Tuesday, July 31, 2012


Growing rice, up close and personal.
Heading up Laos' Nam Ou river, a seven-hour boat journey from Luang Prabang is the sleepy town of Nong Khiew. Being that we have grown wise in our travels, we knew that while scenic, a seven hour trip seated on a wooden plank with our knees up near our ears--the only way to travel by water to get to the village--didn't sound all that great. So, we opted for the local bus...only three hours and less than half the price (see how smart/cheap we've become!).

The entire town is located along the river, with a huge bridge spanning the rushing red water. Limestone cliffs tower overhead with lush jungle in between, skirted by an eerie fog that hangs around in the early mornings. We managed to find a hotel room whose main features included a constant leak in the ceiling and a resulting massive puddle in the middle of the floor...but the place also had a balcony and a hammock with amazing views! The balcony was crucial, since it rained the entire time (it is monsoon season, after all) and it was nice to get away from the puddle now and then.

Just an hour farther up the Nam Ou is the even smaller village of Muang Ngoi Nuea (don't ask us how to pronounce this either...Liz got it wrong every time, resulting in us almost getting on a bus bound for the Chinese border). The settlement is accessible only by boat and has electricity for just a few hours each day. Supposedly, the power comes on at 6 and goes off at 10, but in reality, it came on around 7:30 and went off at 9.

While the tiny town itself had little to see, the highlight of Muang Ngoi is a trek along the trails where no motorized vehicles have gone. One morning, Liz headed out for the village of Ban Na, a 45-minute walk into the mountains. On the way she met a very outgoing, 20-year-old rice farmer named "Eh" (not sure how to write that in English, but this must be close).

Eh looking for snakes on the trail through the rice paddies.
Eager to practice his limited English, Eh offered to accompany Liz on her way and showed her a shortcut through the rice paddies, which were incredibly slippery from all the rain. Eh quickly learned how to say “slip and fall," since Liz did exactly that every few minutes along the trails.

Between her graceful falls, Liz learned a phrase in Lao that her new friend Eh thought was very important: “Wait for me!”

He explained that, “If you are in the toilet at the bus station and you hear the motor of your bus start up, you can shout this to the driver and he must wait for you.”

Hard to argue with that logic.

While that exact circumstance hasn't happened (yet), it's been priceless to see the faces of the local transport drivers when we step smilingly into a bus, boat, tuk-tuk, or taxi and say in near-perfect Lao, "Wait for me!"

Now if we could just learn to say, "Where's the bathroom?"

Six muddy water buffalo squeezed into a small pool.
Boats on the Nam Ou river, and the bridge of Nong Khiew.
An albino water buffalo. We thought they were rare, but saw many in Laos.

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