I am now in busy Luang Prabang having been cut off from the world for a few blissful days. I left Luang Namtha on an old local bus that had a rather cranky sounding gearbox but it was still lovely to sit back and observe the scenery. So many winding mountain roads with everyday village life carrying on by the roadside, it was quite relaxing between the grinding noises. Also on the bus were 2 of the Swiss girls I met on the trek although I left them to carry on their journey to Luang Prabang. I decided to search out this idyllic riverside village I'd read about in my guidebook but to get there wasn't all that straight forward. The bus left me (and a Dutch girl called Maaika) in a tiny place called Pak Mong and from there we had to take a share tuktuk to a place called Nong Khiaw where we stayed for the night. It was interesting. The road was just a dirt track and basic wooden huts like something from medieval times and the guesthouse owners weren't all that friendly. The lady took to breastfeeding both her newborn and her toddler at the same time at the front of the property! The "bungalows" were basic to say the least but at least they had mosquito nets and no rats (like some we heard about later!)
Next morning I was packed and ready to get on the boat upstream to Muang Ngoi - my intended destination. I waved goodbye to Maaika who was taking the slow boat to Luang Prabang before climbing aboard my much smaller, and rather more cramped boat. Luckily my journey was only an hour and it was very scenic. The river (the Nam Ou) is surrounded by mountains and the river was lively with people fishing, children playing and pigs and water buffalo wallowing. When I saw Muang Ngoi I thought it looked so lovely. It's a tiny place and I could see stilted bamboo huts up high overlooking the river. I knew I had to have one of those so as soon as I got off the boat I went and nabbed one. There was not a lot to it - bedlinen from 1983, a luminous pink mozzie net with lace trim and a bathroom to be shared with other guests and insects. But it had a veranda and best of all a hammock so I could just laze around all day and spy on the river folk. I did go and explore the village but there was only really one street and numerous little bungalow guesthouses and cafes. It really is a place to just unwind for a couple of days or weeks as some do. The whole time I was there I kept seeing this hippy type person in various locations around the village strumming his guitar. The only downside was my neighbours! There was a rather butch and unfriendly German girl next door at first. All she did was drink copious bottles of Beerlao and smoke in her hammock all day. She was replaced by a French couple and their 3 year old daughter (not friendly). They took the child out on a day trek thinking they were all intrepid and on their return sat out on the veranda looking at photos and videos of her on a small laptop. This was a place that only had electricity between 6 and 11 and no mobile connection. Food in the cafes was cooked on a wok over an open fire yet it was always delicious! On my second day there I met Claudia, the 3rd Swiss girl. We hung around for a few days and went to explore some caves behind the village. We also did a half day trek/kayak trip and that was lovely too. On the trek we visited an extremely pretty weaving village and another where we were surrounded by children. This may have been partly because I bought them some brightly coloured polystyrere sweets from their local shop. The kayaking was fun to do in such dramatic scenery and we stopped off at a sandy beach for lunch.
I finally drew myself away from that place a couple of days ago and Claudia and I then took the boat down to Luang Prabang. It was hot but a lovely way to to the journey. Arriving here felt like a total culture shock after Muang Ngoi especially as it was evening and I couldn't get my bearings! It didn't take me long to find the night market and I tried some street food which was good and cheap. I will leave the rest of my time in Luang Prabang for the next episode