Saturday, May 21, 2011

Kayaking to Luang Prabang

We stopped in at the Green Discovery office in Nong Khiew just to see what there was to do in the area and before we knew it, we had booked a 3-day kayaking tour to Luang Prabang with a lovely English couple on their honeymoon.  But before starting the long journey, we decided to do a short overnight trip to the small village of Muang Ngoi which is only accessible by boat.  We were very happy to see the riverfront guest houses and restaurants after for an hour and a half in a crammed long boat with wooden seats. 

After a short walk to see some caves where the locals hid from the American bombings during the war, we spent the rest of the hot afternoon in a bar sipping pina coladas with Helen and Rijan and another couple from New Zealand Craig and Karen.  Near the end of our Indian dinner, we could tell that the staff were waiting to go home so we said our goodbyes around 9:30.  In Lao, things close down early.  That's because people are up working by 5:30am!

The next day, we took the boat back to Nong Khiaw.  This time we had a bit more room and it only took an hour with the current going in our direction.  After a bit of prep time, we were on the river again this time in 2 person plastic kayaks and our 21 year old guide Tha.  Tha was alone in a 2 person kayak with all our camping gear and food and was able to keep up with us.  It soon started pouring.  Thankfully, we had a bit of shelter during our lunch break and soon after it stopped raining. 

We found a place to camp on the bank of the river.  There were only 2 tents so Tha made a shelter using the paddles, an umbrella, our life jackets and some bin bag liners.  After dinner, the boys went fishing along the bank with a net and caught a plastic bag full of little fish.  About an hour after we went to sleep, it started raining.  We offered to share our tent with Tha, but he said he was okay.  Once it stopped raining, the mosquitoes came out in swarms.  Once again we offered for Tha to join us and he said, "maybe later."  Instead he built a fire and slept next to it.  The next morning he was covered in bites, but he never once complained.

With a good current and some muscle power, we ended up at our stopping point for Day 2 by 10:30am. We decided to carry on.  The rapids were not very big, but both couples managed to capsize a couple times each.  We continued to be impressed by our waterproof rucksacks.  They have kept our belongings dry through torrential rains as well as dips in rivers.

The children in Lao are so friendly.  Throughout our journey, we would hear kids shouting out "Sabai dee!!!!" and running to the bank to wave at us.  They wouldn't just say it once or twice, but would continue to say it for a minute straight.

By 3pm we were all tired, but we needed to find a place to stay for the night.  We stopped at a village and Tha spoke to the "Voice," the second in charge.  He agreed to let us stay in his house.  After a long day, you really appreciate the little things like being able to take a bath, a tiled toilet area, a bed and a mosquito net.  Tha cooked us a delicious buffalo soup and we enjoyed it while watching a very dramatic Thai soap opera on tv.   As we were making our way back from the market, Helen grabbed me and turned me around as a big truck drove by.  It drove through a big puddle and a huge wave of muddy water came up over our heads.  Sweaty, sunburnt and tired, we just had to laugh.

After a few more hours of paddling, we piled into the back of a pickup truck and driven an hour to Luang Prabang.  This was by far the scariest part of our journey.  We all tried not to look as we sped along narrow roads overtaking and being overtaken by motorbikes and trucks.  Thankfully, we made it to LP safe and sound ready for a shower and a cold beer.

We could have done the same journey in 6 hours by slowboat, but the trip gave us a chance to really appreciate the beautiful landscape made up of karsts and interact with the locals.

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