Not many people visit Muang Khua and those who do don’t stay long – usually. What once might have been a quiet town felt to us like a staging post. People pass through on their way either to Vietnam or further into Northern Laos and Phongsali.
There’s lots of construction happening. Two large bridges now cross the Nam Ou and the Nam Phak rivers. Heavy trucks rumble through the town. I guess all the activity is, at least in part, connected with the construction of the dams on the Nam Ou.
I was immediately struck by the huge diversity in affluence. Women carried panier baskets filled with mandarins or vegetables to sell at their road side spot, others set up grills over stone pots and sold chicken kebabs, and then others drove by in large Lexus four wheel drives with tinted windows.
We wandered through the town and into the back streets, following the map in the Lonely Planet. A few steps from the main road and all seal is gone.
The roads, although marked on the map as roads, were little more than dirt tracks. Nevertheless, girls in traditional Laos skirts rode their scooters to and from town negotiating the bumps and potholes with confidence, often while talking on their cell-phone or holding an umbrella. The homes were humble, usually with thatched roofs and woven bamboo walls. We passed a school. It was built from concrete.
I was thrilled to have made it this far. When we started dreaming about this trip and I saw one photo of Muang Khua I’d wondered if we would ever make it there. It’s even more beautiful than the photo I saw.
It was also party time. On our first night it seemed as if the entire town rocked for hours to blaring Laos music. From time to time the drain on the grid was too much and the power failed. Whenever this happened there were loud complaints from the party goers and then silence, while they waited for it to be restored. It was always back on within a few moments, to loud cheers from the partygoers and sighs of relief from restaurant and guest house owners..
The party went on and on. Although the music was very loud, it was repetitive and strangely soothing. I fell asleep to the sounds of fellow hotel guests complaining to our landlord. When I woke the next morning it was a shock to hear the silence. Apart from the roosters that is, they were as noisy as ever.
Sadly, for me, gastro problems returned. It meant we had to stay another day while my body began what proved to be a slow recovery. And it forced a change of plan. Pushing further north to the relative isolation of Phongsali began to seem unrealistic. The disappointment was difficult to swallow. But it was obvious that in the best case scenario I was days away from being able to do any trekking, if at all.
So John set about researching our options while I slept for one whole day and one whole night.
The interesting outcome of all this was that we realised the party from the first night was a stag party. The wedding took place during our third night. It was a grand affair – what we could see of it. The large hotel across the road was booked out, the seating for the guests spilled out onto the street. Sadly, I missed most of the action and didn’t see the bride and her groom.
But I heard it. If the stag party was loud, our hotel room across the road was now the equivalent the mosh pit at a Nirvana concert. But again, I found the music oddly soporofic, my sleep was undisturbed, and the next morning I was well enough to cope with the four hour bus trip to Oudamzay.
The bus station is a couple of kilometres outside of town. It took a bit of research to figure out how to get there and which bus to catch. This gentleman, the bus station manager, was very helpful and kind to us. He managed to convey what we needed to do and when and all without us speaking any Laos.