Date: March 21, 2015

TREKKING TO TRIBES (PART ONE)

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We headed out from Luang Prabang and hit the road to explore a bit of northern Laos. We were joined by our new travelling buddy, Chris, with shared plans to see the sights, do a bit of light trekking and kayaking and generally chill out – what could possibly go wrong?

The 3 hour minibus journey on the back seat felt more like 15 hours due to the horrible bumpy roads and lack of air circulation, but we were handsomely rewarded in all respects upon arrival in Nong Khiaw – a tiny town straddling a crystal clear river with huge shear rock faces towering in the background. We found cheap rooms with big balconies and (slightly obscured) views of the river.

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Nong Khiaw has a slow pace that eases away the guilt of spending a couple of days of sitting on a balcony in between finding the best places to eat and drink. On night two we hooked up with Amy, a mutual travelling buddy and part of the Luang Prabang crew, who inevitably had found all the cool people to hang out with, namely a trio of super cute and talented Canadians who played guitar and sang their souls out for our entertainment, two equally cute English girls, Jess and Maisie, and a very rich and hilarious Laos-born American dude. We ended the evening on a bridge, under the stars, drinking beers and generally feeling like 20 year olds again.

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After the laziness we planned to go on a 2 day trek that would end with us staying 2 nights in the next riverside destination, called Mong Noi, and then returning downstream in kayaks to Nong Khiaw.

Day one of the trek took us through minority villages, countryside and jungle. It was hot and hard work, but with no other tourists in sight and stumbling across tiny dwellings with just one family and their livestock hidden amongst the trees, it was well worth it. We spent the night in a remote village and were hosted by the chief and his wife. Dinner was served on the floor of their hut and was delicious – with the minor exception of the chicken head I accidentally popped into my mouth; only realising my mistake when the eyeball burst out of its socket. The highlight of this village was undoubtedly the hordes of children wanting to play with us and bestow us with gifts of flower bracelets and hand picked herbs.

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Can you spot the lady?

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The amazing grass lady’s home.

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Our guide, Put, relaxing amongst the bamboo.

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After a long day of trekking, Chris really enjoyed having these small children hanging off him.

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The boys played running around hitting each other & the girls played with a skipping rope. Just like home.

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We bought a beautiful scarf from this tiny lady. Angela sized person for scale.

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Learning about the solar system.

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Dinner with the chief’s wife.

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River weed, morning glory, fish laap, chicken and sticky rice. Delicious.

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The time Angela ate a chicken’s head.

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The huts are raised on stilts to provide shade from the hot sun and extra storage space. Oh and to avoid snakes.

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Our hosts: the village chief, Bounlit, and his wife.

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Read more about day 2 of the trek and our ‘amazing’ kayaking skills in part 2.

TREKKING TO TRIBES (PART DEUX)

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Day two of the trek took us out of the hills, through watermelon fields, to a village school where we dropped off some children’s books we had brought with us and to a “weaving village” in the most insanely beautiful location. We also had some much needed boat time before being dropped at Mong Noi, our final destination, which did not disappoint in the visuals.

Over the next day we regained our energy by lazing in hammocks at our waterside huts, ready for the 4 hour kayak back to our starting point. We were joined by a new guide with minimal English, but we managed to relay to him that Maura and I had no kayaking experience. He insisted that all 3 of us wear our life jackets but had no other advice to impart.

The first hour on the water was placid and peaceful….and then we hit rapids!! Chris had a little dunking, but kept his cool despite losing his Go-Pro camera. Then it was our turn in our double kayak. The waves quickly filled the kayak and then we fell in. We miraculously managed to keep hold of our hats, glasses and paddles whilst rushing down the rapid and clinging to the upturned kayak. We used all our strength to swim ashore and drag the kayak with us whilst our guide nonchalantly watched on from a distance. We rested on the rocky riverbank to catch our breath and try and regain some strength until our guide came over to encourage us to get back in the saddle. His advice for the next rapid was to power through it.

The next rapid was bigger and scarier than the last. Once again the kayak quickly filled with water and Maura fell in, whilst I managed to stay in the useless piece of plastic. As I saw my panic stricken fiancé being dragged off to certain death I shoved my paddle out for her to hold on to whilst trying to bail out with my spare hand and not tip over.

I screamed out for help and our guide came over to take Maura to safety. I frantically paddled to the side. Once everyone was out of the water Chris and I shouted at the guide to get a boat to come and collect us, which it promptly did. In hindsight I realise, because of our life jackets, we weren’t in much danger, but at the time I thought we were in Hollywood movie where someone had to die. Thankfully no one else was around to see the melodramatics.

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Aforementioned Hollywood movie.

Back in Nong Khiaw we celebrated being alive then spent a couple more days taking a well deserved break, exploring the surrounding hills on mopeds.

Despite being convinced that we were headed for a watery grave, I now realise we were actually in paradise.

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Morning mist.

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Maura the Explorer.

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We gave this school some books and pens. An alarmingly high number of children in Laos have never seen a book or, if they have, it is an old textbook. This pioneering publishing company is working to rectify this and get kids excited about reading. You can read the story about how Big Brother Mouse has begun to have a big impact on literacy rates here.

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Drinking with the locals from a petrol can.

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Watermelon farm

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River weed drying in the sun.

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These two were brilliant – they asked to have their picture taken and cried with laughter when they saw it.

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She wanted to try some of Maura’s Sprite. The fizz went up her nose and made her eyes water.

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The weaving village.

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Mung Noi

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Due to the tragic and sad loss of Chris’s GoPro camera we have no images from that dramatic day, but this is a pretty accurate representation.

Our last meal with the lovely Chris. Or Adam Levine, depends who you ask.

Our last meal with the lovely Chris. Or Adam Levine, depends who you ask.

Some photographs from our mopeding through the villages: