We hopped into a long slow boat and after two hours arrived in the river village of Muang Ngoy Neua. It is unbelievably beautiful. It sits high on a riverbank and the view across the river onto the mountains and limestone karts cliffs is tremendously stunning.
In such a scenic place Weronika and I decided we need a bungalow with a view, so we climbed the stairs from the river and stopped at the first hotel. There were many Lao people sitting around eating and drinking in the open air restaurant in front of the hotel. Someone said that this hotel was full and tried to shuffle us to another place. Out of the crowd of people in the restaurant a kind faced middle aged man in a red shirt emerged and told us we can stay here. He said to drop the bags in the room. The room still needed to be cleaned and the sheets changed, but in the meantime he urged us to sit down with him, his family and friends. It was Chinese New Year and he was of Chinese descent. There was a party in full swing and he was insistent that we join him. There was just no saying no.
He started telling us about his family and introducing us all around. We were eating the sticky rice, salad, and chicken and pork. Everyone would come by, fill our glasses with beer, and after a cheer, bottoms up. We quickly learned that the glasses should not be fully filled, as you don’t sip the beer. You take the whole thing down at once. Keep in mind that this is around 10am at this point and the only constructive thing we have done since arriving to this village was climb a flight of stairs to this hotel.
Needless to say we’ve spent the rest of the day there. The family slowly ate and left, and other people came by. We settled down with some other westerners who were also staying in the same bungalows and were also celebrating the Chinese Happy New Year with the owner. A lot of beer got drunk that day.
Muang Ngoy Neua is a fantastic little village. It is essentially a one road town. Being deep in the mountains, it is only accessible by boat. There is not one car or motorbike anywhere to be seen. The people are very friendly and speak really good English. The vibe here is just really good.
The next day Weronika came down with a cold and wanted to stay in bed and relax. I decided to go for a hike to see a cave and a village. With me came Andre, a German guy who was there at the Chinese New Year celebration.
We found the cave without problems. It was a little cavern out of which a crisp and clean stream flowed. Going deeper into the cave involved wading neck deep in water, as I have found out from another person the day prior. Unfortunately, Andre had busted his shoulder a month earlier while walking on some slippery rocks and now had an uncomfortable fear of walking on wet stones. I really wanted to head in and explore, but without a partner and a backup light I was not about to go swimming into a dark cave.
We hiked on and our trail disappeared. We found ourselves walking along dry rice terraces searching for the path to the village we wanted to visit. We followed cow paths here and there, but every time came upon a stream that was begging to be crossed. Andre’s fear of walking on wet rocks halted our progress and we turned back. Eventually we found our path again and gave it another go. Along the way we met two French girls lost in a similar fashion. When we came upon the same stream and Andre would not go. Luckily the girls did not have a paralyzing fear of walking on wet rocks, and the three of us waded across the ankle-deep water to the other side. Andre returned but all was not back since he had a futbol match to catch on TV. The three us stumbled upon the path and found the village a few more kilometers down the road. It was a quiet and unspoiled place. I was falling in love with Laos more and more. It was the Asia I have been looking for and was unable to find until now.