Laos

Getting connected in Northern Laos

For this week’s WP photography theme “Connected” I’m taking you back to Laos. You might remember from my posts earlier in the year that I had some challenges while we were there, to do with boats and bridges and which, for the most part, I overcame; although, not always with as much grace and dignity as I’d like.

There was one bridge, only one, I didn’t conquer.

The locals may have zapped across on their scooters, John may have happily wandered over and back, stopping for photos midway(!), but I just couldn’t do it. Not that day. Nor any other. Yep, there’s no hiding the fact—I’m a wimp. But look at those planks: dodgy, very dodgy.

Footbridge in Muang Khua

Footbridge in Muang Khua

I offer no excuses, other than my nerves may have had something to do with a little too much information. The night before we’d gone for a wander around Muang Khua. We came across a fine view of the bridge. It was obvious: me walking across when I didn’t have to? It was never going to happen. Look how high it is!

The footbridge viewed from the brand new traffic bridge

The footbridge in Muang Khua viewed from the brand new traffic bridge

You could argue that because of this thing I have with heights and moving water, I’ve chosen not to linger on the matter of bridges. You may be right. Or not.

The whole truth, and nothing but the truth, is that one of my great interests is the way in which we connect with each other. Most of us will go to considerable lengths and use whatever we can to make connections, to seek relationships, to stay in touch. (Sometimes, if there’s no other way, even I have been known to walk across a rickety footbridge.)

In Laos, the rivers are an essential part of staying connected. Boats are like buses. They transport children to and from school, move goods around the region, and provide a hop-on-hop-off service for those travelling between villages and larger towns.

The Nam Ou River at Muang Khua, Northern Laos

The Nam Ou River at Muang Khua, Phongsaly Province, Northern Laos

As I’ve said before, I feel very privileged to have taken the journey up the Nam Ou River from Nong Khiaw to Muang Khua. Change is happening, and fast. That trip, the way we did it only a few months ago, is a thing of the past—the dam will have closed off the river by now.

Muang Khua, Phongsaly Province, Northern Laos

Muang Khua, Phongsaly Province, Northern Laos

The main roads in Northern Laos, especially those to China, are improving all the time. In small towns and villages scooters are very common. They’re ideal for negotiating the pot holes.

Generally in Laos, people live close to each other. No large sections or lifestyle blocks here. Or none that I saw. As John has reminded me, houses that appear cramped to us can provide improved shelter. They have more protection from the wind and rain, and the shared walls retain more warmth. It was common to see at least three generations living together.

Muang Khua, Phongsaly Province, Northern Laos

Muang Khua, Phongsaly Province, Northern Laos

Not only has modernisation brought the scooter, it’s also brought television. Satellite dishes were a frequent sight. Often they were put to more than one use. They were especilly good for drying chillies. The dishes didn’t guarentee easy  access to the Internet, though. When we did manage to connect, it was slow.

Ban Houahoy Village, Northern Laos

Ban Houahoy Village, Northern Laos

Nevertheless, it was in Laos that we discovered Facebook phone. We watched a fisher smacking the water with a pole to bring the fish to the surface while we talked to our family in New Zealand via Facebook. The world seemed small, until the end of the conversation. Then it was John and me, in a restaurant with no other patrons, a long way from the people we love.

This fire-engine set us wondering how things were back in New Zealand. As soon as we were connected again, we sent the photo to my brother-in-law. He’s a fireman. Luckily for him and the community, his crew have a new fire truck.

Fire truck, Muang Khua, Phongsaly Province, Northern Laos

Muang Khua, Phongsaly Province, Northern Laos

Despite the language differences, the cultural, and the religious differences, there’s more that connects than separates us. Just as with home, where the Sunday church bells tell us to get a scurry on, (yes, we’re usually late), in Laos bells and drums sound each morning, calling the faithful to prayer.

Temple Bell, Luang Prabang, Laos

Temple Bell, Luang Prabang, Laos

Connections are all about people, about the need for relationship, not matter how fleeting. This young Mum, like Mums everywhere, was very proud of her baby and keen to show him off.

Mother and child and dog, Luang Namtha, Northern Laos

Mother and child and dog, Luang Namtha, Northern Laos

How do you stay in touch? The old fashioned way—visits, and phone calls—remember them? Or virtually?

WordPress Photo challenge: “Connected”

30 replies »

  1. Hey Jill! I just stumbled across you’re blog whilst trying to find any information I can regarding boat trips from Nong Kiaow to Muang Khua by boat.I’m going to be in Laos in January of 2016 and will be potentially trying to do this. Is this something that you did? I recently read that there was a dam project in the works along this route. Did you hear anything about this dam project. I’m hoping that if the dam is happening , that I can get there before it does.

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    • Hello Elliott, and welcome to my blog. I did indeed do this boat trip, in January of this year (2015):

      Dam construction was well underway upstream from the village of Muang Ngoi. There’s a photo in the post I wrote at the time:

      https://jillscene.com/2015/01/25/from-nong-khiaw-to-muang-khua-a-boat-lovers-dream-ride/

      As you will be able to see the river was almost closed off, there was just enough room for our boat to skirt around the dam.

      The locals we spoke to were hoping to provide a service which would mean catching the boat to the dam, a tuk tuk along the road past the dam, and then catching another boat on to Muang Khua. We heard of an existing similar arrangement between Luang Prabang and Nong Khiaw, although we didn’t do that ourselves. We caught a mini van for that part of our trip. We loved our time in Northern Laos. It’s a stunningly beautiful part of the world.

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  2. Yikes that is a high bridge. I have been on a few swing bridges but not out of choice. And I dislike those glass panels at Sky Tower. I used to connect via letters, then it was fax, then email and now it’s mostly Skype or Facebook. In my working days, the telex machine was the height of communication technology.

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  3. Jill of course I am very intrigued by the bridge and yes I would have gone on it I think. Like some curious cat I am and perhaps I hope I have nine lives. Thanks so much for showing the various perspectives.

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  4. Great photos. Can sympathize with the reluctance about the bridge. Love the mom and child and dog all on the bike. I used to chat lengthily on the phone. Now mainly use it for quick information exchanges. Facebook, Email and blog comments are the way I communicate mostly Love that we can send information and it can be read at the convenience and desire of the recipient. And so glad I lived long enough to be able to connect with people all over the world.

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    • Isn’t it marvellous, Eileen. I used to think the amount of change my grandmother saw (flight, to landing on the moon) was incredible but I think this generation have the potential to eclipse even that.

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  5. So lovely!

    With a thing about bridges and moving water, I highly recommend not going to the upper walkways of the Tower Bridge in London. They have glass panels in the floor looking down into the roadway crossing the bridge, and the moving Thames. Oh my goodness ugh!

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    • Thank-you for the invaluable advice, Elizabeth. Some people love that kind of thing. I was once at the top of the Sky Tower in Auckland—I saw people actually standing on glass panels like that. Me, I was clutching on to the furthest wall, like a limpet.

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  6. Wonderful photographs. What an amazing adventure this must have been. I doubt I could’ve managed those bridges either. I don’t like walking where I can see below my feet, especially when ‘below’ is several hundred feet down!

    As for how I stay in touch, it’s mostly virtual. But my family is the same way, so it works out well. 🙂

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  7. Great post and wonderful photos Jill. I like the way you took the broad view of connections. I grew up in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, a city with more bridges than any other in the world. Bridges, rickety or otherwise fascinate me to this day. Thanks again for taking us along with you!

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