It was time to leave Sapa in northern Vietnam. My passport was running out and as much as I loved the place it was time to move on. I would be back.
Lao was next on my list and I had a plan for taking a river route through Lao on the river Nam Ou. The bus dropped me off in a town called Muang Khua. No bus station, no bus stop nothing to even let you know a bus even stopped here. I was the only tourist who got off the bus. I knew I could catch a boat from here to Muang Ngoi but I could not even see where the river was. Across the dirt road a man came over. I asked about the boat to Muang Gnoi on the Nam Ou river. Its out of season I was told. Only one boat 9.30 in the morning. Bugger it.
“You want a room?”
“40,000” Sound a lot yes. Its about £3. What had I to lose.
He took me down a lane between two shops and there was a suspension bridge with rickety boards with gaps where you could see the river Nam Ou dozens of meters below. On the other side it got worse. No paved road or path, just mud soaked now as it was the rainy season. A smile came to my face. I had been spoilt with my time in Thailand and Vietnam this was the basic Asia I had come to see more unspoilt by human hand (if you discount the horrible bombing by the Americans). I looked left then right. Mud road lead off into the distance at either side. I turned left and followed my new landlord. Doubts were starting to enter my mind. What would the digs be like. I need not of worried. It was basic but the view from the windows made up for it perched high above the Nam Ou river.
Next day I got up early to find the boat. I could not even find the man to pay him so I gave the money for the bungalow and the meal I had to the cleaning girl and went to get the boat down to Muang Ngoi. The boat is long and narrow with small narrow wooden benches at either side to sit on. It was nearly a 4 hour journey. No one was comfortable but the views as the river and the occasional fishing village went past helped.
Then the next stop Muang Ngoi. Now this is quite an amazing place. Until this year it had no roads leading to it and the one now is only a dirt road so no one owns a car and only a few just recently have started owning mopeds. The roads are all dirt roads there are only two. One leading out of town and another running behind the first set of houses parrallel to the river. Expect chickens in you way when you leave your room, iffy electricity (the town virtually goes to sleep when the sun sets) and basic accommodation. There are plenty of restaurants and a bit of street food in the evening also no wifi. Altogether the town has a lazy laidback feel to it.
Getting off the boat a rather attractive Lao woman with an umbrella to keep the sun off came up to me and offered me a room. Does it have a view? Yes she replied in her soft voice. Well the voice alone sold it, and the price 30,000 Baht about £2.20. The bungalow had a view over the river and its own balcony and a hammock. SCORE!
I lounged around a few days and finally decided to book a fishing trip with this guy Mao who had been pestering me. It was either that or trekking and I had already been to see the cave and the local Hmong village myself. We travel down the river and this is no lie he had forgotten the fishing rods and only had the local nets and I tried but I was useless so he left me on a rock in the middle of the river while he went back. Nearly half an hour I was there with people passing on boats staring at the crazy falang stood in the middle of the river. One boat with tourist even got their cameras out and took pics. Anyway we didn’t catch much but a local fisherman shared some of his catch with us and we cooked and ate it on the river bank which was pretty cool.
Well it was time to move on to my final stop on the River Nam Ou, Nong Khiaw. Only an hour or so down river. More tourist driven then the other two towns but none of the charm of Muang Ngoi. Some decent restaurants, no pubs and my room had no view this time but was more modern with wifi. Here I took one trek to see the local cave then the next day I decided to go up the mountain to the local view point. above the town. You have to pay to go up but you are given a walking cane made from bamboo to help and I am so glad they did. “One hour forty five minute” the man who took my money and gave me my cane said, giving me the time it would take to get to the top. No Problem.
Three quarters of the way up it started to rain. A gentle rainfall that started to make the route very slippery. A couple came the other way and told me I was nearly there. Great I thought. No point stopping now so up I continued. Yes the view was stunning, yes I am glad I did it, no I did not look so happy when I had finally made it to the bottom. The rain had gotten heavier and heavier and made the way treacherous. Several times I would of fallen if not for the cane, several times I fell despite the cane. I got to the bottom in a grand total time of 2 hrs 55minutes. SCORE!
I am now covered from head to foot in mud. The rain has finally stopped and bits of it are starting to flake off. There is a big grin on my face as I finally reach the guest house and there is the lady owner waiting for me with outstretched arm as though ready to give me a hug. She’s not she is just blocking my way so i don’t get mud into her hotel. We play a quick cat and mouse game with me dodging to me left, her dodging to her right, me dodging to my right her dodging to her left before I realise what she wants. I have to go around the corner to a hose pipe and strip off and wash the mud off before I am allowed back into my room.
So ends my final day on the river Nam Ou. Next stop Luang Prabang.