After a few days in Luang Prabang we continued our trip by boat along the Nam Ou (river Ou). The Ou river, one of the most important rivers in Lao, rises in China and flows south through the northernmost part of Laos before joining the Mekong. The scenery alongside the river is impressive and very dramatic. The imposing mountains, the deep forests, the emerald water make this an idyllic journey. In comparison to Mekong’s riverside we found the banks of Nam Ou much more alive and populated. Many small villages grow on the slopes of the mountains and extend to the banks of the rivers, being the land, the cattle and fishing their only way of making a living.
The boats that cross the waters of this river are quite small in comparison to the ones that travel on the Mekong, and normally the boats don’t carry more than 8 to 10 passengers what makes the journey much more relaxed and enjoyable. We started our trip around 9am and with only one stop to empty our bladders, It took us around 7h to reach Nong Khiaw, where we were going to spend the night. On the boat we run into Meritxel and Xavi from Catalunia, who are also doing a round the world trip like us. After sharing our itineraries it looks like we will probably meet again!
This small town is set in a beautiful location, surrounded by high limestone mountains, divided in two by the Nam Ou and only linked by a bridge from which one can observe wonderful sunsets. The real Lao charm of the town can still be found to the west of the river, where locals still live in their traditional bamboo houses, kids play at school, women make and sundry crackers with river-weed… To the west, the town is starting to be crammed with guest houses, bungalows and restaurants, so it’s where most of the tourists stay.
Instead of heading to Muang Khoua directly, we decided to stay one day and rent a couple of bicycles to explore Nong Khiaw and its neighboring villages. We weren’t disappointed with our decision! Not only because of the beautiful scenery, but also because we enjoyed cycling through the very Lao villages and learning a little bit more about how Lao people live. We saw them picking bamboo and making brooms from flax, we saw locals carrying pigs in their bikes, the children curious saying Sabaidee constantly and running to shake our hands, we ate a wonderful foe and a very strong and sweet iced coffee all made by the sweetest Lao grandma…
Although we truly enjoyed our short stay in Nong Khiaw, we had to move on and keep going towards Muang Khoua (our Visa is only for 30 days and there are still many places we want to visit in Lao). So we headed towards the boatjetty to buy our tickets without really knowing if there would be a boat for Muang Khoua or not (the boats only leave if there are enough people to make it economically worthwhile). But I guess that the luck was on our side that day and after a bit of mayhem on the jetty trying to organize the boats we were on our way to Muang Khoua. And while the 6h boat trip along the Ou river this time wasn’t as spectacular as on previous days we still liked it.
Muang Khoua was smaller and far less touristy than we expected. With no more than half a dozen of guest houses it took us a little bit of time to settle for one of them. After traveling in India and Nepal I can tell you we are not picky at all when it comes to choosing a room to sleep. But for some reason after being used to the standards of Luang Prabang and Nong Khiaw… we felt the accommodation in Muang Khoua was a little bit poor. Anyway, attracted by the fact that we were in a remote town far away from tourist influence we decided to stop in this little town for two nights. We wandered around the village, visited the market, crossed to the other side of the river, we saw the locals playing petanque (which the Lao have inherited from the French). We also saw many children playing with rubber bands, some of them were betting them while playing cards, others were using them as slingshots, others were throwing their flip flops targeting the bands… Nice to see how children are happy with so little and how they still use their creativity!
To put an end to our route along the river Ou we shared travelers stories and a beer during our last dinner in Muang Khoua with Beat, a Swiss who we met on the boat the day before and who is traveling for 2 months around South East Asia. Definitely a lovely few days along Nam Ou and a great introduction to the real Lao life!
Nong Khiaw, Phulisack guest house – Nice guest house set on the west side of the village. We paid 70.000 Kips per night for a double room with attached bathroom and hot shower. The rooms were spacious and clean. We even had a little verandah with a table and a couple of chairs that we used for blogging. Free drinking water was available. Food at the restaurant in front of the guest house was pretty tasty.
Muang Khoua, Ketsana Guest House – Guest house just beside the hanging bridge, hidden away from the main road. Pretty basic but clean. Although we had an attached bathroom with shower and Asian toilet, we didn’t have hot water. But we could used the shared bathroom where they have an electric shower, note that electricity in town comes and goes. Watch out for the mosquitos! We paid 50.000 Kips per night.