Muang Ngoy kao, Northern Laos
28.07.2010 - 30.07.2010 36 °C
Possibly one of the worse places in the world to have an accident and require hospital treatment?? Yep think i found it.. The tiny, blissful, peaceful village of Muang Ngoy lies on the Nam Ou river in Northern Laos surrounded by towering limestone karsts and vibrant greenery. This means the only way in and out of this village is by tiny old, rickety boats from the town of Nong Kieaw, that you have to wade out into the river to reach. No roads, no motor vehicles, 3 hours of generator-powered electricity a day and chickens absolutely everywhere.
The 5 hour minibus from Luang Prabang to the town of Nong Kieaw was an adventure in itself. The usual hot, cramped, conditions, 2 more passengers on board than seats, rucksacks piled high on the roof, that kind of thing. The rainy weather had caused a number of landslides along the cliffs. We saw several motorcyclists fallen off their bikes and a huge overturned lorry dangling perilously over the side of the cliffs. Luckily the driver had escaped unharmed so we didn’t hang around too long as we noticed the tankard was carrying petrol yikes!! Nong Kieaw itself was really stunning but just two hours here, lunch by the river, before piling in next to the baskets of chickens, TVs and goodness knows what, in the smallest most unstable boat imaginable for a 2 hour ‘thrilling’ boat ride to the isolation, the serenity of Muang Ngoy. I was quite excited on the boat to be sat next to a reporter for NME magazine. I so miss my live gigs and this guy made me miss it even more. Ahhhhhh the beauty of this village when we arrived did not disappoint. The same laid-back friendly people in the most stunning location but with absolutely no mod-cons, like going back in time. Lack of ‘essential’ services here meant very very basic accommodation. I walked around a little but was impossible finding anything for more than $2 USD per night!!! Yes for less than £1.50 a night I had my own room, double bed and my own bathroom. My bungalow was at the back of the owner’s house in a herb garden next to the river. This should be in the guiness book of records surely? Well I have never stayed anywhere so cheap before ever. For me though this unfortunately came at a greater price.
The first thing I do after I checking in to my 2 dollar a night bungalow is to have a shower. I am so hot from carrying my bags around looking for somewhere to stay. Just as i go to turn the shower off my arm kind of catches the shower hose and WHOOOOOOOOMMMMMMPPPHHHHHHHHH, clatter, clatter, SMASH, OUCHHH!!! That will be the sink crashing down off the wall and smashing on my foot... OH SHIT!!! I am in a bit of shock, cannot move for a while. I look down and I am standing in a pool of blood, but i don’t feel any specific pain, where am i bleeding from? The shower is still running so i clear some blood and see that i am bleeding badly from the top of my right foot. I apply some pressure, I rinse the wound under the water, blood everywhere, the whole bathroom even up the walls! I can see the cut now, it is nasty, deep, gaping, can see right down to the tissue, the muscle underneath my skin. GREAT!!!! I am in a village only accessible by unreliable boat in the middle of one of the poorest countries in SE Asia, miles from anywhere, I clearly need stitches but goodness knows where the nearest hospital is, maybe back in Luang prabang. I feel faint so sit on the floor, i seem to be losing a lot of blood but i think it looks worse from the shower water. Finally it stops long enough for me to go and get help.
The family that own the bungalows were amazing people. A couple about my age with 3 small children and living with their elderly parents in the same house too. None of them could speak very good English but they cannot stop apologising when they see the bloody aftermath in my room. When I take off my makeshift bandage and show them the wound they are shocked and concerned. The man of the house disappears for a while and comes back with a dirty TOOLBOX, i am not kidding!! This turns out to be their first aid kit and he covers my foot in iodine, followed by hydrogen peroxide BLOODY HELL OUUCHHHHH!! Then, can you believe this, he signals to me that he wants to stitch up my foot! NOOOOOOO WAAAAAAYYY!! I have to do everything in my power to stop him doing this. We have no plasters big enough but then i remember Christian, who i travelled with in the Philippines, donating me some of his medical kit before he left. Hey presto THANK YOU CHRISTIAN, he had left me a huge surgical-grade all singing and dancing plaster. The woman is quite honest and tells me this is not the first time the sink had fallen off the wall but the first time someone had been hurt!! They all keep apologising and for the rest of my stay cook me meals and brings me drinks constantly. This is one good thing that came out of this. I mentioned in a previous blog about how when travelling, being perceived by locals to be ‘privileged’ creates a barrier. Well, i found being injured by these people’s incompetency completely smashed this barrier and i was treated like one of the family!!
Every time i tried to walk my wound would start bleeding again. I needed to take a walk through the village and see if there is a pharmacy or ask around to other travellers whether they have any butterfly stitches. Paul, my neighbour originally from England but living in South Korea, happens to walk past at the right time and comes to my rescue. He cannot find any steri strips or more big plasters but does bring me back some beer lao wahay!! So we sit outside my room drinking beer to numb the pain and he keeps me company for the evening until the electricity gets turned off, time to go to bed. I plan the next morning to take the boat back to the ‘mainland’ but I didn’t realise there was just one boat that leaves at 9.30am so missed it. Going from Nong Kieaw there were several a day so had assumed it was the same this way. I plucked up the courage to take a look at my foot and it didn’t look any worse, so smothered it again in iodine and packaged it up. I was very disappointed though not to be able to go trekking like i had planned. This area was heavily bombed during the Vietnam war and the locals fled to live in surrounding caves. I was hoping to do a trek to these caves and explore some of the local scenery too, but this was just not possible. Instead, i walked around experiencing some real village life, people weaving clothes and making baskets, kids playing in the streets, chickens, a man skinning a rat, pigs, more chickens, fried rats on offer. I had read somewhere that this place had a problem with rat infestation but they had obviously found a solution!! It was pretty amazing. I then sat up in a lovely restaurant overlooking the river and chatted to some other travellers. The people here were great, all here for the same reason to get some peace and experience rural life in Laos, no sign of the gap-year party crowd here. This place really is special. I had a BBQ dinner that evening with a great group of people from all over the world but we kinda got stuck in the bar til way after the electricity got turned off as it was chucking down with rain. More beer lao for me then but then a scary limp back home in total darkness.
Someone told me about a little pharmacy up in the hill so thought i would try and get some steri-strips. Turns out this tiny little place doubled as a make-shift local hospital. There was a little counter selling very very basic medicines, still nothing of use to me, then a room with people lying on the floor looking ill, some of them with drips attached to their arms. I really don’t think i could cope living somewhere this remote with the worry that if anything happens medical help is so far away. I got help from so many people though. Donations of medical kit, my luggage carried for me, and i even got carried onto the boat for the trip back to civilisation the next morning! Well, this time the boat was even more crowded, didn’t think that was humanely possible. We rocked from side to side, water was seeping in through the bottom and we were sat on the floor opposite each other, legs intertwined. Paul suggested that we catch another boat when we get to Nong Kieaw all the way back to Luang prabang as it is supposed to be through the most beautiful scenery in Laos. It was an attractive idea and I hated those minivans anyway but if the boat was this cramped there was no way i was doing it. We struck lucky! The boat back to the city was comfortable, we had seats at the back and could rest against the luggage, and the company was good. My luggage nearly ended up in Vietnam though! Some guy at Nong Kieaw forgot he had his backpack on his back and picked mine up thinking it was his! I just caught him in time but it gave us a laugh. Anyway, the scenery back was stunning, and the seven hours back went very quickly.
Arriving in Luang Prabang, I hear my name being shouted out from a riverside bar. It is Sharon and Jeff STILL HERE! Think they never wanted to leave this place, and i don’t blame them. Was great to see them and met up that evening in our noodle soup stall in the market, followed by the wine bar, superb The bonus was that Sharon was very organised and actually had some steri strips in her kit so I could finally stitch up my foot and avoid hospital. I went back to the same lovely guesthouse but the guy at reception seemed to be asleep. ‘Sabaidee’ I say quite loudly. I repeat a few times but no sign of life. I shout a bit louder, he opens one eye and looks straight at me standing there with my luggage, then falls back to sleep again!! This is Laos don’t you just love it! A tuktuk driver off the street (yes one was actually awake!) came to help me!!! He telephoned who i assumed was the owner and checked me in to the hotel while the receptionist was still asleep!!!!! Love it. Spent a few days chilling and obsessively cleaning my wound before sadly saying my goodbyes to this amazing city in this amazing country for a flight on to Cambodia and the temples of Angkor Wat.