Monday 11th April
Booked the slow boat to Nong Khiaw today. It is to take between 5-7 hours. It is supposed to be one of the best boat trips in Laos, the ticket cost us 120,000 kip each. We arrive at the harbour for 8.30am and they take us down to a small, rickety boat with tiny, child like seats. There are another 3 passengers going to Nong Khiaw. The driver asks us all to pay an extra 20,000 kip each as there needs to be a minimum of 6 people for the boat to leave. It is so small inside the boat. You can't move much or it rocks side to side. After heading up the Mekong River for about 5 minutes we stop and change boats. Then after 10 minutes we stop and wait for fuel for another 30 minutes. So after an hour we are only 10 minutes away from where we started. It's the Laos way!
The scenery is breathtaking. We pass many rural villages. The cliffs on the rivers edge are so large and tall and very beautiful. Some parts of the river are so calm you can see the reflection of the cliffs and trees on the surface. There are many buffalos in the water taking relief from the hot sun. They all stare as we go past. We see many people in the water fishing with small handheld nets. Some of them dissapear under the water for what seems like ages. Further up the river there are people panning for gold. There are hundreds of them on either side of the river. As we go past the children all waves at us. It is great to watch the children playing in the river, they all look so happy.
We then stop a secluded stop for a toilet break. As I hide behind a bush a family of wild pigs come rushing out of the bushes. I nearly have a heart attack. As it is dry season part of the river are very shallow. At one point the driver jumps out of the boat and starts pushing it by hand. We all jump into the river and help him push the boat through the shallow water. It felt so surreal standing in the middle of the river pushing this boat. It was really good fun though.
It has now been 5 hours on the boat. There is nowhere to lie down on the boat so you need to sit upright constantly. We stop and pick up some locals along the way and then drop them off up river, adding more time to our journey. It has now been 7 hours. It was only supposed to take 6! There are a lot of dark rain clouds ahead. As we approach the heavens open and the rain comes crashing down.
We arrive at Nong Khiaw 8hours and 30 minutes after we left Luang Prabang. That was the longest boat journey ever (well it felt like it!). It's still raining but it keeps me nice and cool. We cross the large bridge as most accommodation is on the other side. We choose to stay at 'Sunrise Bungalows'. It is a wooden bungalow on stilts. It has a very basic bathroom and double bed (with mosquito net). It is only 60,000 kip a night so can't complain. The best thing about this bungalow is the view right over the river. It is beautiful. There are also hammocks on the balcony. Most of the accommodation here seems to be pretty basic. We meet a women called Basha (from Melbourne) who was on our boat from Luang Prabang, she is also staying at Sunrise. We all go out for dinner.
Tuesday 12th April
Today Henry, Basha and I are going to the 'Patok Cave'. It is a huge, multi-level cave where the villagers hid out during the second Indochina War. It is a small walk to the cave. It is pretty cool. There are signs in different sections of the cave saying what each part was. Can't believe people lived here. There is a fenced area outside and a guide explains to us that there is still an unexploded bomb there. Pretty scary. There is one part of the cave which is covered with bullet marks.
We go back to our bungalow and meet and Irish man called Noel. He explains to us that the owners son recently got married and as a wedding present he gave them a small plot of land opposite the bungalows to build a restaurant on. Their names are Toui and Joy. They are so nice. Noel came here on holiday but found out Toui needed some help so he has been helping him build for around a week. Henry was just saying he wanted to do some work, so this could be perfect.
Wednesday 13th April
Henry is going to help Toui and Noel build the restaurant. We go with them to collect some bamboo on the other side of the bridge. We only have a small hand pushed trailer to carry the wood in. I decide to get a Lao massage whilst the boys work away. Joy asks Henry, Noel and I to have lunch with them. They makes lots of different Lao food. There is lots of sticky rice, papaya salad, grilled fish, boiled veg, bamboo shoots and lots more. Toui has also asked us to join them for dinner in the evening. He is going to make us a special duck curry - YUM! Before dinner Henry, Noel and I go to the local herbal sauna. It is a rustic Swedish sauna with a whole in the floor where the fire was. Above the fire were hot stones, water and the herbs to provide us with the steam/smoke for the sauna. The smell of herbs were very powerful. After 5 minutes you didn't notice the strong smell. It was pitch dark also. Last abut 30 minutes and then head back to bungalows to get ready for dinner. Toui is busy making us the curry. It smells delicious. We all sit around the table and eat our meal. It's fantastic! We are all off to Muang Noi tomorrow. Toui, Joy, Noel, Henry and I are all going. There are some big new year celebrations that Toui wants to take us to.
Thursday 14th April
Muang Noi is only an hours boat journey up river. We all head down to the waterside to catch the boat. We all have to get into the water to get into the boat. Everyone is squashed up. There are no seats. We arrive and stay at Rainbow guesthouse. Toui's friend owns it. We stay upstairs and it has a large communal balcony with great views. We only get electricity here from 6-9pm.
Friday 15th April
We get up early to go out for breakfast. Toui has asked us to join him with friends for a breakfast new year drink! We arrive and everyone is sitting on the floor around the table. They are eating cat fish soup and fried fish with chilli sauce, wasabi. There is also green veg they eat with tiny apple like things. You eat the veg and apple together. It is a weird combination. They also have friend buffalo hyde. They are delicious. They kind of look like crackling. They are very hard to chew! Everyone is very welcoming and friendly. They pass around a glass of Lao Lao to everyone. There is one glass and it's tradition that when you are passed the glass you have to finish it in one - Great - It's 10am and we are going to be steaming lol. After quite a few Lao Lao we all say goodbye. Thank god, I couldn't drink anymore, it smelt like white spirit and they make it themselves. We head back to Rainbow guest house to see when Noel, Toui and Joy's boat is leaving. NO boats at the moment they are told as their huge new year party is on the otherside of the river at 2.00pm and everyone is going. Back at the guesthouse everyone is invited to sit around a low table on the floor. They have food for everyone - watermelon, soup, salad, eggs and lots more. Then they start to pass round Beer Lao. Again when you are given the glass you have to finish the glass in one. By 1.00pm everyone is very merry! Everyone in their hundreds start to head down to the water to get a boat to the otherside. There are open tents, music and hundreds of bottles of Beer Lao. It is tradition to soak everyone with water to wish the good luck for the new year. We are all soaked right through before we even get off the boat. It is all good fun and everyone is very happy. People are building sand temples to worship later. It is very impressive. If you stand too close to the water you get pulled or pushed in. It is funny to watch. Joy takes my arm and drags me into the water. We are soaked from head to toe. Everyone is dancing and singing. It is nice to be a part of it. The monks have arrived to lead the ceremony around the sand made temples. I go with Noel and Joy to pray to Buddha. The guys manage to find a boat home to Nong Khiaw so Henry and I decide to go too as we as the only 'phalang' (white people/foreigners) left. We meet a few other travellers later that night in the bar next to our guesthouse. We meet a mother and daughter - Shachar and Anat from Isareal, they are hoping to get a boat to Muang Khua tomorrow too.
Saturday 16th April
We head down to the boat office to see if there is a boat running - IT IS - great! It will cost us 150,000 kip as there is only 5 of us. The boat leaves at 10am and there is Henry, Shachar and her mother and Scottish Eilidh. The journey takes between 5/6 hours As we arrive here is ANOTHER new year party going on. We head up to the first guest house and it starts pouring with rain. There are massive hailstones. Never seen them this big and then the power goes off because of the weather. Our guesthouse is a dump but it's only 50,000 kip and we are leaving tomorrow on the public bus to Vietnam. We have found out it leaves at 5am tomorrow morning! No in Muang Khua very long but it is horrible. It is dirty and the people are rude. Do not come here is you don't have to.
Sunday 17th April
UP EARLY! Get a small boat over to the otherside of the river. The bus is already there. It seats 20 people but there is around 30-40 people waiting to get on. We need to get on the bus as we need to get to Vietnam. There are lots of women at the doors of the bus - old and young. They open the doors and everyone goes crazy. The women are pulling each others hair and punching people to get them out the way. It is scary! We decide to climb in the window as it's safer. All the men do the same. This is not a good start. All the back 2 rows on the bus have no seats as they have been pilled to window level with everyone's luggage, plus it mean they can fit more people in by sitting on top of this. Everyone is squashed up in a small little space. My knees are tucked up to my chest and I can hardly move. There is nowhere to put my legs but have them close to my chest. Henry sits half out the window so he can fit. Every so often I would feel a foot under my bottom and on my back. Not nice!! There is no way I can sit like this or 9 HOURS. I will die by then. We stop an hour up the road and the locals fill the bus with even more crap. There is also a flat tyre so that needs to be changed. We again climb through the window and onto the bus back into our squashed little section of the bus. A few hours later and there is a landslide on the road, great MORE delays. This keeps getting better and better. We head off again so back in the window. This bus is so dangerous.
We reach the first part of the Lao/Vietnam border. Everyone gets off the bus again and hands in their passports. We wait an hour to get processed and we all get back on the bus. Back in the window again. 10 minutes later we get to the Vietnam border. Again everyone gets off the bus and heads into the office to get processed and check visas etc. There is nobody there. Ahhh it is lunchtime so they are making us wait. 30 minutes later they grace us with their presence. We all wait an further 45 minutes and all get back on the bus. Only a few hours to Dien Bien Phu - can't wait to get off this bus before I kill someone. I miss Lao already! Hello Vietnam.