Indochina Day Eleven
12.02.2020 - 12.02.2020
Nong Khiaw sunrise
View from our deck, early morning
Clearly something I ate yesterday disagreed with me - my suspicions lay with the lunchtime sandwich as my symptoms started too soon to be linked to dinner. Either way, it made for interrupted sleep and a skipped breakfast for the second time on this trip.
But at least we had a relaxing day ahead, travelling mostly by boat from Nong Khiaw up the Nam Ou. We boarded our small wooden boat right by the Riverside Resort where we had spent the night, descending the steep bank via some surprisingly stable earth and wood steps. Once on board and moving I was glad I had wrapped up a bit, wearing the fleece I had packed and had started to think I might never need!
The Riverside Resort from the river, and bulbul
Low misty clouds were still lingering around the mountains, making for a very atmospheric landscape. In places the river was quite shallow and our boatman, Mr La, had to take things slowly so as not to scrape the bottom of the boat. Lee explained that this was due to another dam being built by the Chinese a little way upstream. As with the one we had seen yesterday, this was causing a lot of problems for the local people, with falling river levels here and rising ones above the dam.
Nam Ou scenery
Life by the Nam Ou
The boat went at quite a good steady pace. From time to time we passed small villages or individual subsistence farms, and occasionally saw people down at the water's edge - washing clothes, maintaining their small boats or setting out in one of them. But much of the time we were simply watching the wooded hills drift by, enjoying the movement of the boat and soaking up the atmosphere. I loved it, and it was the perfect way to spend a morning after a wakeful night in the bathroom!
On the Nam Ou
The plan had been to stop off to visit a village, Sop Chem, and then continue in the boat to just below the dam from where a truck would take us the short distance around it to a point where we could board a second boat. But with the water levels this low it was decided that we would be better off taking the truck from Sop Chem for the remaining part of the journey below the dam.
Landing at Sop Chem
~ our boat is the one in the centre of the shot, with Mr La tidying up after our departure
But before that we had the chance to stroll through the village and take some photos. The women here are all weavers, and several were at their looms in front of their houses, while displays of finished fabrics lined the street. The women were happy to be photographed at their work, although no doubt they hoped I might buy something in return – I'm afraid to say they hoped in vain, as there is only so much that I want to buy while travelling!
Looking up the main street
One of the weavers
Weaving in Sop Chem
Shops in Sop Chem
Looking back down the main street
~ you can see how small the village is, and how dominated by weaving
When we reached the top of the village our truck hadn't yet arrived, so Lee suggested we pay a brief visit to the village primary school nearby. It was break time so we didn't see any lessons, but a teacher sitting at the edge of the play area welcomed us to take photos and explained (via Lee's translation) that the school had 40 pupils split across six classes, and three teachers – presumably each teacher supervises two classes.
School children in the playground
This child didn't seem to want to play
By now our truck had arrived so we climbed in and set off on possibly the bumpiest ride I have ever experienced! The combination of very rough road, un-sprung lorry bed and narrow plastic bench made staying seated very challenging indeed!
Dam under construction
~ we boarded our second boat here (the front one on the left of shot)
Back on the water
Once past the dam however we could board our second boat. It was warmer by now but I was still glad of my fleece. As we rode up the now much deeper river Lee pointed out some planks of wood scattered on the bank and a small temple. This was all that remained of a village that had been evacuated, as once the dam is finished in three years’ time this land will be underwater, and the temple submerged like the one we had seen yesterday.
Temple and abandoned village
Another temple, further upstream, and a village high enough to be safe from the rising water levels
We pulled over at a sandy spot where we could get off and sit in the shade to eat our lunch – or rather, Chris and Lee ate, as I decided it would be sensible to pass on the fried rice packed for us earlier that day by the hotel (Chris reported that it tasted good and had even stayed warm in its polystyrene box!)
View from our lunch spot
After lunch we continued, passing through several rocky stretches where locals were panning for gold. Lee said that they did quite often find some, and on the Mekong too.
Panning for gold
Soon after this we disembarked for the final time, in Muang Khua. Mr Ha, our driver, met us here with the car (and our luggage) and we drove the remaining distance to our hotel along winding roads through a string of small villages. We stopped in one of these, Pak Nam Noy, to stretch our legs and then continued, arriving at Muang La around 2.30.
River view, Pak Nam Noy
Road sign in Pak Nam Noy
~ not far from the border
Muang La is a small village in the far north of Laos, not far from the country’s borders with Myanmar, China and Vietnam, and surrounded by mountains inhabited by several different ethnic tribes. On the edge of the village is the lodge, opened in 2008 and run on eco and ethical principles. The majority of the staff come from the local village and receive training appropriate to their role as well as support to develop their skills. Food is sourced from local producers or grown in the lodge garden by ‘expert Khamu [one of the ethnic tribes] village farmers’, as the website says. The lodge was designed and built in a way that preserved access to the hot springs for the villagers who have traditionally used these waters for both bathing and for health benefits.
This was one of our 'splurge' accommodations on this trip, and from the start we could see that we were staying somewhere rather special. We were welcomed by the American manager who gave us cold towels, welcome drinks (a local fruit, and ginger) and showed us around the property. There was a private island reached by bamboo bridge, with a small pool; hot tubs fed by natural springs in the river; a spa and herbal steam room, and more.
Our room was beautiful and designed in the traditional style, with a large bathroom, balcony and all mod cons. Very different from last night's simple bungalow!
Our room at Muang La
And our bathroom
We had another look around on our own and took a few photos, relaxed a while in the room, and then went out again just before sunset as the manager had told us the views from the lookout building on the island were good around then. The river view was nice, but we found it more interesting to watch the local kids splashing in the water, and a woman crossing with her baby on her back, looking a bit like a female Lao St Christopher!
Crossing the river
Sunset over the river
Stays here include a five-course tasting menu dinner, a fusion of Lao and French cuisine. My stomach hadn't fully settled but I wanted to at least sample the food, and of course there was nothing wrong with Chris! So we went over to the restaurant area around seven and had a meal that even in my delicate state I found delicious, although I rationed myself carefully and steered clear of a few things – which pleased Chris, as he got extra!
We walked back to our room through the prettily lit gardens to find that, as we had anticipated, there had been a turn-down visit, although sadly without the usual chocolate on the pillow. But we did have a helpful weather forecast for tomorrow (chilly at first, then hot and sunny), slippers, and an oil burner had been lit – to ward off biting insects, I assumed.