touring Northern Laos: down the Nam Ou River

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.

2014-06-02 Nam Ou River by Melissa Crossett-25The river, however was stunningly gorgeous!   2014-06-02 Nam Ou River by Melissa Crossett-22014-06-02 Nam Ou River by Melissa CrossettThe kids loved it as well, especially when we’d go down the rapids. 2014-06-02 Nam Ou River by Melissa Crossett-4 2014-06-02 Nam Ou River by Melissa Crossett-3We 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.2014-06-02 Nam Ou River by Melissa Crossett-5It was a welcome change of pace from the long windy bus rides. 2014-06-02 Nam Ou River by Melissa Crossett-6No 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.2014-06-02 Nam Ou River by Melissa Crossett-7We ate snacks, and shared with new friends.  2014-06-02 Nam Ou River by Melissa Crossett-8 2014-06-02 Nam Ou River by Melissa Crossett-9We waved at the kids swimming and playing in front of their villages along the way.  We watched for the many water buffalo and kingfishers.

2014-06-02 Nam Ou River by Melissa Crossett-12And we enjoyed the beautiful beaches and karst mountain formations.  Again, pictures just don’t capture the beauty. 2014-06-02 Nam Ou River by Melissa Crossett-13Often 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. 2014-06-02 Nam Ou River by Melissa Crossett-14 2014-06-02 Nam Ou River by Melissa Crossett-15Once we arrived at our destination for the day, we’d check into our guesthouse and head out for a swim and some dinner.   2014-06-02 Nam Ou River by Melissa Crossett-16 2014-06-02 Nam Ou River by Melissa Crossett-17 2014-06-02 Nam Ou River by Melissa Crossett-18These pictures are at Muang Ngoi, our second stop.  The landscape was like a paradise. 2014-06-02 Nam Ou River by Melissa Crossett-19 2014-06-02 Nam Ou River by Melissa Crossett-20The 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.2014-06-02 Nam Ou River by Melissa Crossett-21We 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.2014-06-02 Nam Ou River by Melissa Crossett-22The girls did enjoy waving at the a few passing boats. 2014-06-02 Nam Ou River by Melissa Crossett-23The 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 1 touring Northern Laos: packing light

part 2 touring Northern Laos: Phongsali

part 3 touring Northern Laos: down the Nam Ou River

part 4 touring Northern Laos: family accommodations

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touring Northern Laos: packing light

Did you miss me last week?  We were gone all week on a family tour of Northern Laos.  Ryan had done the same trip last month and decided he wanted to take us along to see it before we head back to the US this summer.  We had an awesome trip (aside from a few rough spots.)  I’ll be telling you all about it this week.

First, I’m going to tell you what we took with us.  We knew we’d be on and off many different modes of transportation: buses, tuktuks and boats, so we wanted to pack as light as possible.  We ended up with 3 small bags:

1 duffel bag
1 daypack
1 purse 2014-05-26 packing light by Melissa Crossett-7It was very convenient to only have these bags, especially since we often had to pick up the kids or help them on and off our rides. What did we fit in these three bags?  Just enough for a week of travel.

In the duffel we packed:
1 outfit per day for Elise (a few less for the rest of us)
1 toiletry bag for the whole family
1 small pouch of hair things
1 inflatable toddler mattress
1 blanket
1 sarong
swimwear
phone chargers

In the backpack:
ipad
headphones
dslr camera
2 sarongs
water
homeopathic motion sickness medicine
passports
guidebook
Ryan’s clothes
headlamp

In my purse:
notebooks and crayons
plastic animals
snacks
a pouch containing wet wipes, chapstick, money, bib, mosquito repellent, barf bags, phone etc..
sunscreen

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2014-05-26 packing light by Melissa Crossett-5We had some laundry done at one stop, and another time we washed a few things in the sink.2014-05-26 packing light by Melissa Crossett-4We brought very few toys for the kids.  They were happy with their notebooks, crayons, and plastic animals while waiting at restaurants.  2014-05-26 packing light by Melissa Crossett-2-2 On the long bus rides, they kept entertained with audiobooks, music, snacks and a few games on the ipad.  They also took a number of naps on the road.  2014-05-26 packing light by Melissa Crossett-10We bought snacks as we went from the bus or boat stops like seasonal fruit, nuts, homemade rice crackers and smoked meat.

The most useful item we packed?  Our three sarongs.2014-05-26 packing light by Melissa Crossett-9They are just simple strips of fabric.  Each one is a different shape and fabric.  One is sewn into a tube.  They pack up very flat, dry quickly and have so many uses!  I can’t recommend them enough.2014-05-26 packing light by Melissa Crossett-8We used them as pillows on the buses and boats, towels, sheets, picnic blankets, rain cover2014-05-26 packing light by Melissa Crossett-3and in the past we’ve used them as baby carriers2014-05-26 packing light by Melissa Crossett 2014-05-26 packing light by Melissa Crossett-2We would consider them an essential travel item.

That was all we brought.  It’s the lightest we’ve ever packed for that length of time.  The only thing I wished I had brought was a sun hat for Elise as it was blazing hot some days (and she has very white skin).  And my plastic flip flops that I chose as my only pair of shoes ended up wearing down a bit too much.

In the next few days, I’ll be telling you more about where we went, what we saw and how we slept.

What do you pack for a week long trip?  What are your essential travel items?

part 1 touring Northern Laos: packing light

part 2 touring Northern Laos: Phongsali

part 3 touring Northern Laos: down the Nam Ou River

part 4 touring Northern Laos: family accommodations

10 tips for traveling with little kids {what we do}

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I, by no means, have learned everything about traveling smoothly with little ones, but I thought I’d share what has worked for us over the years.  We’ve been traveling internationally since Talia was 8 months old. Now Talia is 4.5 and Elise is 2 and we have clocked a lot of flight time and stayed in too many hotels to count.

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1. First of all (and I’m still trying to learn this one): don’t expect everything to go smoothly or you will be disappointed.  I find if I prepare myself for some difficulty or inconvenience, it’s much easier to handle.

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2. Spend a lot of time talking about it with your kids and answering questions before hand.  My oldest always has lots of questions.  If she knows what the general plan is, she does much better with the trip and is able to be a more of a help.

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3. If possible, schedule travel times around nap times.  We like to try to arrive at our hotel in time for an afternoon nap.  Obviously, this isn’t always possible and sometimes timezones make afternoon meaningless.
4. When we can, we like to break up a long trip into a few short days.  It can be somewhat less tiring and allows time to do a few fun things along the way.

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5. Always pack activities and healthy snacks for the trip.

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7. I don’t know about the rest of the world, but in Asia, extra bedding is often hard to come by in hotels, so we pack our own bedding for the kids.  We use a kidco peapod until our child is out of their crib, and then a small inflatable mattress.

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8. Get creative.  We’ve gotten pretty good through the years at rearranging our hotel room to give each child their own space.

2013-01-01-41629. Turn on the white noise.  We have an app for that.
10. We make sure to pack the kids’ ”security item”: stuffed animals and blankets.  It helps them feel comfortable to have their familiar items.

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Last resort: the tablet.  Our ipad has saved us on a number of occasions when the kids are so overtired and are completely miserable, unhappy, or beyond the point of reason.  A game or show can save everyone’s sanity.
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How do you travel with little ones?  I’d love to hear what works for you!  Leave me a note in the comments.

the long way

After almost two years teaching English in Bangkok, we decided to look for something different.  So, when we found a job opening in a rural town in Northern Laos, we were interested.  The position was for an eco-tourism company whose goal is to help the community and villages around it through their business.  That really excited us, so to make a long story short, we took the job.

But, before I talk about our new home, I need to tell you how we physically got here.  It was no simple task.  Of course we could’ve taken a couple of flights to get here, but after hearing you couldn’t get much here, we decided to bring a lot of our stuff from Bangkok along with us.  So, we came the long way.  We stayed in a few places along the way to make the trip easier on our family.

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We started planning a couple months in advance how to get our family and our things there without losing our sanity.

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We decided to hire a truck to take our things to the Thai/Lao border. We planned to meet it there to take our things across.  While the truck drove off with our belongings, we closed up our rental house, and made our way up to the airport.

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First, we took a flight up to Northern Thailand where we spent one night.

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The next morning, we went to the bus station to catch a bus to the border town.  Unfortunately, we missed the 9am bus by 5 minutes.  So, we settled in with some snacks and boarded the 10am bus after taking both girls to use the dirty squatty toilet bathrooms.  That’s a “how to” for another time!

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We arrived at the border town and took a tuktuk to our hotel, where we planned to stay one night before crossing into Laos.

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Plans changed, however, when we got a call that our house in Laos wasn’t ready for us.  The people living in it hadn’t moved out yet.  So, we booked 2 extra nights in the hotel and had a chance to catch our breath after the craziness of packing and moving. We explored around the little border town and enjoyed some beautiful scenery.

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We followed a sign for a lookout, but ended up on a muddy dead end.

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As we looked at Laos, just across the river.  We wondered what our new life would be like over there.

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Finally, the day came to cross the river, along with all of our belongings.  The moving truck met us at the landing with all 24 pieces that they’d picked up in Bangkok (yay!).  They took our stuff on one long tail boat, and we rode across on another.

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After getting our visas stamped in and getting taken by some opportunistic porters, we made it to the top of the hill, where a truck was waiting to take our belongings home.

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We had been thinking that we would take a bus, but the truck cab looked roomy enough for our family of 4, so we all hopped in.

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The drive through the mountains was stunning, but unfortunately, one of the girls’ tummies didn’t enjoy it so much! Finally, after 6 days of travel, and 7+ modes of transportation, we arrived at our new home and began the task of unpacking and setting up… which proved to be a little more work than we expected.