Sunday, December 07, 2014

River trip

The agenda for the day that separated our 2 nights at Nong Khiaw (Laos) included a 1-hour boat ride up the Nam Ou River to check out the riverside village of Muang Ngoi Neua. We were told there was no road to the village so we could not take our motorcycle there. (We later discovered a dirt road in was almost complete.)

There was a flotilla of long, narrow, motorized riverboats that carried tourists, trekkers, and village people and cargo to various points up river. We crowded in with them to find a hard uncomfortable wood seat for the mostly mellow trip up the river with towering karst mountains as a backdrop to the first village about 15 km upstream.

Blue barge...

...beautiful backdrop

Along the way, we saw a smattering of inhabitants, their kids, some naked, using the banks and river as their playground. Sharing the scene were the occasional herds of water buffalo, some wallowing in the water like a Turkish bath.

Arriving at Muang Ngoi Neua, the boat pilot squeezed his way in to the docking area amongst all the other boats and we all hatched for our village experience. Up the long set of concrete stairs we climbed expecting to find a traditional village atmosphere. But we were quite surprised and disappointed to find what was once no doubt a somewhat undiscovered hamlet was now a well developed village of many guesthouses, restaurants and bars, and small shops catering to the ever increasing world traveller.

Muang Ngoi received permanent electricity as of April 2013 (compared to only 3 hours per evening) and they were embracing the benefit of it heartily. Houses were built of concrete or solid looking wood with only a few of bamboo. The lanes were dirt, shared by pedestrians, carts, and the odd scooter. That will soon change when the road in is completed.

Village dwelling

We waited till 14:00 to buy tickets for the return boat trip from the closed shop when we heard boats leaving (scheduled to leave at 15:00). Just then the ticket man showed up and said sorry, no more boats except a private charter and wanted to sell us tickets at 3 times the regular rate.

Jordan saw another boat coming down river so ignored the opportunist and we hoofed it to the wharf. We asked the pilot for a seat over the objections of the opportunist who followed but Jordan kept a barrier between him and the pilot till we made a deal and payment which was actually less than the prescribed rate.

All in all, it was a novel experience and we made the best of it even if it wasn't what we had been looking for. Again, as we should expect, the tentacles of the modern world are reaching further and further into the backwaters of remoteness and the inhabitants are embracing it, for better or worse.

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