After a night of glorious sleep I was up early and ventured down to the boat pier. Mr. Neat (from the day before) was there with his friends waiting, and immediately began laughing. “No people, expensive for you” is what that laughter meant. Low season can mean cheaper rooms and less crowds, but it can also create problems. A boat down the Nam Ou river to Muang Ngoi costs approximately 1 million kip, if split between 8 passengers for a total of 120 kip each. Like Mr. Neat said, no people expensive for me. He quoted me the fare of 1 million but laughed, knowing I wasn’t about to pay that much. We sat there for a while talking, the price dropping every few minutes before eventually I conceded at 400,000 kip. Mr. Neat must have been feeling generous because he mentioned that if we picked up additional passengers along the way he would refund me 50,000 kip. Part of me wanted to think I was getting ripped off but knowing (thanks to Wiki) that a ‘Private boat’ costs 1 million I figured this was fare game. The only thing giving me doubts was Mr. Neats sly laughter as he talked to his friends, and the disapproval shaking head of one of the other men nearby, oh well. Honestly I was just glad to be leaving the city and on to somewhere new.
The boat ride was spectacular, beautiful weather, scenery and the boat to myself, but I expected nothing less for $50! I read about this journey in one of the many travel blogs I referenced so I knew what to expect, including the ride through some low level rapids. To be honest the blog sensationalized this more than it needed to, the rapids were little waves with little to no splashing, no raincoats or bag covers needed. There were two bathroom breaks along the way along with lots of shouting to local fisherman along the shorelines and in boats nearby.
After roughly four hours we began to pick up other passengers, the first, a group of four one of which spoke decent English and thus spent some time talking with me. Next was a mother and two young boys, extremely adorable but equally as shy. There were soon two middle-aged men joining our group and it was at this point I began missing my previously empty boat, and we weren’t done yet. A few more kilometers down the river we stopped at a bank to pick up what appeared to be four more boys, just kidding, in hoped 5 boys, 3 women and about 4 children (I lost count), not to mention all of their baggage. Thankfully this pick up was only a few kilometers before we arrived at Muang Ngoi, my final destination for the day.
As we pulled up to the coast and my driver, Mr. Neat announced our arrival the boys in the back hoped off and upon seeing my exit laughed “oooh farang (foreigner)”. I guess they were surprised that I was getting off here rather than continuing downstream to the more popular town of Nong Kiaw. I figured since we’d picked up more passengers I should be getting back that 50,000 kip he had promised me but no such luck “too short” was his explanation, meaning that we only drove the passengers a few km, not enough to qualify me for a refund apparently. Instead he promised me a beer that evening as he would be returning to Muang Ngoi later that evening, which he surprisingly delivered on.
Often overlooked on the backpacker trail, this is a destination to not be missed. Without the influence of 7/11, Mc Donalds or Starbucks this is a country that offers a raw, rich experience.