After two nights in Phongsali, our friend took us for a breakfast of noodle soup, then on a wild 30 minute ride down to the river town where we were to catch our boat. We arrived in time for our boat, but there was an issue with too many passengers for the one boat. We sat for over an hour on the hard benches in the boat, listening to the driver and others debate. They decided that we, the foreigners would have to pay the difference in the cost to operate a second boat. Even though we understood the whole conversation, we were powerless to stop being cheated, so ended up having to pay double what everyone else paid! So frustrating.
The river, however was stunningly gorgeous! The kids loved it as well, especially when we’d go down the rapids. We spent 3 days on the river (10+ hours of boat rides), stopping overnight at 3 different places along the way: Muang Khua, Muang Ngoi, and Nong Kiau.It was a welcome change of pace from the long windy bus rides. No one was in much of a hurry. We stopped to drop people off. We also stopped so that the driver could buy freshly caught fish from fishermen along the way. One driver also regularly stopped to net dead fish that were floating in the river. He put them up in front where he was sitting, providing an exquisite aroma for the passengers.We ate snacks, and shared with new friends. We waved at the kids swimming and playing in front of their villages along the way. We watched for the many water buffalo and kingfishers.
And we enjoyed the beautiful beaches and karst mountain formations. Again, pictures just don’t capture the beauty. Often the stops along the way took more than a couple minutes, so the kids enjoyed playing on the beaches and running around until it was time to take off again. Once we arrived at our destination for the day, we’d check into our guesthouse and head out for a swim and some dinner. These pictures are at Muang Ngoi, our second stop. The landscape was like a paradise. The third day, in Nong Kiau, it was blazing hot and we were all ready for a swim. We found the way down to the river, but the water near the trail was a bit stagnant and it was mud instead of sand. Ryan figured we could find a better swimming spot. We set off, walking through knee deep water with a slimy bottom, each carrying a kid. After a ways, I was losing my balance and stepped on something sharp and told Ryan I couldn’t go any further and that it wasn’t worth it. Ryan was determined not to give up on finding the best spot, so he went out on his own disappearing in grass over his head. After a while came back to report that he’d indeed found the perfect place. We only had to hike through tall grass, through some mud and across a lagoon.We had brought the blow up mattress to use as a raft for the kids, and Ryan convinced me that he could pull the two girls and I across the lagoon to get to the “private beach.” I agreed and we set out, Ryan pulling us, along with the dry bag with our other belongings. We must have been quite the sight, but we made it, and it was so worth it. The sand was so clean and the water was clear. There were shallow areas for the girls to play, and deeper spots, where the current wasn’t too fast, for us to cool off. And there was no way any tourists or locals were going to invade our secluded spot.The girls did enjoy waving at the a few passing boats. The next day, we made the final leg of our journey home. It was the worst section of travel out of the entire trip. There was a 3 hour stint of used-to-be-paved-road that was so bumpy that we would literally fly out of our seats while being jostled from side to side. After an hour of it, I started to get a bit panicky. I would’ve rather taken the 9.5 hour bus ride to Phongsali again, or walked if that were an option over this craziness. In the end I survived it with no ill effects, but would definitely not recommend that stretch of road to anyone in their 3rd trimester!
Have you traveled by boat before? How was your experience?
part 3 touring Northern Laos: down the Nam Ou River