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Our first major destination in Laos after crossing the border was Muong Noi – a small town in the North. This was all but undiscovered a few years ago and we were hoping it would offer us some much needed isolation from our recent visits to tourist hot spots Chang Mai and Chang Rai. It was reputed that the area had electricity for only a few hours in the evening, and certainly no wifi. Nowadays, that type of thing is considered very cool among backpackers in a sort of retro 80s throwback way. We thought it would be a time to kick back in a hammock and relax in some place picturesque.
That is, until we arrived.
We took a boat up river with about 10 other hopefuls. When we docked, we were greeted by a swarm of guest house employees explaining why their $3 room was better than someone else’s $3 room. The place we ended up at was a cozy bungalow facing the river, and after storing our belongings we decided to go for a stroll around town.
I remember very quickly getting this feeling that we weren’t welcome. There was something in the way the people stared – it wasn’t mere curiosity, but something much closer to contempt. Rarely were we greeted by anything resembling a “hello” or “how are you” – people, it seemed, couldn’t be bother to extend any sort of courtesy. On one occasion we were outright shoed away. Where were the friendly Laotians that we had heard so much about over the past few months?
After only five minutes walking around Vicky and I were able to count over a dozen guest houses. To me, this is the perfect example of a small village quickly transforming itself to capitalize on the influx of tourists. It’s almost as if everyone has the same thought process – “Oh, tourists are coming? Better open a guest house!” regardless of macroeconomic forces supply and demand.
Within no time Vicky and I had reached the outskirts of the village. It’s true that there was no electricity and the village hadn’t seemed to grow substantially in size, but it felt more like an empty shell than a diamond in the rough.
For dinner, virtually everyone stampeded to the same all you can eat buffet in the center of town (run by a foreigner – go figure), about 50 tourists all and all which approximately doubles the population size of the town.
Vicky and I stayed for the one night and left the next morning.
We returned about an hour down stream to our first destination, Non Khaiow. In my opinion, this was the spot. Despite having traveled in Vietnam, Burma, and Thailand, it showcased unparalleled natural beauty and lushness. In many ways it was what I had expected and hoped Laos would be.
While we were there, we did the newly discovered 100 waterfalls trek and dined at fantastic local restaurants. On another day we walked through local villages and explored nearby caves. Arguably this town was the more touristy of the two but to us it was vastly superior to its smaller counterpart in the North.
Sometimes remote isn’t always what it’s cracked up to be.