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Muang Ngoi

So, I’m in Nong Khiaw, on the banks of the Nam Ou river, in northern Laos.

I’m still with Erica, the American photographer, who I hooked up with a few days ago.

Nong Khiaw is nice, but we’d like to get a bit more basic, so we decide to travel further north, by boat.

River boats that ply the Nam Ou river

River boats that ply the Nam Ou river

The village of Muang Ngoi, which is a few hours up the Nam Ou, looks like it may fit the bill. It only recently recently received electricity, it’s main street is a mud track and there’s just a single mud road leading to it.

The main way to get to Muang Ngoi is on one of the narrow boats that serve as river transport in Laos.

The riverbank in front of our hut

The riverbank in front of our hut in Muang Ngoi

They’re just wide enough for two rows of people to perch opposite each other on thin planks of wood.

Baggage is dumped at either end of the boat. It’s driven by a small petrol engine and takes about 25 people.

The boat’s due to leave at 10am. It leaves at 11.30, which, by Lao timing, is about right. There’s no particular rush to do anything here. Why should there be?

Countryside around Muang Ngoi

Countryside around Muang Ngoi

The journey upriver passes odd groups of houses and small villages, set back from the riverbank. Instead of a car, each house has a handmade wooden boat parked on the river.

Groups of buffalo chew lazily on the riverbank beaches, swishing their tails in the midday sun.

Arriving at the village, Erica and I secure a riverbank room with two beds and a small balcony. There are only a few rooms on the riverbank, so within a few minutes they’ve all been taken.

Local carrying a log home along the main track in Muang Ngoi

Local carrying a log home along the main track in Muang Ngoi

We’ve only gone a few hours north, but the weather here feels cooler.

It’s a small but pretty village. No roads, just tracks, with two-storey wooden houses.

Typical house

Typical house

Dogs, pigs, chickens and ducks scrabble around in the dust. Children play. People sit in the shade, talking.

At one end of the track that makes up the main street, there’s a buddhist temple. At the other end, a bar. In between are a few shops, restaurants, guesthouses and homes.

One end of the main street in Muang Ngoi, with the buddhist temple at the end

One end of the main street in Muang Ngoi, with the buddhist temple at the end

Side tracks run off the main road, with a higgledy-piggeldy layout of houses scattered across the riverbank.

Wooded mountains surround us. Wooden boats belonging to the villagers are moored along the riverbank.

The other end of the main street

The other end of the main street

As we wander around later that afternoon, a group of villagers indicate that they’d like us to join them. They are sitting round a log fire drinking, listening to music and talking.

There are around 20 of us, split evenly between the sexes. Most look like they’re in their 20s or 30s.

Erica, looking super-gay in my jacket (it was getting cold) as we join a group of locals for beer

Erica, looking super-gay in my jacket (it was getting cold) as we join a group of locals for beer

Around us, children play in the dirt with sticks and beer bottles.

My latest toy - two beer bottles

My latest toy – two beer bottles

We’re given a drink. It’s Beer Lao with ice, which we have to knock back quickly, as there’s only one glass, which we all share.

Fuel for the fire, beer for the people

Fuel for the fire, beer for the people

A young girl, maybe four years old, appears from a house across the road.

As she crosses the track, she picks up on the music and invents an elaborate dance, somewhere between techno-robotics and hip-hop. It’s actually rather impressive. Even her facial movements fit in with the routine.

Tiny dancer

Tiny dancer

I guess she must have seen dancers on TV, as a number of the homes here have large satellite dishes. They are bigger than a man, rusty (one rainy season will see to that) and mounted on the ground outside the house.

Power cables were installed across the river a few years ago, using helicopters.

The centre of "town". It takes 10 minutes to walk across the village (if you walk slowly).

The centre of “town”. It takes 10 minutes to walk across the village (if you walk slowly).

Some of the locals told us that they had no idea that electricity was coming – it just happened. Not all of them wanted it.

But whilst there is electricity, there’s no internet. You really can be pretty much off the radar in areas like this.

I like that.

Monks returning to the monastery at the end of the main street in Muang Ngoi

Monks returning to the monastery at the end of the main street in Muang Ngoi