Monthly archive for September 2012

Nong Khiew and Muang Noi

Another flash-back to a month or two ago in which footnotes are footnoted.

















Rush hour,  Main street, Muang Noi

After a delightful 6 hour sojourn at the Oudomxay bus station, we managed to haggle our way onto a Vientiane bound bus that would drop us at some middle-of-nowhere intersection from where we were assured we could wrangle a tuk-tuk to Nong Khiew. This situation arose despite the board at the bus station showing no less than 6 daily departures direct to Nong Khiew, one of which we even managed to purchase a ticket for at one point (see point 3 here).

I mostly dealt with this wait and the ensuing 7 hours or so of bus by gorging on bamboo tubes packed full of sweet, purple, sticky rice  (one of the world’s great somnambulants).

What we were seeking in these parts, the North East of Laos, was the fabled ‘off the beaten path’* and we more or less found it. Muang Noi, an hour or so (depending on how many locals/livestock/sacks of rice you need to take on along the way) up river from Niong Kiaw is accessible only by boat. Once there, your recreational options (for those that can’t be assed/can’t afford the trekking options on offer) are basically limited to:

1. drink beer
2. eat food
3. watch the river go by.

So that’s what we did. We may have stayed for days if it weren’t for a Dengue fever scare which sent us scuttling back toward civilisation the next day. The plan was to do this by boat, heading down to Luang Prabang along the heavily swollen Nam Ou river. Laos being Laos of course, the boat wasn’t running that day so we ended up chartering a mini-van with a bunch of other stranded travellers. It was not nearly as scenic as I’m sure the boat would have been, but on the upside it cost less, was indescribably more comfortable and only took half the time.** Plus those magic words “air conditioning”. So I’m calling that a win.

*…’but not so much so that there aren’t a few decent guesthouses and english language menus and maybe an ATM thanks’
** largely due to what was easily the most aggressive driving we experienced in Laos. We reached 60 km/hr at several points.***
*** On a single lane, partially sealed road, around each blind-corner of which frolicked errant children and livestock.

Just realised that…

Our plan to train from Hanoi to Beijing (via Nanning) falls smack bang in the middle of national day holiday (which is a week long, of course).

An initial check had revealed that our train options for the 36 hour Nanning to Beijing leg are limited to sharing one ‘hard seat’* or clinging to the roof.

This could get interesting.

*ie an unpadded wooden bench shared with at least three others and designed by someone who was either abused by an ergonomist as a child or believes that good Chinese spines are rodd straight and bend at 90 degrees exactly.


(a bit) Oudomshite.

Sarah, not impressed

This place basically exists as a transit hub for northern Laos and southern China. The roads are generally good (if serpentine) an accordingly are choked with traffic. Apparently the surrounding hills serve up some nice trekking but the town itself is about as good of a dusty, grey dystopia of socialist non-planning as you’re likely to see outside of China.

Our stop there was only as long as to get the bus out the next day (which almost didn’t happen) but at least in the meantime we got to enjoy this magnificent vista:

Room with a view

And the promise of delicious, fresh and one assumes, electric, eels on tap (a promise that was unfulfilled, as was that of hot water)

up inside ya

In short: did not like.

The purple sticky rice at the bus station was pretty good, if a little turdy.

skeptical but ultimately satisfied

Street eats Pt 1


This particular delicacy was obtained at a small stall a couple hundred meters from Saigon’s museum of the American War. Of the dozen or so ingredients, I can confirm that the brown cubes are jellied blood, there’s some tomatoes, definitely a sprout or two and the rest is mystery meat paste and other miscellaneous edibles. Sarah didnt finish hers. Paired with a warm coke and costing about a dollar, I rate this three blood cubes out of a possible what the hell is that.

Changes – afoot


So I’m now about 2 countries behind on this thing, and lacking the time and inclination really to catch up (sitting in an internet cafe when it’s 30 degrees outside and I can hear the waves lapping on the beach feels suspiciously like work).

This was never supposed to be a traditional “we went there then we did that” travel diary and it’s sort of turning into one so I’m gonna change things up a little, appeal more to the contemporary attention span (chiefly mine) by posting shorter, less chronological and hopefully more regular bits and pieces, not necessarily anything to do with what we did or where we went or anything at all in particular.

For those still interested in the more traditional format,  I’ll post a list of the cities we’ve visited/will visit and you can check out the Wikipedia page and any number of other travel blogs which are most likely better written/more interesting than this one.

That said I have a few posts in draft form that I’ll probably bang up in the next couple o’ days, hopefully rounding out Laos at least.


Luang Namtha

Something like 6 heavily compressed, bone shaking, windy ascending hours north of Huay Xai is Luang Namtha.

Luang Namtha is nestled within the Nam Ha National Biodiversity Reserve and it was here we made our first unsuccessful attempt to book a kayaking trip.

With that idea shot down, and the thought of trekking through knee-high leechmud not really appealing, we figured that Luang Namtha was pretty much a wash. In the end all we could do was:

Gorge ourselves on delicious foods (and some larvae)!













Ride bikes through beautiful fields!









Watch children (clad only in crude garments spun from the purest MS Paint) frolicking in dangerously swollen waterways!












Mis-judge the depth of dangerously swollen waterways and plunge in up to our (well, my) necks destroying valuable electronic equipment!



Admire the efforts of fellow brick-makers!










Stare at majestic vistas!










Consult maps!










Climb lots of stairs!












Enjoy the local statuary!





























In conclusion: Spend some time in Luang Namtha. It’s pretty great.

Huay Xai or Houay Xay or Houei Sai











Whatever you want to call it, this is where we made landfall in Laos after our first (of many) crossings of the Mekong.

It’s a good place to:

- Sample your first Beer Lao

- Allow the local mosquito population their first sample of you

- Try and forget the three Thai words you learned and use that memory space to pack in three Laos words.

Most people head on to Luang Prabang from here, via the slow boat. We opted for the slow bus instead, north to Luang Namtha.

And that’s about it for Huay Xai (or Houay Sai or…).

Don’t worry, Laos gets better. Then worse. Then better again.

Where were we?

Oh yeah Laos.