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Laos travel stories
LIFE IN MUANG NGOI NEUA
IF I HAD KNOWN I WOULDN'T...
TO FOLLOW THE
RAILWAY IN DON DET: A BAD IDEA!
IN MUANG NGOI NEUA
was with Enn (tough Dutch girl) and Leigh (funny Canadian) when
I spent some days in the village of Muang
Ngoi Neua plunged in the mountainous green north of Laos. It
was so hot and humid that we didn't manage (frankly we didn't even
try) to do nothing but snoozing on the hammocks under the porch
of the hut that was our accommodation. Time flied observing village
life: men carving the wooden
boats, fishing in the river, kids playing chasing each other,
women pressing the corn, washing the clothes..I liked this simple
quite life, disturbed just by the quick daily thunderstorms.
One of my best memory is the tubing we did in the river on whose bank is set the
village. We rented a huge inner part of a tractor tyre and a boat took us some km
upstream. Dropped off we just floated back to the village. It was wonderful being in the
middle of this large red quite river that flows around steep wild mountains. We floated
two hours in one of the most remote places I've never been. The riverbank is inaccessible:
no hut, no trail, nothing. Just green dense forest everywhere. The sun was beating so much
that several times I got off the tube and I swam in the river even if a little bit
scaring. One funny thing happened after the tubing when we were laying down on the
hammocks resting for the daily effort: a small kid passed in front of us grasping a kind
of black stick. I got curious and coming near him I realised he was dragging a, at least 2
meters, dead water snake. The kid had caught it on the same river where, few hours before,
I was enjoying my bath.
In the same village during the night me and Leigh didn't sleep that much because of
the noises. It was a kind of swish but I didn't figure out the source. In the morning one
of the first words I heard waking up was Leigh cursing since in the night time some
strange animal had gnawed his cap that he had left on the floor. Which animal remained a
mystery, but the next morning it was Enn's turn, in fact her handbag got holed by the same
animal who reached and stole her chewing gums.
We almost forgot about this, till the day we were on the way back to Luang Prabang
sit on one of the truck lao people use as buses. A lady got on carrying a big stinky box
that she put right in front of me. It was so stinky that I almost felt to throw up and one
man was laughing looking at me. Still giggling he opened the box and picked up a big black
flat stinky dried rat!!!!!!!!! Shit!! It is was so disgusting! Maybe not still happy he
showed me the box full of such crap rats.
I still don't know the purpose of drying the rats and carrying them to Luang Prabang,
but since then I've not appreciated a meat noodle soup anymore.
At least I understood which animal was to blame for the gnawing in Muang Ngoi Neua.
LAO VISA, IF I HAD
KNOWN I WOULDN'T...
was just arrived in Chiang Mai trying to figure out how to get a
Laotian visa as soon as possible when I met a woman, who run a hostel,
saying she could provide it for 30 $. I decided to trust her (frankly
I didn't have other chances) and I left her my passport paying in
advance. Unfortunately it was Friday hence there was no way to have
it before Tuesday. It meant four days but, at least I could get
it in Huay
Xai, the town at the Lao border where she had another guesthouse.
I was worried of separating from my document at the beginning of
such long trip, having just a piece of paper as receipt and I was
looking forward to get it back.
Time flied while I was hanging out in the north of Thailand thinking where my
passport could be, like a daddy anxious for his kid. Finally it comes Monday and I went to
the indicated guesthouse in this small town in the middle of nothing asking at what time I
should have picked up my passport with the visa the day after.
"Boh?? Maybe at 7 a.m., maybe at 9 a.m., maybe at 11 am, maybe tomorrow"
"What?? But my boat to Luang Prabang is at 9 am and I've to buy the ticket in
advance before it gets fullbooked!!!"
"Don't worry you can buy the ticket anyway"
"That's for sure,!!!! But what about getting back my money if I don't receive my
visa in time??"
Here started a persuasion about having promised they would have taken the ticket
back. It was pouring the next morning at 6 am while I was standing in front of the
guesthouse "reception" (I mean a scrap wooden table) plaguing the girl for my
visa. I think she was eager to kick me my ass the fifth time I asked her how I would have
known when my passport were received. But she didn't and told me to be patience. Every
minute to me seemed hours thinking about my boat. And what about if nothing would have
happened?? Where the hell should I have gone to complain??
No way! At 8.30 am a young guy came riding a moped through the muddy puddles with a
bag containing my passport! Yeah!! I was excited when I crossed the Mekong on one of this
narrow unstable pirogue, but I turned quite upset when I saw it was possible to get it at
the border for almost the same amount of money. And you don't even need the pictures!!
The last but not the least, the boat left Huay Xai more than four hours later; lots
of efforts for nothing.
TO FOLLOW THE
RAILWAY: A BAD IDEA!
After two weeks hanging around
Laos finally I reached the four
thousand islands archipelago , called si phan don, placed in
the very south, almost at the Cambodian border. I settled down on
the Don Det island in a nice
hut with the typical hammock under the porch overlooking the
Mekong. On this island there is the only
laotian railway (just 5 km) built by the France at the beginning
of the 20th century and abandoned since the 1945. This made me curious
and I wanted to follow its way through the forest. Now I can say
it has been a bad idea; better going on swinging in the hammocks.
I rented a bike and started following the trail. Of course not many
rails were left being dismounted by the locals to build small bridges
and houses. At the beginning the trail was just a little bit bumpy,
but nice. Then it becomes very difficult to be spotted and I diverted
a little bit to the riverbank. Here I decided to reach it again
so I headed to north without following a real trail in the forest.
"It's just a matter of some
hundreds meters", I thought.
I was wrong!
I penetrated the dense forest
pushing my bike trying to open my way. After 30 minutes of struggle against the wildlife,
completely sweat and scratched everywhere I realised I couldn't prosecute on that way and
it was better to turn back, but how to find the way back?
It took more than one hour to reach
a real trail opening my way, in the meanwhile obviously it started pouring, and
consequently I started cursing. Anyway I didn't want to give up following the rail so I
did, riding the bike in this extremely bumpy way under the rain. Definitely the end of the
former railway didn't worth that much effort, nevertheless it was a matter of proud: I
wanna get my goal!!! And I managed reaching an isolated village , I mean ten houses,
settled nearby the former railway terminal. Then I realised I didn't want to tremble,
jolting and jumping for the all way back and I looked for a divert. I follow another
trail, it seemed quite easy till I reached a kind of bridge. There were some rails, stolen
by the railway, passing over a channel something like six meters long and four meters
deep. It just walking on them keeping the balance, it wouldn't have been a problem if I
hadn't have the bike. Anyway I tried: I put the bike on one rail and holding it I did one
step, then motionless I moved the bike 20 cm, and another step..
When I was almost in the middle I
panicked!!!!! I felt to lose the balance, and I froze up in that position.
Since I didn't know what to do I
start calling help. I knew for sure some kids were around. In fact in one minute, during
which I didn't move, two small girls came to me and started giggling watching a white
blond guy completely soaked in dire straits keeping a bike with one feet on each rail !
Fortunately they helped me taking the bike. It wasn't that easy even for them walking on
the two rails with the bike. But they managed. It became quite dark when my trail joined
with the bumpy one where I passed before and not that far from the point where I left it.
"Ok, there is no way to skip it" I though So my ass started again being beat
while riding, but unfortunately not for short time, since in few hundreds meter my bike
I had to push in the darkness for
almost five km completely soaked and dirty of mud.
I think Enn and Leigh, my travel
mates, are still giggling thinking about this adventure I told them when, very pissed off,
I reached the hut in the evening. After two months I received an e-mail from Enn where she
was still teasing me for this.