So, I’m sitting in Dehlia’s in Luang Prabang one evening, thinking about my next move, when in comes an American girl. She spots my Macbook Pro and asks if I have a charger, as she’s just lost hers.
Her name is Erica Camille. She’s 28 and from New York.
Erica is a destination wedding photographer (now there’s a cool job!) and needs to recharge her Air so she can edit her photographs.
As things turn out, we’re both planning to head north, so we team up to travel together – and share the charger.
Two days later, we’re on a minibus to Nong Khiaw, a small town further north, on the Nam Ou river.
We set off a little late, as is customary in Laos. The road – the “new, well surfaced Route 13” – is, well, pretty bumpy. This used to be a dirt and rock track, so in comparison I guess it is well-surfaced… but with huge potholes.
We go down a massive hole and something breaks. There’s a metallic grinding, dragging sound coming from beneath the vehicle.
We stop. Everyone disembarks. There’s some banging and thumping for half an hour, using a screwdriver. And we’re off again.
I’m thinking that this would have cost a day’s pay and a couple of days in the workshop at home, but things kind of work more simply here. If it’s broken, a man with a screwdriver can often fix it.
The countryside is mountainous, with sheer cliffs, wooded slopes and the odd village punctuating the route.
Nong Khiaw itself, which we reach some four hours later, is spread across the Nam Ou river, connected by a tall concrete bridge constructed by the Chinese in 1976.
We find ourselves little bungalows – wooden houses on stilts – overlooking the river.
The town is spread out on both sides of the river, although the far side is officially called Ban Sop Houn.
Ducks, chickens, dogs and pigs wander the streets. Things move slowly. Everywhere we go, things move slowly.
People sit outside their wooden houses, talking, sleeping, cooking over open fires.
The sun is hot during the afternoon, but by the evening it gets noticeably cooler.
Over the next couple of days, we eat at a reasonably good Indian restaurant, a little Lao food, and wait an eternity for eggs to be cooked.
In the evenings, we don jumpers and sit outside at a restaurant overlooking the Nam Ou.
The restaurant by the river is nice, but in true Lao fashion, things take time to come. It’s not a place to eat if you’re in a hurry.
There’s also no guarantee that you’ll get exactly what you ordered.
Erica orders fried eggs.
Around 45 minutes later, a plate of scrambled egg, bacon and bread arrives.
“No, I ordered fried eggs,” she tells the waitress.
The waitress looks at the eggs, looks at Erica, and goes back inside.
Another quarter of an hour goes by.
The waitress reappears – with another plate of scrambled eggs.
The next morning, the same thing happens in reverse. I order scrambled, I get fried.
We think they only understand the word “eggs”.