touring Northern Laos: family accommodations

With around 20 hours on busses and tuktuks and over 10 hours on boats, you can imagine we also experienced a range of accommodations during our week touring Northern Laos.  2014-06-07 Northern Laos accommodations by Melissa CrossettSome of the guesthouses we stayed at were a little rough, but thankfully, the accommodations got progressively nicer each night of our trip.

Day 1: In Oudomxay we stayed at a nice guesthouse that was the only place we stayed with air conditioning the entire trip.  The girls enjoyed having a real shower with water pressure and hot water (as we all did!) The room had two twin beds and we made up beds on the floor for the girls using the extra blankets in the room as well as our blow up mattress and cushions from the chair covered  with sarongs.2014-06-07 Northern Laos accommodations by Melissa Crossett-2Day 2: In Phongsali after a very long bus ride, we checked into the guesthouse Ryan had stayed at the month before.  However, the upper level rooms where he had stayed previously were all full, so we were left with a lower level room.  Our room was tiny and there were two twin beds and no floor room.  So we had the girls share one, and Ryan and I shared one.  Let’s just say, it was a rough night.  The beds were rock hard, the bathroom stunk pretty badly, the sheets were sandy, and a 7 month pregnant woman and a full grown man don’t fit very comfortably in a small twin sized bed!2014-06-07 Northern Laos accommodations by Melissa Crossett-3 2014-06-07 Northern Laos accommodations by Melissa Crossett-4The girls, however, slept well, and we were excited that they did well sharing a bed for the first time, opening our options for the future.

Day 3: Our second night in Phongsali, we moved to a different guesthouse that had three twin beds.  Wohoo!  Ryan and I each had our own bed, and the girls shared again, except for during their naps.  Bonus: the sheets were cleaner and the bathroom didn’t smell as badly, though you had to be careful not to hit your head on the sink when trying to reach the toilet.  On the way out, Ryan trapped a cockroach under the cup in the bathroom as a surprise for the next guests!2014-06-07 Northern Laos accommodations by Melissa Crossett-52014-06-07 Northern Laos accommodations by Melissa Crossett-17Day 4: In Muang Khua we again found a guesthouse with a three twin bedroom.  Perfect!  Only challenge this time was the hotter weather now that we were out of the mountains.  Overall, we slept pretty well that night.2014-06-07 Northern Laos accommodations by Melissa Crossett-6 2014-06-07 Northern Laos accommodations by Melissa Crossett-8 Day 5: In Muang Ngoi, we stayed at a bungalow facing the river with its own little balcony.  The balcony was a nice place for Ryan and I to hang out while the girls slept.  Here it was another hot night, and we were back to sharing a twin bed, but we still sleep alright.  2014-06-07 Northern Laos accommodations by Melissa Crossett-112014-06-07 Northern Laos accommodations by Melissa Crossett-9(not sure how she ended up with the comforter on in that temperature!)

Day 6: The last night of our journey, we stayed in some beautiful bungalows in Nong Kiau.  The room was huge, had a wonderful bathroom with a rain style shower head and very hot water.  The challenge here, was twofold: the bugs and the heat.  There was a beautiful mosquito net on the king bed, but you couldn’t feel the fan through it.  So you had to choose between getting eaten by mosquitos, or sweating the night away.  The kids slept on small mattresses on the floor that were in the room already.  Very convenient.

2014-06-07 Northern Laos accommodations by Melissa Crossett-12 We chose to use the mosquito net, but in the end I got very little sleep because of the heat.  It’s hard to sleep when you just can’t stop sweating. 2014-06-07 Northern Laos accommodations by Melissa Crossett-14 2014-06-07 Northern Laos accommodations by Melissa Crossett-13The large balcony was a great feature of these bungalows.2014-06-07 Northern Laos accommodations by Melissa Crossett-15Our tour of Northern Laos was definitely an adventure for our family in every department, but we’re so glad we took the trip and enjoyed so much of it.  We were so happy with how well the girls did with the whole trip, and love it that they can share a bed when needed.  After a week on the road, it was nice to get back to our own rooms, fans, and screened windows!

Where do your kids sleep when you travel?  Really, I want to know!

part 1 touring Northern Laos: packing light

part 2 touring Northern Laos: Phongsali

part 3 touring Northern Laos: down the Nam Ou River

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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

touring Northern Laos: Phongsali

We thought we could make it all the way to Phongsali in one day, but after learning the bus schedules, we realized we’d need to spend one night in another town on the way there.  It was just as well, because the next day to Phongsali we were on this ancient bus for nine and a half hours!  If someone drove themselves and didn’t stop much, they could make it in around five hours, but that was not the case for us on this beater!  Maybe the dining room set on the roof affected the aerodynamics.

2014-05-27 Phongsali by Melissa CrossettIt was actually nice not knowing ahead of time how long the journey would end up being.  Better finding out after there’s no turning back.  And, the kids actually did great.  I think I was possibly getting more stir crazy than they were for the last couple of hours.  We stopped often, though, giving me plenty of opportunity to stretch my legs and for everyone to use the bathroom.  Along the way we picked up passengers and their live animals, and dropped them off again.

2014-05-27 Phongsali by Melissa Crossett-2We arrived in Phongsali just before dusk, checked in to our less than awesome guesthouse (more on that later), found some dinner and went to bed.  We spent the next morning walking around this quaint mountain town.  It is honestly one of the most fascinating places we’ve ever visited.  2014-05-27 Phongsali by Melissa Crossett-4We ran into this beautiful Akha woman selling eggplants as well as a few handicrafts.  She wasn’t putting on a show with her traditional clothing, as there are hardly any tourists there.  This is just the way she dresses.  2014-05-27 Phongsali by Melissa Crossett-3 2014-05-27 Phongsali by Melissa Crossett-5We wandered the old cobblestone streets that were put in by the French back when Laos was a colony.2014-05-27 Phongsali by Melissa Crossett-6The houses were a mix of old painted wooden houses, 2014-05-27 Phongsali by Melissa Crossett-7 2014-05-27 Phongsali by Melissa Crossett-8French colonial houses (this was actually the French military leader’s house), 2014-05-27 Phongsali by Melissa Crossett-13and Chinese houses. 2014-05-27 Phongsali by Melissa Crossett-9I could’ve taken pictures for days, but still feel like the pictures just don’t do the town justice.  It is so culturally, historically and visually rich.  You’ll just have to go see it for yourself. 2014-05-27 Phongsali by Melissa Crossett-10 2014-05-27 Phongsali by Melissa Crossett-11Chicken flew the coop. 2014-05-27 Phongsali by Melissa Crossett-12 On our self-tour we came across a group of ladies sorting through their tea leaves. 2014-05-27 Phongsali by Melissa Crossett-15Phongsali is famous for its tea trees, some of which are said to be from 400-1000 years old! There was tea out drying on bamboo mats and baskets all over town.
2014-05-27 Phongsali by Melissa Crossett-14We stopped by the little fresh market and drew a crowd of friendly ladies eager to share their snacks with the girls.  They had a lot of questions as well.  The most common questions we are asked about our girls is are they ours and are they twins.  Yes and no.2014-05-27 Phongsali by Melissa Crossett-16In the evening, Ryan’s friend he had met on his previous trip took us to the top of the mountain which overlooks the town.  It was quite the wild ride getting up there!2014-05-27 Phongsali by Melissa Crossett-17But completely worth it.  The views were stunning. 2014-05-27 Phongsali by Melissa Crossett-18 2014-05-27 Phongsali by Melissa Crossett-19 2014-05-27 Phongsali by Melissa Crossett-20Then we finished the day with a Lao barbecue dinner, complete with “pork breast.”  I wasn’t entirely thrilled about our friend’s choice of menu, but actually when it’s grilled to a crisp, and smothered in the restaurant’s secret sauce, it isn’t half bad!

What’s the most interesting place you’ve visited?  Would you be up for eating some pork breast?

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

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

2014-05-26 packing light by Melissa Crossett-6

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