Mr Mung, Slow Boats and School children in Nong Khiaw - Laos.

Boats on the Mekong

I get a cramped and hot minivan up to Nong Khiaw which takes 3 hours. I wanted to get the boat – as the boat ride on the Nam Ou river is supposed to be much more beautiful than the ones on the Mekong – but unfortunately the boats will only go with a minimum of 8 or 9 people and so far i'm the only one that is interested. The minivans are cheaper and cost around 70,000 kip which is a fiver. I arrive into Nong Kiau which is a tiny little village set around the Nam Ou River. 

The minibus arrives in and everyone staggers off it and into a tuk tuk. But its says its only a 2k walk so I heave “The Bastard” onto my back and set off. The heat feels somehow even hotter and more intesne than in China. I stop at the first guesthouse I see and a short Lao man with stout calves and cheeky smile comes over. 

“You want to see guesthouse – very quiet very tranquil. You walk 5 mins into town and see the guest houses 100,000 kip this you get views overlooking the river, you can drink take it easy in our hammock swim in the river with the locals– only 60,000!” 

“For 50,000 and a room upstairs overlooking the river – i'm sold!” I say. 

“Ok I do special discount for you!” 

I have met the irrepresible Mr Mung. 

I go upstairs – its a double bed with ensuite bathroom and hot water for 50,000 (about 3 pounds fifty.) 

There is a little writing table and chair outside my room and gorgeous views over a the Nam Ou river and tall pale green hilly Karst mountains. Once the heat of the day has burned off I take a little walk into Nong Kiau central. Its a 10 minute walk down the same street lined with little shops selling car parts and barbequeing chicken feet. There is a bridge that crosses the river and most of the restaurants and guesthouses are on the other side. 

I stroll over and have a coconut shake overlooking the river as the sun begins to set. Its truly beautiful here – the mountains rise on both sides of the river – and its so peaceful. Down below on the river bank a villager is burning his crops to clear his fields and the smoke rises in lazy curls to mix with the dark clouds coming in for sunset. 

I decide to have a massage – this time I have Khamu massage – a technique from the Khmu tribe in Laos that involves lots of pushing and pressing with the palm of the hand. I lie down on the mattress and a 17 year old boy comes in (my masseur!) he lights a mosquito coil and puts on a fan to keep the little biters at bay and a chicken comes to roost in one of the beams over head – and to watch over proceedings. Its nice and relaxing and I feel more comfortable with him than I have done with other male masseurs where you can sense their tension at having to massage a woman. This guy doesn't seem to mind. 

I have dinner in the adjoining restaurant afterwards – for 25,000 kip (about one pound fifty) I get the special of the day – grilled Tilapia river fish with sticky rice and peanut sauce. Delicious. 

 



The next day I come down to the little verandah overlooking the river and find a book to read and get comfortable. Its “Awakening the Buddhist heart.” Coincidentally (there are NO coincidences said Buddha...) well he didn't but you know...I've been thinking a lot recently about how to get out of the negative spirals of my mind. Although I couldn't call myself a Buddhist I do meditate every day and my spiritual views are most closely alinged with Buddhism. I believe (and have done since university) that at our core we are essentially good. That we are here in life to learn and that often it is our pain and suffering that provides us with the most material for self reflection and improvement to become better people if we are awake to the lessons.

The Dalai Lama says that he is in the religion of Loving Kindness. The first step towards being compassionate and loving with others is to love yourself and forgive and love those closest to you. We need to move away from Ego where our feelings of confidence and self approval are decided by external things – money, success, career, fame etc and have an inner strength and self love that doesn't waver in the face of flattery or criticism. It allows us to see “what really is” rather than colouring everything with our own unique self perception and so that we can control our thoughts rather than allow them to control us. 

Or as Maggie Thatcher says in the film The Iron Lady: 

Thoughts become words become actions become habits become characer become destiny. What you think you become. 

Mr Mung and Family




Karma isn't just about the life we create in the next incarnation but also the life we create for ourselves in this lifetime due to our thoughts that become actions. 

The recent mostly American driven awareness into Metaphysics around the Law of Attraction in books such as The Secret all mostly hark back to and repeat principles found in Buddhism. 

Its one of the goals for the inner journey. The book has been dropped into my lap at an almost perfect time. 

Jan – Mr Mung's wife – a pretty Lao woman in her early twenties ask If I want to check out. I had thought to get a guesthouse closer to town but now I can't really see the benefit of being somewhere more crammed. Here I have an unspoiled view, its cheap and I take the book as a sign I must stay! 



I'm joined by an Australian in his late forties – Matt and a French Woman from Cannes - Christine. I want to buy the book but Mr Mung says its been given to him in a book exchange. Christine gives me a book of hers to replace so that I can keep it. That's good karma right there 😊 

We decide to do a trek with Mr Mung the next day. The day starts by taking a slow boat up the Nam Ou River. Its a very comfortable long wooden boat with engine and car seats shoved in it for extra comfort. I stand up with my head through the slats to admire the view and then join Christine on the back seat. After about 10mins I start to feel queasy. Oh here we go again. Me and boats! 

Nevertheless it is beautiful. We have bought exercise books, pencils and rulers for the local children and stop off at two villages to meet them. At the first one school isn't happening today because the teacher hasn't turned up. We watch the villagers stripping bamboo to make baskets and drying out chillis. Its nice being with Mr Mung – who used to be a Tiger Trail guide – as he knows the villagers and talks amicably to them. There are the traditional Khmau and Lao huts raised on stilts with the kitchen on the ground floor and the second floor used as the sleeping area. 



We walk to the waterfall. It can't really be called a hike – as its fairly relaxing and only takes 45 mins but it is beautiful although again the midday weather is scorching. Hot hot sun and a cloudless blue sky. We walk through the lime green paddy fields of sticky rice grain. Huge bright butterflies skip across our path. As we enter the jungle it gets more shady. 

“We are about to enter Leech Village” says Mr Mung. 

“WHAT DID HE SAY???” I scream. Christine – a tanned lady in her early forties with frizzy hair and sensible travel skirt on – looks bemused. 

Matt – an Australian with large blue eyes and gentle manner smiles. 

“Its ok they are only little you can pick them off.” 

I whimper. I HATE leeches why must they be everywhere in this goddamn country

“Oh they are very clean creatures - leeches” says Matt trying to console me.

“My sister puts one her top lip every time she gets a cold sore to suck the infection out.” 

“...” 

“well she is quite alternative...” he concedes.... 

I manage to hike up the muddy slopes of the waterfall without being attacked. Suddenly Christine screams and falls over landing on her bum. 

“Did you see that creature?? - it was like a leech but long and black and white” 

I scream and help her up. I'm glad its not just me that is being a total girl about things. 

When we get to the top of the waterfall we strip off for a swim. I have managed to leave my bikini on the boat so Matt has lent me his board shorts – its not a particularly sexy look but hey its only us and the leeches for company. No other tour party are here at the “hundred waterfalls” each guide has their own section. 

We are able to bathe in the bright foaming turquoise water of the waterfall and look back down at the view of it cascading over the rocks overhung with huge tropical leaves, vines and flowers. Its very pretty. 

Mung lays out banana leaves for dinner and serves up rice and buffalo with a vegetable dish. Its great although not quite up to the standard of my previous jungle trek with the Khamu guides. 



We make our way back to the village and word is out that the Falangs have been here with gifts. The children are on a break and soon rush over to gather round. We hand out our gifts and they put their hands together bow and say Kop Jai (thank you.) 

They are very sweet. One little boy with blackened teeth and medallion sees us taking a photo and thrusts his hands out in a V sign – I don't think he knows it means Fuck Off in english but its very funny. They run behind us down to the water's edge to wave us goodbye as we get into the boat and head off back to the guesthouse just in time to see the sun setting over the river. 

 



Back at the guesthouse we strip off again for a sunset swim in the river. Its empty at this end of the village apart from some more inquisitive little locals who come and join us to play in the water. 



That evening we drink beer with Mung and he tells us about his life. Matt is trying to get out of Mung whether or not he's faithful to his wife. I can tell them he is not – he has been giving me looks all day and asks if he can share a room with me when we get into Luang Prabang. I don't think its appropriate in my cutlure to share a room with a married man so I can hardly believe its acceptable in his! I refuse. 

The after dinner entertainment



Then he tells us how Lao women are treated in society. Women are basically second class citizens. Every family must have at least one boy to be considered successfull in their village. The boy can then look after the family – if a family has all girls then they are vulnerable and unprotected from other men taking them, having sex with them dishonoruing them. He has one son – a very cute chubby 2 year old called 'Tino after Valetino Rossi. He talks about the day he was delivered. The doctor had got it wrong and told him he was going to have a girl. He says he was crushed...devastated. When he found out it “had a dick” he shouted out “three boxes of Beer Lao!!!” Now he would like a girl – because his family are ok – they have the boy. He is also looking after his mother who has difficutly breathing – Matt who has trained as a nurse leaves some chest medicine and inhalers for her and teaches Mung how to use them. I hope they help although I cant help worry about what she will do if it does work and then it runs out in a few months time. Mung tells us how he was in love with another girl before he married Jan. He proposed but she said that she didn't want to get married straight away and they should wait awhile – he says that she said this because she wanted to look around and see if she could find a better prospect. He was sooo upset but when he talked to his mother about what she should do she said “go with someone that makes you happy."

 His cousin introduced him to Jan a few months later who is from a different village – which makes it difficult because his parents don't like her they like the ex who came from he same village as them. It is the unknown and they mistrust her as a result. Just before he married Jan his ex came back to him and asked if he could go back out with her. Jan knew about it and was in tears. Mung didnt know what to do but he knew that the ex had disrespected him and not loved him enough in the first place to stay with him and accept him. She was back because she hadn't found anything better. So he stayed with Jan and married her. I can't help feel he's still a little heart brokenthough. It doesn't matter where you live or what your life is like some things are always the same – affairs of the broken heart.