16th – 22nd September 2013
Meet the Mighty Mekong
Day 22 sees us again catching The Green Bus. This time to Chiang Kong on the Thai/Laos border. Our guesthouse has a large balcony overlooking the Mighty Mekong. It is exciting to look over the broad, brown, waters to another country – a brand new adventure. We realise that this will really be, where a new untrodden path will begin.
We have a meal nearby and find ourselves next to some locals celebrating a birthday. A Thai whisky bottle (you buy and store it at the restaurant here, then just buy mixers), is getting emptier, as the frivolity escalates. We join in the singing and to the boys delight, they each receive a large slice of cake. Felix says, “…and it’s not even my birthday.” with a broad cake covered smile.
Hell Ride to Luang Namtha
Up early to the border and suddenly over to Laos. Another round of copious form filling, visa’s, money exchange and we are ready to go. Now it’s the choice of catching a tuk tuk to the bus station or catching a mini bus directly. We opt for a minibus. An option we are later to regret. So after a few hours rest where we eat, Graham & boys climb to a temple and we watch the crazy hub bub of the port – all our luggage crammed into a mini van followed by us and we are finally off to Luang Namtha.
We are lulled into a false sense of security with a calm start, where we picked up the last passenger. Then begins one of the most harrowing rides of our life. Dangerous speeds, tyres crunching on gravel, horns blaring at tiny children in small villages… – all the horror stories about mini bus drivers come true. Luckily, although all nauseous, we survive the three hour ride and with much relief stagger off the bus.Then comes haggling a price to town, a good 10km away. Unfortunately, we know we are being overcharged but are too shell-shocked to care. One other backpacker joins us, an Aussie girl who tells the story of losing all her cards and being skint, till she sorts it out. Luckily, she negotiates a good price in our tuk tuk deal.
Our guest house was a recommendation from a helpful local on couchsurfing and turns out to be a good one. It is right in the centre of the main town opposite the colourful night markets. On signing in, we are advised to go have dinner at Lai’s Place and it doesn’t disappoint. We are looking forward to the morning and exploring this wild west style town.
Morning comes on day 24 and the boys want to stay put, so its homework, blog writing, emails and a short walk out for lunch. Graham has a long solo walk to the Nam Tha river, a small temple and through the burbs.
This evening we are out to the night markets – a real highlight of our stay and the best evening place in town for a cheap chow down. At this point we are craving meat as most meals here contain very little or are vegetarian. We are tempted into buying a whole roast chicken (chopped and presented on banana leaves), some roast pork, baskets of sticky rice, fruit shakes and a large bottle of Lao beer. Heaven. The boys do their own shopping for desserts. We try a sweet sago/coconut type soup and glutinous rice strips in grated coconut. Yum… Then back home do complete our Etax return.
After our quiet day yesterday we plan a day trip. We hire a private tuk tuk and head out to for a short tour around Luang Namtha. First a very bumpy off-road ride including a shallow river crossing to Nam Dee falls. There is not a soul in sight as we treck up to the falls. We cross bamboo bridges and some water covered stepping stones to enjoy the peaceful falls. Our driver soon appears and keeps a distant caring eye on us. As we pass peaceful village life, we dream of watching sunset on one of the many bamboo rest huts overlooking the luscious, green fields of rice.
Next a climb up the Stupa on the hill with peaceful views over the fields. The original Stupa here was almost completely bombed during the war. A new one now exists in a tranquil green setting. Then down a dirt road to visit an Akha Hilltribe village. At first the people are timid but we are followed by the children as we leave and on crossing the river stop to watch some girls fishing with nets. Some younger girls are at the waters edge. As it’s a hot day, our boys strip down to jocks and have a splash too. This gets more children joining us and the fun begins. It is wonderful to see children so happy with nature, friendship and community despite the lack of materialistic goods.
During our short time in Luang Namtha we had many heart felt experiences. We often met the famous Akha tribe sisters who along with others ply their goods, sometimes forcefully. Still we grew fond of one lady (even her blackened teeth smile) and the boys bought bracelets from her, at what we knew was too high a price. A great roadside local meal made by a warm, happy “big mummer” cook. Lucas also played Lao checkers and drew a crowd as he played the Lao/Australian local championship on the street with beer bottle caps as counters. (Checkers are big here in Lao, but the game allows capturing backwards, etc). At the guesthouse we also met “Iphone” (his mother swears this is his name?) a young chubby six month old which we enjoyed admiring.
Although not obviously pretty this town holds many such charms…
Day 26 and up and out early for breakfast, then local bus (we have learnt our mini van lesson for now), to even more remote Nong Khiaw. The bus ride had lots of bumps, but breathtaking; mountain, village and crop filled views. Long but ultimately enjoyable.
Nong Khiaw is set in spectacular scenery, at the foot of huge, multilayered, mountains and along side the tranquil Nam Ou River. We stayed in a locally owned guesthouse here but almost all of the eats and sleeps are on the eastern side of the river, across a concrete road bridge in Ban Sop Houn. Our guest house owner the well Known Mr M, is fluent in English but a forceful salesman. We have a few tense exchanges, rejecting his frequent sales pitches. Our room is cramped but the view is wonderful, so at a bartered 60,000kip or about AUD$9, we are not complaining. After a rest we enjoy a sunset walk across the bridge and dinner at CT’s.
Today we embark on a the fabled 100 Waterfalls trek. It proves to be a hard but wonderful day and a true highlight of our time in Laos. Some of the scenes were so surreally beautiful it was like being in a dream. It really had it all, and is the biggest adventure we have had as yet in Laos. We have included an outline of it here but please read our feature post for the big picture. Boat one hour each way to Don Khmu village, a trek along the irrigation channels, across the rice paddies, into the forest, up the waterfalls – literally, a banana leaf blanket picnic deep in the jungle, the boys survive leeches then exhausted but exhilarated home. We were so very proud of our boys as it was no small feat. They truly are our pint-sized super heros.
Obviously the next day we decide not to depart and have a day of rest. A chance to make plans and a catch up on homework for the boys. A fabulous dinner at Deens Indian Restaurant and then to bed with dreams of the our rivertrip ahead. The slowboat to Luang Prabang.