Muang Khoa was the first of the small villages in northern Laos that I wanted to visit. It is not a popular tourist destination, it is mainly a cross road point, a convenient place to pass by while going to/ coming from other places. I went there because I wanted to travel south through the river Nam Ou and, oh surprise, I fell in love with Muang Khoa.
Muang Khoa is a small village settled between mountains and two rivers: Nam Ou (the big one) and Nam Phak (the small one). It is beautiful, quiet, relaxed. The color of the water is just astonishing. The houses are small and mostly made of wood and bamboo. There is a lot of street life: kids playing, women cooking, a person getting a haircut, another giving a back massage, clothes drying under the sun.
There are several guesthouses but not so many tourists around, and I did not see any touristic restaurant, only local ones. There is a tourist information office that is closed on weekends. There are no supermarkets, only small shops and a hidden market. I say hidden because it is out of the ‘main’ street, in a small side alley. There are vegetable fields, chickens, TV antennas, chile and rice ‘cookies’ drying in the sun… and a relaxed atmosphere all around.
My biggest surprise there was the weather. Ever since Chiang Rai I noticed that the weather was getting cooler, no longer the tropical humid heat of Kerala and Bangkok. In the night market in Chiang Rai I saw winter jackets and wondered why there were selling them. Wasn’t South East Asia in the tropics? Well, northern Laos has definitely not a tropical weather. Even though days are quite warm (20 to 24 degrees), in the night the temperature can drop to 10 degrees, even 6 or 7!
Worst of it: houses here are really open air. This means that all restaurants, including restaurants inside guesthouses, are open. The rooms are closed, of course, but they are made of wood and/or bamboo, are not properly isolated, with many leakages. This means that the interior temperature is almost the same as the exterior.
If you remember my packing list you might know that I was not really prepared for this… I survived, though. By wearing almost all my clothes in the evening and sleeping with two blankets! And keeping the hope that in the south it would be warm again (by the time I am writing this, in the South, it is warmer).
My favorite part of the village… the hanging bridge! That was soooo cool! I wonder how it is possible that it is not the touristic highlight of the region. It is made of wood, it is very long (more than 100 meters) and very high. Not recommended if you are afraid of heights! If you like heights, though, you will enjoy it. The view over the river is wonderful, and you can feel how it moves, specially when the scooters pass. Yes, the scooters cross the bridge (it is a robust bridge), and that makes a lot of noise – and fun!
A friend I met there and I just loved this bridge, so much that we decided to cross it in the night, in the dark. That was… wow, exciting. There was no light so we were mainly walking over the void… We did take a light, though, to light it whenever we heard a scooter to signal our presence. And in the middle of the bridge, we stopped, and looked at the sky. So Many Stars. I cannot describe it, I will let you imagine it… or even better, discover by yourself.
And even better than the bridge… people are so lovely! I guess the village has the “right amount” of tourists: enough so they are used to see them, and not so many as to get tired of them. They are kind and smiling, and appreciate when we ‘talk’ lao (sabaidee = hello, kopchai = thank you). Sometimes they really tried to talk to me, but I could not understand them. I met several 10-year-old kids that could speak a bit of English, and we enjoyed asking questions to each other (what is your name? how old are you?).
One day the friend I met there and I went down by the small river, and found a group of people fishing. It is amazing how good they are at reusing things… they tied some salad to a small thread, and, on the other side, an empty bottle of water. They then throw it to the river and caught the ‘bottle’ downstream. I do not know if they fished a lot but there were having a lot of fun!
Next to them there were some small kids playing with the sand, constructing mountains with caves and tunnels. Apparently nobody has told them not to talk to strangers, so they invited us to play with the sand with them. We spent part of the afternoon there, it was so cool!
Yes… I really liked Muang Khoa.
** USEFUL INFORMATION **
- Getting there: there is a direct bus from Luang Namtha (not daily), and more frequent buses from Oudomxai. There are buses to/from the Vietnam border. Nong Khiaw and Muang Ngoi, in the south, can be reached by boat.
- Money: there are two ATM. The money exchange place is closed on weekends.
- Accommodation & internet: most guesthouses do not have internet (there is one which has internet which is near the ferry point). Manotha guesthouse has cheap rooms and a great view over the river and the bridge (it is on the other side of the small river, crossing the bridge on the left).
- Weather: in December it is warm during the day and cold in the night, bring warm clothes and dress with layers.
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