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Mong Ngoi

LAOS | Thursday, 16 November 2006 | Views [1577]

The mountains along the river

The mountains along the river

They say flattery will get you everywhere. We think that in this case it's true. We arrived in Luang Prubang with the intention to settle down for a week and enjoy the UNESCO world heritage city. On first arrival it seemed very beautiful with temples on every corner and tasteful architecture. We spent some time wandering in the night market and picking up a few souveneirs, Gary practised his haggling and we got Rudi a birthday present. However, our plans were soon to be jolted when that night as we were having dinner and beer lao with Rudi & Christian (our travelling friends from Norway)they mentioned the trekking they were planning to do with some people they had met. 'You know, we'd prefer to go with you guys' Christian said and before long we had been persuaded. After a bit of budget juggling and a few drinks we were making plans for the trek. The next day we began to shop around for the best deal, it began to unfold that the best treks were not to be had in the Luang Prubang area and that it would be better to get a bus up North to a place called Nong Khiaw from where you catch a boat to a village called Mong Ngoi. Maybe it was the heat but we thought this sounded fun.

At 10 the next morning we were crowding onto the mini bus to take us on our adventure. We don't think they have a cap on the amount of tickets they sell because they definitely had more people than seats and Rudi and Christian ended up on plastic seats in the aisle. The boat journey from Nong Khiaw to Mong Ngoi was absolutely beautiful. It lasted about an hour in a long boat. The water was like glass and either side was bordered with lush jungle draped mountains. We passed kids bathing and buffalo relaxing. Mong Ngoi itself was very quiet, there were animals everywhere (particularly lots of cockerels who like to wake everyone up at 4am) and lots of $2 a night bungalows. Gary was feeling particularly brave as he decided to sign us up for one. It was ok and Mama (our host) was very lovely and hospitable. We met an Israeli Chinese medicine doctor in the next bungalow and Gary sat talking to him all night, well after 'lights out' (about 9.30pm) which was when the village electricity generator was switched off and it was candles or nothing! We didn't get much sleep that night because the frogs on the river were really loud.

The next morning Deena, Gary, Rudi and Christian all set out for the trek. We met our guides, Vita (an ex-monk of five years) and Pho Sai who didn't speak any English but helped carry supplies and knew all about the jungle. First we visited a cave which was where many people hid during the Indo-China war, it was very deep and we didn't go in very far.Cool, though. Then we walked through rice fields for an hour or so, their crops were sticky rice (we hadn't even realised it was a different plant) and we saw some villagers working the fields, hard work! Then we stopped off for lunch at a small village. We were greeted by the village chief and sat down to eat our fried rice. some kids became interested and one asked for a pen, which I gladly handed over - we drew 'tatoos' on his hands and arms. While strolling around the village we picked up some more kids who joined us and we sat talking with them for some time before they dragged us along to the chief's house to watch a war documentary. It seemed like all the kids in the village were gathered around this tv.

In the afternoon we began the trek for real. Three hours and mostly uphill - Deena thought she wouldn't make it! But we took breaks and managed not to die, we were all in high spirits so it was ok. Some of the climbs were almost vertical though and we weren't used to it at all. The views were truly spectacular, something that you don't imagine exists in reality - only on tv documentaries. But we were there on top of the mountains sorrounded by jungle. At about 5pm we got to a monority group village where we were staying the night. The people are called Khmu and they are originally from cambodia, they speak a different language from Laos people (however they all speak Lao too). When we first arrived they were in the middle of volleyball-like game, however it wasn't volleyball - you were only allowed to use legs and head to get the ball over the net. The ball was made out of bamboo. It looked hard and they players were very skilled, practically doing backflips getting it over the net. We then went to the Chief's house and he greeted us. We sat outside taking it all in while they prepared our dinner. It seemed like an idyllic life on the surface of it all - everyone living together with sturdy bamboo homes and plentiful animals everywhere. They cooked over an open fire for us. After a delicious dinner (they even provided vegetarian food for Deena) the Chief and his wife sat down with us to share some Laolao (sticky rice whiskey) and chat. He was good at English as he had studied a long time in Vietnam. They were very kind, friendly and hopsitable - we felt very humble. Afterwards there was more Laolao and singing and chatting around a campfire well into the night. The stars looked extraordinary from the top of mountain and we were sure that we could see the milky way. We had never seen a sky like that!

Next morning we were tired and smelly but happy, drinking coffee around the remains fo the campfire sitting with the dogs. We had a quick breakfast and then we were off again for more trekking. It seemed a lot harder than the day before - probably the accumulation of yesterday and not much sleep . About an hour of the trek was wading through a river. We hadn't been pre-warned about this and (apart from Rudi who must have been a very good boyscout - be prepared) none of us had sandals so we were barefoot. The rocks were quite sharp and Deena and Gary were being quite slow and ended up way behind the others. Gary's feet were really sore. Pho Sai was catching crabs along the way, although once he mistaked a snake hole for a crab hole. Gary wanted to poke the snake with a stick but we persuaded him to move on - probably a better idea! (Gary still disagrees). After much hard work we finally reached the end of the trek with jelly for legs, burning faces, stinking to high heaven. Luckily it all ended on a beach along the river. The water (though freezing) was divine! And it felt so good to get clean. We had potato curry and rice and more coffee before the final boat ride back to Mong Ngoi. The trek was hard, but worth it. The experience was something we will never forget.

Back at Mong Ngoi we booked into the most expensive hotel ($5) with dreams of a hot shower, but it wasn't to be. At least it was sparkling clean. That night we had one last final farewell dinner with Rudi and Christian who we have grown quite attached to. It will be strange travelling without them as we have been together throughout Laos.

The next day we made our way back to Luang Prubang in a converted truck which we shared with other travellers, locals and even some chickens and ducks. Luang Prubang hasn't been very lucky for us - we got sold ANOTHER lot of dud batteries (batteries have been the bane of our life here) and got a $50 note that no-one would change although we finally managed to get rid of it, and we got a bathroom where the water won't drain. But we think most of all we're tired and we've been here a month now and it's starting to hit us. We're starting to miss things from home. We'll be over it in a few days though (we hope)and it's probably just the after effects of the hard trek, the Laolao and long journeys. Tomorrow we're making our way back to Vientiane for our final days in Laos before Vietnam! Hopefully the change of scenery will refresh us a bit!  

Tags: Adventures

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Deena Gary Charlie and Dax in the garden in Colchester, Essex

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