hour journey took nine and a half!
Off to the night market in Luang Prabang now for some decent chow. This seems to be a really nice city. Right on the edge of the Mekong, it has some lovely temples and still retains an authentic French colonial feel.