From the Laos border town Huay Xai, I took a 2-day slow boat trip to Luang Prabang. By the time I stepped out of the overcrowded boat with hundreds of noisy western tourists after the first day, I decided to detour and go the local way. At Pakbeng, I befriended a local university student who let me stay in her 'new' family guesthouse. I joined her family for dinner that night. Next morning, we went to the morning market and she sent me off in a minibus to Odomxai.
Like many other small towns in northern Laos, Odomxai striked me as rural China as I walked down the main street looking for a guesthouse. The large Chinese and Vietnam population settled years ago show their prosperity with gated 2-story concrete houses along the main street, as compared to the Laos who stay in wooden and bamboo houses on dirt roads. High trunks carrying construction materials from China are common sight. There are not much to do here since I'm only passing by. So I walked up to the temple to watch sunset.
The following day, after a bus ride with beautiful scenery from Odomxai to Pekmong, and pick-up truck to Nong Kiew where the road construction had stopped. A 45-minute boat ride along Nam Ou (River Ou) later, I arrived in Muang Ngoi. Not knowing anything about it except it was recommended by my guidebook.
It was love at first sight. Surrounded by limestone mountains and a beautiful river with water strikingly clear, Muang Ngoi is what I leave my home for. It was a place to forget about stress, unhappiness and worries. I dropped my backpack and swinged around on the hammock outside my $2/night room, watching locals and naked children bathing and laughing in the river and secretly wish that I can stay forever...
There is no advertisment, no cars, no motorcycles, no mobile reception and no internet here. Most people still rely on farming, fishing and hunting for a living. Satellite TVs showing mostly Thai /Chinese TV shows, music videos, movies and football games are most people nightly entertainment. Because of my limited Lao single-word vocabulary, most people talked about Hong Kong movie stars with me.
Chicken fed on uncooked rice. Cats and dogs walk around freely looking for leftover food. Ducks walk down to the river for daily swim. Herds of buffalos bath and lay under the sun to dry off.
Next morning, I trekked to the nearby Tom Khang Cave where locals hide inside for 12 years during the Vietnam War when Americans bomb this area for no particular strategic reason. We lunched in a small village with a few Canadian French, visited more villages and headed back.
My next venture is a fishing and camping trip. I followed the local fishermen upstream, watched them fish the traditional way using a net, fruitlessly for a few times. Finally, we caught two small fish. My guide used his multiuse knive to split and tied the fish skillfully on the bamboo and placed carefully on the fire. With fish soup were made with fresh herb picked nearby, bamboo shoot purchased from floating merchants, and of course, sticky rice, we dined with our hands under a million stars.
A few days later, I did an overnight trekking with a taiwanese girl whom I met at the Gibbon Experience but travelled separately until now. We trekked uphill for hours and finally arrived at a village called 'Kiawkan'.
Exhausted, we joined the locals at their good-luck festival right away and drank moonshine straight from the jar with a 1m straw. It is a tradition to circulate Lao Lao (local moonshine) or Beer Lao during lunch or dinner. We had a delicious family dinner at the chief's house and talked over Chinese radio stations before going to sleep. More Lao Lao of course... Next morning, we watched breakfast prepared over wooden fire, filled our stomach and headed back downhill to Muang Ngoi.
Time flies here. There is always something to do. One morning, the hunters drowned a pocupine and we all helped pucking the needles, cleaned and cooked. Everyone treat me like family.
Other days, I helped out at my friend's restaurant as waitress, watched and learned food preparation and cooking in a small and basic kitchen. (While most of us would not even know what to begin with to cook given the facilities here, 'professional' locals make it look so easy.)
Sometime, I'm invited to dinners at local fishermen houses when big fishes are caught while other times, I indulged myself on noodle made fresh from sticky rice. Then drained my energy playing with little children.
Life should be simple afterall. I think I found my happiness and my future home. It must be fate that took me to Muang Ngoi.