A village in the north of Laos

A sticky rice basket is made of dried bamboo, or katip

Two days in Luang Prabang is exactly two days more than enough. The main problem is the city is often perceived as the only point on a tourist map of Laos and honestly it is simply overrated. I appreciate the unique night market and the early morning procession of monks collecting sticky rice alms, however with a million tourists around the overall impression is definitely spoiled. This town is crowded with ignorant visitors who wish they could visit four Asian countries in a week. A day trip to Luang Prabang is listed on their itinerary, however it is the only chance to meet Lao culture. Rather than stand in line to see the sunset, I recommend you skip Luang Prabang and go further north towards the genuine Laos.

So, several hours later we arrive to a sleepy village of Nong Khiaw on the Nam Ou river. We hire a boat to take us to Muang Ngoi Neua, an another village situated upriver. An hour long crossing is a bit delayed. Since the boat is definitely overloaded, it starts to take water through holes in starboard. The water level inside our boat soon reaches my ankles. Therefore we stop and help to empty it with a plastic bottle cut in the middle. Luckily there are no more surprises and occasionally monitoring the water level we reach our destination.

Drying laundry on a sunny day, Muang Ngoi Neua

Sun goes down and shortly after dusk it is completely dark, silent and peaceful. Suddenly a weird rustle wakes me up. It is a mouse nibbling at my crisps, which I hid in a backpack. I have to deal with these rodents again. The remaining part of the night goes smoothly and I wake up only when a morning rooster loudly announces a new day coming.

Traversing vast fields of rice we find even more remote bush villages. It is harvest season. Some yellow-dry fields are already covered with stalks bundled together. There are groups of Lao people continuing to work drenched with sweat. Some well-irrigated fields can be harvested up to three times a year!

Lao woman sieving rice, Muang Ngoi Neua

Hard work takes place in the fields, but the village life is somewhat slower. Shepherds tend massive water buffalos, children play with joy, an old man is plaiting a basket for sticky rice while his neighbor is preparing a bamboo wall. A women is sieving rice in front of a darkened room.

There are often some cultural differences which you may encounter in certain remote places. The differences can also be about mutual understanding.

I order five breaded bananas, whereupon I correct it saying “make it six". Shortly after there is 11 bananas served to our table, meaning 5 plus 6.

The other time, I ask if “there are coffee plantations nearby”. I hear the reply, “Coffee?” and two minutes later, a polite hostess brings me a cup of coffee.

Since the coffee subject is mentioned it is worth to point out the coffee served in Laos is disgusting, oily and with dregs. There is no point in comparing its quality with coffee offered even by most interior bars in Ethiopia, which is also one of the major coffee exporters in the world. Laos and Ethiopia are both famous for coffee production!

Globalisation has unfortunately led to often situations, when ordering a latte, instead of getting a real latte you are served with a Nescafe instant coffee with little milk. The only solution is to re-instill the culture of drinking Lao coffee in Laos by directing a share of exports to the domestic market and making it accessible to ordinary people.

laos north