For a land locked country Laos has a lot of water. The rivers, especially the Mekong and the Nam Ou, are an important means of transport as well as a source of food. I did know this before I got here. And as you know despite my nervousness I enjoyed the boat trip to the Pak Ou caves. So, scared or not, there was no wriggling out of a trip up the Nam Ou. For geography buffs, The Nam Ou is a major tributary of the Mekong. It runs from Phongsali province in Northern Laos to it’s confluence with the Mekong north of Luang Prabang, at Pak Ou.
Things were a little different on this trip. We hired our own boat and driver. It was luxury – by comparison. This owner-driver knows a thing or two about tourists. His boat was fitted with car seats! Ah, the comfort!!
From our base at Nong Khiaw,
we travelled past Muang Ngoi, to the weaving village, back to Muang Ngoi for lunch (a meal that proved not to stick around for long in my digestive track!) and then to Ban Houahoy, a cultural village, before returning to Nong Khiaw.
It’s dramatic country-side, Jurassic Park territory. Limestone Karst mountains tower over the river. It’s almost impenetrable by road.
But where there’s a will, or when the financial return warrants it, there’s a way, and roads are now being built – probably to service the dam construction that’s happening all along this river.
The people, especially at the weaving village and at Ban Houahoy were eager to pose, often bringing me their children to photograph. It’s been very cold here. Much worse than usual. Lots of the children had bronchial sounding coughs. There is no easy access to doctors for them and food isn’t always plentiful. Nevertheless this cutie was bursting with health.
This woman wove these scarves and stitched these handbags. She has much better eyesight than me – no such luxury as corrective lenses for her.
Incidentally, on our travels around Northern Laos I’ve seen women stitching while working on stalls in the night market, sitting behind counters in shops, and sometimes in groups of two or three at the side of the road bent over the same piece of craftwork – often a large tapestry.
After lunch at Muang Ngoi we wandered around the village for a while. The road has got this far. There’s construction happening but no cranes to help with the lifting. These men lifted the concrete poles onto the back of the truck themselves. One of them was beneath the pole – his back a plinth! I reckon he was one slip away from a crushed spine.
By the time we arrived at Ban Houahoy village it was late afternoon. Those who had been fishing or gathering Mekong weed had returned to the village and the women were lighting their cooking fires.
This grandmother was proud to pose for me on the doorstep of her home. She’d watched me walk up her street and called out Sabaidee almost as soon as I was in earshot.
As soon as I snapped the photo she and her granddaughter hurried over to check out my viewfinder, grinning widely at the result.
At the end of the day when I clambered over the gangplank I was sad it was over. Who’d have thought that was possible!
This sunset was the perfect end to a memorable day.