“Let’s do something different. I don’t want to leave Laos saying that I only visited the tourist spots of Vientiane and Luang Prabang…” That was how Martin convinced me that we simply had to go north and experience what the Lonely Planet had talked up as two beautiful gems of northern Laos: Nong Khiaw and Muang Khua (pronounced like the Mmmmwa which fashionistas moan as they kiss one another plus ‘ng’. Repeat: Muang (‘Mmmmwang’), followed by the equally chic sounding Khua (pronounced ‘croix’, as in Christian Lacroix). I should have known…
Two consecutive days on boats fit for 4-6 people, which actually carried up to 30 people plus luggage! Travelling upstream along a river with numerous rapids (our motor straining against the current!), and not a life jacket in sight. Sharing boats with livestock, bare bottomed toddlers and tribes people, from the middle of nowhere, who spent the first hours staring at us like we had just landed from outer space. Sitting in one position unable to move because the human cargo was so tightly packed in. Sleeping in accommodation which now pushes the teahouse near Everest Base Camp out of 1st place as the coldest, most depressing and uncomfortable accommodation I have EVER experienced. It was certainly an experience to remember.
When I first saw the boat to Muang Khua, I felt like a participant on candid camera. I wanted to laugh, protest and get out my camera – all at the same time. Could this be serious? How on earth were we two going to fit into a boat which was already loaded down with cargo, more people than I could count and which looked like its final voyage was imminent?
Unfortunately, I was unable to snap a pic quickly enough before we were impatiently herded onboard. I spieed on small space, perhaps 30 cm wide, in the middle of the boat. Before I could get there it was taken. What were we to do now? Of course we had to do what everyone in Asia from Tokyo to Delhi, Bangkok to Beijing, learns from the youngest age – we had to MAKE ourselves fit. Swinging a muddy hiking boot toward the hoard of people who were already onboard, caused the crowd to magically part so that about 10 cm of wood became visible. I then eased myself between a man and a young girl, leaving Martin to do the same on the other side of the boat. The first rule in Asia: There is always space.
Once on the tired looking vessel, I thought it inappropriate for us to get out the camera, as we did not know whether the locals had any superstitions about lenses and did not want to get off to a bad start with the people we would be spending the next seven hours with.
With interest the other passengers surveyed us. We two foreigners were like TV to them. Every move, sneeze, gesture and word was eagerly devoured. I must admit that watching the other passengers was also quite interesting for us too.