Wednesday, January 2, 2008

Muang Ngoi Neua

We left Lam Nam Tha without breakfast to catch a bus to Nong Khiaw. Luckily, or so we thought, a bus station vendor was serving glass noodle and meat dim sums. After her initial bite, Laura bailed on the tasty breakfast so I lucked into a full dim sum. Little did I know I'd be seeing it again! Our bus ride was six to seven hours long and during the last couple hours, nausea came and went. When we finally arrived to Nong Khiaw, I was feeling whoozy with a headache. Was it the long trip or that tasty dim sum? We went to our long-awaited dinner where the soft Lao background music sounded like my brother's trumpet next to my ear. I bailed on dinner, raced back to our room, and saw my morning dim sum once again. It was a relief to have it out. I guess Laura's previous experiences have rewarded her with a sixth sense to questionable treats. Nong Khiaw is a town divided by the Nam Ou river.

A Chinese-built bridge has made the town an important trading center.

We were interested in hopping onto a boat for Muang Ngoi Neua, a do-it-yourself trekking town only accessible by river. It seems we weren't the only ones with this idea.

Our boat was so full going up-river that we had to leave the boat and walk one stretch of rapids because the boat was too low. It was worth it to arrive at the peaceful village.

The village is about one kilometer long. The north side of the village has a riverside beach and inland from the beach is a wat. There, we saw monks chanting during meditation.

The south side of the town has access to an endless network of trails through hill tribe villages. We picked up two travel companions on our way to Nong Khiaw, San Francisco Joe and Parisian Jerome. The four of us hiked to a large cave where a stream exited and a Buddha image was worshiped.

Laura and I continued on to a huge rice field surrounded by karst cliffs.

Signs pointed us towards guesthouses in the remote villages that harvested the rice.

The village people were welcoming and we sat down at a couple of restaurant/bars for a drink. The network of trails used by these villages was extensive. It would be an amazing area to explore for a longer period of time. What is incredible is how all transport to/from these villages is by foot. What do people do if a serious injury or illness occurs? On our hike, we saw a group of twenty villagers carrying a teenage boy in a stretcher along the path. The boy had his eyes closed and appeared in serious pain. The villagers were moving rapidly along the path; their faces didn't have the gentle smiles we've become accustomed to in Asia. Could this boy have a potentially fatal injury or illness?

The following morning, we woke up with the gong of the local wat in Muang Ngoi Neua. This signals villagers that the monks are coming to collect alms from the Buddhist worshipers. Their bright saffron robes and chanting brought the village to life as they made their way through the one kilometer main street.

That morning we left the hills of Muang Ngoi Neua for a boat trip down the Nam Ou river to Luang Prabang, a former Lao capital full of French colonial buildings and Buddhist wats. The boat ride consisted of spectacular hill scenery, Lao fishermen and riverweed collectors,

and great conversation with San Francisco Joe and Parisian Jerome.

Now, a break from the travel blog to discuss some unwelcome sights in Laos. Did you know that Laos is one of the most bombed nations in the world? It was heavily bombed by the United States during the Vietnam war to attempt to deter Viet Cong supply routes. Unexploded Ordnance (UXO) signs and vehicles are commonplace in Laos; UXO Lao is responsible for safing Laos land from unexploded bombs (land mines, cluster bombs, mortar shells, aircraft bombs, etc.) This pile of steel was found next to our guesthouse in Muang Ngoi Neua.

When Joe asked, "What are these?" The response from the guesthouse owner was "Bombs left by your country." Needless to say, the bombs are still an issue in Laos today (164 casualties in 2005). Seeing the danger we've left behind makes me realize going to war should be a serious decision made with all consequences taken into account. Imagine not being able to visit Maine forests or Yellowstone backcountry because an unexploded bomb could be nearby. It was nice to see one Laotian found a positive use for the mess we left behind.

1 comment:

Greg said...

Great blog. Ends on real sobber note, which is not a bad thing.

YEP - War truly is hell. Wish there were no need ever again. Like wishing for human nature ... greed ..... to change.