What should have been a straightforward five-minute tuk tuk ride down to the slow boat pier turned into a bit of a drama. All of the more rotund people occupied one side of the tuk tuk with the lighter people the other. There was also a fair bit of luggage aboard so when the driver eased up onto the curb to park, the luggage shifted over to the side that was still on the road, also where the heavier people were sitting. The vehicle was then at 45 degrees, Italian Job-style. A couple of passers-by helped hold the tuk tuk up while there was an emergency evacuation. Fortunately no damage was done! I did have a photo after we bailed out but that is a victim of my lost camera.
The slow boat along the Mekong River was really nice. It was great to sit back, relax and enjoy the scenery, which varied from lush farmland, a bit of jungle and some rugged hills. By mid-afternoon we’d arrived at the remote village of Ban Pak Nguey. Walking around, it’s definitely a simple life sort of place. Children play out in the streets and the joke of trying to pull your mate’s shorts down for a laugh is obviously culturally universal! In the past I’ve been slightly uncomfortable of visiting places where you’re gorping at the locals. However the people here seemed used to tourists and welcoming to a degree where it didn’t feel contrived or awkward.
We wandered back down to the river for a swim in the Mekong. While it looks a bit muddy if you cup your hands and take a closer look at the water it’s actually very clear. There’s no towns or industry nearby to pollute the water. There’s lots of fish, as was evident with them nibbling at your feet if you stay still for too long. The water was cold though which is understandable when you think that the river source is up in the Tibetan Himalayas. A pair of the younger lads in the group seem to enjoying any excuse to get naked so skinny dipping in the Mekong was undertaken, although I declined an invite to join them! This provided much amusement to passing by fishermen. Afterwards it was nice to enjoy a sunset beer among the stunning scenery.
I asked the guide Chao whether unexploded bombs or mines from the Vietnam War were an issue in the river. He said that everything had been cleared in this part of Laos. However in other areas, especially near the Vietnam border, it remains a huge issue. Sadly many people are still regularly killed or disabled as they farm. When Barrack Obama visited Laos a couple of years ago he pledged substantial funds to help make the land safe. The Lao people seem slightly skeptical whether this will be honoured by the current incumbent.
After a tasty meal at the home stay there was some sort of ceremony to greet the tourist visitors. I normally get anxiety about whether or not dancing is involved but luckily there was none of that this evening. It involved everyone sitting around a table, drinking some whiskey, eating a rice pudding dish, praying, lifting some flowers up like the FA Cup, touching a silver plate and another couple of things that I’ve probably forgotten. The grand finale saw about half of the village (well not quite but at least 30 people) tie some string around your wrists to bless you and your family and wish you safe travels. Afterwards we went for a drink in the village bar. There were a fair few people out and everyone seemed to be in a good mood, possibly because today is the first day of the Lao New Year celebrations. Being barely able to speak a word of English didn’t stop some of the friendly patrons attempting to strike up conversation. It was then back to the home where all ten of us stayed on mats under mosquito nets in someone’s living room.
I’m starting to change my opinion of home stays. Before this village started hosting them they were completely isolated and only reachable by boat. The tourism influx has helped to build a road and there is now a greatly improved water and electricity supply. If home stays are carried out in a respectful and dignified manner, as this one was, then I suppose that they can only be a good thing.
I managed to lose my camera in Laos and unfortunately hadn’t backed up any photos for a week or so. Therefore I’ve borrowed some photos from Instagram of pictures taken as close as possible to when I was in a location. I did consider asking permission to use these photos but communicating with around 50 people would have got complicated. I’ve credited all of the photos used and in some occasions cropped them to maintain a matching size ratio. If by chance anyone whose photo is used finds this blog and would like me to remove the photo please let me know and I apologise in advance.