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No Worries 'Mas o Menos' 2 years on the road, travelling South East Asia, China, South & Central America and who knows where after that... Photos at http://www.flickr.com/photos/dojo77/collections/

It's Laos Time

LAOS | Thursday, 25 June 2009 | Views [3465] | Comments [1]

We said our final farewell to Thailand and crossed the Mekong river in a 30 second long boat trip to arrive in Laos (pronounced cow with an L!). After getting our visas at immigration in Huay Xay we decided to catch a bus north rather than take the popular boat trip south down the Mekong, we didn't fancy sitting on a boat for 2 days in the rainy season. We were able to catch a mini bus to Luang Nam Tha and to also experience our first encounter with Laos time! We were told the bus would go in 10 mins, then another 10 mins and so on for an hour then suddenly we were told to get on the bus, go go go! We got on the bus, set off, but the driver stopped two minutes down the road to have a coffee with his friends! Off again and 5 mins later he stops and disappears for 10 mins only to return with his lunch in a bag, he had just popped home to see the wife! We eventually hit the road and had our first view of Laos scenery, lots of lush green hills, paddy fields and thick jungle foliage, along with twisty roads. We shared the trip with some Laos men, one of whom liked to fall asleep on Ryans shoulder and no matter how much he nudged him to get off he kept going back for a kip.

Luang Nam Tha

In Luang Nam Tha there are lots of trekking possibilities but due to the amount of rain we had over the last few days, we decided to give it a miss, especially when we heard the leech stories from other travellers. Instead, we hired bikes and did a day cycling around the villages and met lots of friendly people shouting 'Sabaidee' (Laos for hello, how are you and good bye all in one word).

We visited a waterfall that had a difficult cliff hugging steep path to get to it, only to discover the unsigned path the locals take is much easier and just a short 2 min flat walk around the corner, why they don't signpost that way I just don't know. Cycling back home we ran into some boys who decided to chase us down the street inventing a game I can only imagine was called 'Slap the Falang on the leg to try and knock her off her bike'! I was cycling so slowly it wasn't difficult for them to win points whilst giggling their heads off, but the road was so bumpy I had to concentrate on not falling off, but once I picked up speed I soon out cycled their running abilities, ha ha. Falang means foreigner in Laos and they like to use it a lot, often followed by laughter...nice to know we make people laugh.


The next day we set off for Udomxai and caught a 4 hour bus ride. Now four hours may sound quite far but we only covered about 120km, the road was so bumpy and windy we never travelled more than 30km/hour and had to use all our strength just to stay in the seat. I hit my head on the window twice and jumped out of my seat too many times to count, it felt like we needed rollercoaster harnesses to keep us in our seats. On arriving at Udomxai we decided to spend the night instead of taking another rollercoaster ride the same day. It was a nice little town to explore, no tourism but a small temple on a hill with fantastic 360 degree views of the area.

Plus a group of friendly monks playing with their dogs and cutting the grass very slowly with machetes.

For lunch we ate at a cheap food stall near the bus station that sold barbecued chicken and sticky rice. We ate all the chicken, apart from the........

The next day we got an early bus to Nong Khiaw, although by early of course it left 90 mins late on Laos time. We have no idea why but we think the driver was enjoying watching the boxing on TV as we didn’t leave until the match had finished and all the other delayed buses left at the same time!

Although we had fun watching the different buses getting loaded up for their journeys including one with a motorbike and another with about 100 tree saplings

Getting on the smallest bus at the station, we headed off into the wilderness. Yet again we stopped 5 mins down the road, then another 5 mins etc until about 30 mins later we eventually got going. The ride was on another bumpy road with more great scenery, I don’t think we will get bored of the Laos countryside, its so beautiful.

Nong Khiaw

The road passes through many villages with pigs, chickens and cows running around the place with the bus honking it's horn for them to move, with us only just missing quite a few of them. The villages are full of children looking after their half naked younger siblings and waiting for their parents to return from work in the fields.

We stopped a few times along the way to pick up hill tribe people with their sacks of belongings precariously balanced on top of the bus, but eventually made it to Nong Khiaw, a one dusty street town.

We were greeted with huge cliffs looming over the Nam Ou river and as we crossed the bridge to the other side of town we could do nothing more than stop and stare at the view, it was spectacular.

We found a nice little bungalow hut over looking the river.

And finished off the day by enjoying a BeerLao as the sunset

We spent a relaxing day reading, taking in village life and enjoying the food while planning the rest of our stay in Laos, and more beer, dark this time. The beer is so cheap here, this may be all we have to report for the rest of our time in Laos!

Muang Ngoi

We decided to head north up the river for an hour to Muang Ngoi. We were about to load onto the boat when torrential rain storm came, so we 'cleverly' rushed onto the boat to be undercover, while the driver and a few locals headed for dry land. Stupidly, we didn't notice the boat had no side protection so when the rain came in sideways we got absolutely drenched and we couldn't get off as the boat had drifted away from the shore. Finally we set off although still in the rain and heading into the eye of the storm, so the journey was very wet, we would have been just as wet swimming. Due to the rain there was lots of free flowing water and run off water from the shores. We headed towards some rapids and at one section a guy in the front shouted some orders back which we couldn’t understand. When we saw the size and speed of the rapids we were approaching I looked back at all the Lao men in the boat only to see them all praying! They must have known something we didn't but good job they did as we're not sure how we made it through them without capsizing. We arrived in Muang Ngoi (still not sure of the correct pronunciation) and the rain finally stopped and we found a bungalow overlooking the river, our cheapest yet at 2.40 pound a night, with a pet cat to make it more homely.

When we stopped to look at the view it was Amazing, totally stunning! We thought Nong Khiaw was beautiful but this was 100 times better, jaw droppingly majestic with sets of mountains looming over the river, not to over do the description!

After a stroll around town, a one street alley running alongside the river,

we decided that this would be the location of our first trek in Laos. We met a Dutch girl, Marieke, who joined the two of us to get the price of the trek cheaper and settled in for an early night to prepare. Well, I say early night, but only after about 2 hours of being on bug and slug patrol.

The next morning we met our guide, Peng, a local from the village. Our first stop was a cave that was inhabited during the 'secret war', a war that ran alongside the Vietnam war, but no information about the attacks by the US was ever released at the time, so the media never covered it. During the war, the area was bombarded by bombs so our guide lived in the cave from the age of 13 to 21 with his family and 80 other people.

It was a remarkable story. All they could eat was vegetables because the bombs destroyed the rice fields and they could only venture out to get food under the cover of darkness. He knows many people who were killed in the area and many more injured. We met one of his friends during our trek, who only had one arm. He had been in the military and shot at an American plane, only for it to turn around to find him and shoot off his arm.

The trek continued for an hour until we reached the rice fields, where we started the circus like balancing act of weaving in between the fields, careful not to step too close to the edge of the path as they easily fall away into the rice and mud. We also finally learnt and understood how rice grows after all this time in Asia! Even though the terrain was mostly flat we had to cross many rivers and learn more balancing skills when using bamboo poles to get across deep streams, I don't know how we managed to stay so dry, we should have fallen in!

Ryan thought he would perfect his flip flop trekking skills but was easily out done by a barefoot local!

The locals were happy to pick fruit for us to try including logans and jack fruit.

The trek passed through three villages

and at the last village we stopped for a refreshing drink and the man of the town offered us Lao Lao to drink, the local rice whisky. We were really dehydrated and it was hot, so Marieke and I declined but insisted Ryan would take one for the team. However, in Laos the locals always have two shots of everything because you have two legs, so it's not acceptable to drink just one you have to have two, one for each leg. I think it means if you have only one you will be lopsided so you have two to balance you out, or something like that...good on ya Ryan!

It was a fantastic trek and our guide was amazing, he knew enough English to tell us stories of his life and the area. On the way back our guide made us continue on our own as he needed a pit stop, so off we went adventuring only to run into a herd of water buffalo heading towards us and completely blocking the path, so after 2 mins on our own we were already shouting for Peng to help us. Luckily the herder came along and made the buffalo move over for us but they were so scared they just stood still. When they got the courage to come closer they dashed past at such a speed and all in different directions, the herder had to go chasing after them all.

We made it back in one piece after 10 hours of trekking through stunning scenery.

Muang Ngoi is a marvellous place to visit because the only access is by boat, so there are no cars or lorries passing by just the sound of cockerels crowing at all hours. 

After another good nights bug busting we headed back to Nong Khiaw to catch a bus to Sam Neua.

Laos Observations:

Sharing food - Lao like to share food with you. Our first bus driver shared his sweets with us. On the second bus journey the lads we were sitting with shared corn on the cob and mangoes with us. A tuk tuk driver saw us eating bananas for our breakfast and gave us some rambutans he had in his cab. On the third journey the bus driver bought some peaches for us from the village fruit sellers along the road side where some young entrepreneurs were trying to get in on the act.

Laos time - no watch can be set to Laos time, it’s impossible to predict. We asked our landlady in Nong Khiaw if she knew what time the bus left for Sam Neua and she said 7 maybe 8, actually it could leave at 11! The people in Laos are in no rush to get anywhere so you just have to sit back, relax and go with the flow, luckily we are in no hurry either so it's a good way of life.

Bath time - walk to the river with your basket filled with shampoo, soap and toothbrush, wash and clean, then walk back home, all in your undies or sarong. If the river is too far to walk to, just stop in the ditch on roadside or us a public tap in the village. Washing is a huge communal event and completely public. It's a time for kids to play and women to natter. We drove past one guy who was stood underneath a village tap, covered head to toe in lather, waving at our bus as we drove past, crazy! 

Dogs - puppies and young healthy looking dogs are in abundance here, and you often get puppies following you along the streets. However, we have never see any old dogs anywhere. Then we discovered why when passing a meat stall at a market, there was an entire dog chopped up waiting to be sold, including four paws chopped off and on offer...hmmm maybe time to turn vegetarian.

Rainy Season - you wouldn't think it would be much fun travelling in the rainy season...well you would be wrong, it's about 10 degrees cooler than before, yippee, not so much sweating involved, but still some. We can actually sleep without needing a fan or air con, it's wonderful, and all the scenery is lush and green instead of brown and dry.

Fireflies - I had never seen these before until Muang Ngoi and it took me an hour to realise they were flies and not alien like flashes of light in the dark sky.

We have reached the 6 month milestone of being on the road and we are really looking forward to another 6 months. To sum up our first impressions of Laos all I can say is WOW! A guy on a bus asked me if I was happy happy in Laos and I said I was having a very happy happy time!

Until next time

Jo & Ryan


Tags: beerlao, luang nam tha, muang ngoi, nong khiaw, udomxai




So many great memories coming back... The North East was really our favourite bit. By the way don't trust any guide books about timetables but rather ask the locals. The books may say that there is a daily bus but there may be just 1 every few days or once a week. And buy food to share yourself on every trip, people really appreciate it, especially fruits.

  Andrea Jul 2, 2009 8:58 PM

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