Going Slowly

By Jane Mountain | March 4, 2014

10,855 km so far.

This morning we had so many plans. We could have ridden a few miles out to a nearby village and visited the local people. We could have hit the morning market early to see what food was on offer. We could have gone for a swim in the river.

Instead, we lazily rolled out of bed, had breakfast in one of the Western restaurants, and then slowly wandered through town.

boats on the nam ou river

Another scene from the lazy Nam Ou.

We idled as locals got down to work.

man bundling grass in laos

Bundling the grass for drying, Nong Khiaw.

Finally, we returned to our cabana by the river to get ready to go.

I don’t feel bad about missing the village. After all, it is a tourist haunt, and we will pass through plenty of little villages on our route today. Breakfast was great, too. But I do regret not getting down to the river for a swim with the local kids.

Gimme Five

We left around the time the sun started roasting the land and every sensible creature was finding a shady little hole to hide in. I soaked my shirt in cold water before we took off, which helped for about half an hour, until it was fully dry again.

Banksy flower in the heat, near Nong Khiaw.

Banksy flower in the heat, near Nong Khiaw.

Our goal for today was to go slowly, hopping on and off the bikes whenever the mood took us. We want to do that every day, but somehow we often find ourselves focussing on getting “there” – forgetting that “there” is where we already are.

As soon as we left Nong Khiaw, gangs of children started bombarding us with shouts of “sabaideeee!” as we passed through their villages.

girls in laos

These girls didn’t really smile until Jane showed them these pictures.

Around here, it seems, high fives are the in thing. When the kids see us coming, they run across the road to our side, stand in a line and all stretch their hands out so we can slap each one as we ride by.

I think the goal is to slap us as hard as they possibly can, because my hand comes out stinging from each of these encounters. These kids are small, but they are strong.

Stopping At The Wat

Not far into the ride, we spotted a big brightly coloured wat and decided to stop for a few pictures.

golden wat laos

Golden wat, near Nong Khiaw.

A little later, we came upon another wat.

There were monks around, and since I was in my bike shorts, I wasn’t sure if it was OK for me to go inside, so I waited in the shade by the gate while Stephen went exploring.

wat in lee village laos

Lee Village wat.

Within a few seconds, four little boys, in their school uniforms of black pants and white short-sleeved shirts, started curiously poking around our bikes. I watched as these three scruffy kids, with dirty faces, dusty pants, half-untucked shirts (and one with his fly open, shirttails flapping through the gap) explored the machines that have taken us around the world.

They twisted everything that could be twisted, pulled on our bags, and dinged our bike bells happily. One tried to lift my bike up from where it was lying on the ground, but he gave that idea up as soon as he felt how heavy it was.

Soon they came over to me for a chat. They looked about 6 years old, but I’d guess they were really around 9, since everyone here, especially the kids, is older than you’d expect.

Boys in Lee Village, near Nong Khiaw.

Boys in Lee Village, near Nong Khiaw.

I could tell these four were the trouble-makers of their class. They talked merrily away to me, with mischievous glints in their eyes, about heaven knows what. It didn’t seem to bother them that I didn’t understand, so in turn, I told them about our trip and a little about Canada.

They watched me wide-eyed as I spoke, laughing at the strange sounds I was making.

Little scamps in Lee Village.

Little scamps in Lee Village.

After a few minutes, they stepped away to confer with each other for a moment. When they returned, the leader boldly stepped forward and asked me something. I was pretty sure he wanted money, but I played dumb. They tried several permutations of the request, until they settled on “kip, kip” as being the most easily understood.

When I refused, they each started pulling the money out of their pockets, showing it to me, and asking me for some. I was pretty surprised these little guys were running around with small bundles of cash!

Of course, I didn’t give them anything. Instead I explained to them that I would buy things from their mommies and daddies, and that then their parents would have the means to take care of them. Pretty sure they didn’t really get the message, but it made me feel better.

It also got me to thinking about charities in the region, and where we can donate money to help the villagers here get the things they need for a better life.

Soon, other curious kids emerged from the dirt tracks leading to the wat, gathering around to look at my map, talk to me, and examine our bikes.

Jane with the kids of Lee Village.

Jane with the kids of Lee Village.

I looked around for Stephen, wondering where he’d gone with the camera.

Turns out, he was busy chatting with a monk.

Stephen says:

As I was walking around the grounds of the wat a few monks shouted “sabaidee”. One of them, Noy, came over to talk. He only joined the order two days ago, and wanted to tell me about the temple, and practice his English.

Noy at the wat in Lee Village.

Noy at the wat in Lee Village.

It was fascinating to talk about how the Tantric philosophy I study is related to the Buddhist philosophy he studies, to talk about his country, the differences we have noticed between the temples here and in Vietnam and China, and some of the local history.

Noy explained the paintings on the main temple building, which tell the story of a local monk, Lee, and the various events of his life. He also showed me a long, thin flag flying in the yard, which he said was for his recently departed grandfather. He explained that the flag acts as a ladder, which allows his grandfather’s soul to rise into the heavens, and also to come back down to earth to be reincarnated.

Noy is headed to the capital, Vientiane, tomorrow, where he will begin his studies. He is planning to stay in the order for a few years until his English is better, and he can then get a good job in an office. It seems that the monastic life is used by many here as a stepping-stone to a better life.

Jane’s note: Noy also told Stephen that it was very special for the kids here to meet a foreigner, since most visitors just pass by this village on the bus. I am so glad we skipped the tourist village this morning, and took time to stop here instead.

Humble Home

Our destination for the night was a dusty market town part way to Luang Prabang, where we’d been told there were a couple of guesthouses.

weeds drying on bamboo racks

Riverweed drying by the roadside, near Pakmong.

After that, according to reports, there was no accommodation to be had for the 90 km between there and Luang Prabang.

At the first guesthouse, which looked pretty decent, the man shook his head and said no. Um, really, you’re full? We had a little trouble believing that’s what he was trying to say, until we noticed that they were setting up for a big party out back.

Next door, there was another little guesthouse, but the rooms were dingy and grimy, and neither of us really fancied the idea of spending the night there. It is always hard to say “no” to the women running these places. We know they work hard, that they need the money to take care of their kids, and that their own rooms are far more humble than any they show to us.

Saying no today also left us with a little problem. If this was the last guesthouse on the road, where would we stay?

fried rat in laos

Tasty fried rat for sale in Xang.

Luckily, down the road about a kilometre was another sign for a guesthouse. The arrow on the sign pointed up a little dirt track that ran between a row of wooden huts with dirt yards. Chickens and dogs were running around the yards, while a few children watched us go by with great interest.

We arrived at a long low building where two women sat with several kids. As soon as we pulled up, one grabbed a set of keys and showed us the room.

It was very simple, with a creaky bed and a bathroom that consisted of a squat toilet and a large bucket of water for washing.

man taking bucket bath in laos

The pain of cold water washing and the pleasure of being clean.

But the sheets were new and clean, and it was obvious that the woman here took pride in her little business. Plus, it was off the main road, away from the trucks roaring by, and in the midst of a local community.

Perfect. We’ll take it.  

Want to see the route map? View it on Ride With GPS.


  1. Comment by Geoff

    Geoff March 7, 2014 at 3:35 am

    ‘. . . but somehow we often find ourselves focussing on getting “there” – forgetting that “there” is where we already are.’ A useful dictum for all of us, Jane, so thank you for the reminder.

  2. Comment by Rox

    Rox March 6, 2014 at 10:23 pm

    Hi Jane & Stephen!
    Do you know what the dried grasses were going to be used for?

    Also the kids — so cute!!

Comments are closed.

Go top
Share via