Travel before the era of smartphones
In 2005, I first made the four-hour journey from Luang Prabang to Meuang Ngoi standing on the back of a crowded songthaew. The covered truck sped through the mountains, careened around corners, and swerved to miss goats in the road. I nearly fell off – several times – but the experience is one I vividly remember.
The songthaew arrived at the boat pier in Nong Khiaw, so I could travel farther north. In those days there was no road, so the only way to get to the old city of Meuang Ngoi was by boat. The 1.5-hour cruise up the Ou River passed by many villages and some of Laos’ most amazing landscapes. The boat was full and I had to squeeze next to the engine in between sacks of vegetables. The cramped seat caused my long legs to ache, but I was comforted along the journey by waving children scampering along the riverbanks shouting “Sabaidee!”
Meuang Ngoi is a cozy hamlet with one very long dirt path that served as the town’s main artery and communal gathering place, flanked on both sides by local homes converted into restaurants and guesthouses. In those days, the town did not have any mobile phone signal. Electricity was supplied by the town’s diesel generator and was only available for a few hours every evening. Nowadays, thanks to development, electricity is available all day and mobile phones are ubiquitous.
Near Meuang Ngoi, there are interesting caves, cruises, hikes, and villages to enjoy, but this is truly a place to slow down and relax. The normal pace of Laos is slow, yet Meuang Ngoi is even slower.
After making my way to a guesthouse, it was time to freshen up. I still shiver when I think of the cold bucket shower available at the guesthouse, equal parts shocking and refreshing, and probably the fastest shower of my life.
I soon found myself in a riverside restaurant with a Beerlao and ice shipped in daily by boat. The long difficult journey was worth it, as I got to admire one of the most beautiful sunsets in one of the most beautiful places in Laos.
Lao Airlines has regular flights to Luang Prabang and is the gateway to Meuang Ngoi.
Text by Jason Rolan
Photographs by Jochen Moravek / Phoonsab Thevongsa