Monday, 8 February 2010

Kayaking the Nam Ou River

Is Laos possibly the most beautiful place on Earth? Nestled in between miles of mountains, with only tiny rural settlements in the vicinity, Luang Prabang is a small town with a charismatic twist! The location is very convenient for extreme activities, such as kayaking, which we enjoyed ourselves today.
After about forty minutes drive from the tiny centre of town we were in the middle of nowhere clambering down from the roadside towards the calm Nam Ou River, with our canoes and paddles! This was, in fact, a skill of its own as the slope was very steep and it was difficult not to trip over. We felt inferior to the high reaching mountains that accommodated vast forests and stood in a trance for just a moment, intrigued by the blanket of haze that swept through the landscape. Accompanying this beauty was a quiet splashing in the river and we noticed a local fishing. He had jumped out of his small wooden boat and appeared to be wearing part of a snorkel so that he could see where all the fish were.
After clambering into the canoe, with Jon steering at the back and Simon paddling like mad at the front, we realised that we were in a paradise and just started our expedition with a couple of minutes drifting away from the riverbank. All we could hear was running river water and a few cicadas humming in the trees.
We casually paddled downstream and then it got exciting! We encountered some lively ripples in the water, which led is straight into some rapids. We paddled like mad towards the rapids to gain speed and maintained it whilst descending the choppy current. We were very careful in dodging the unwelcoming rocks and boulders that stuck out of the water.
After roughly three hours of canoeing we followed the meandering river flow and pulled up onto a sandy riverbank for lunch. The lunch was typical Lao food; flavoured noodles, spicy vegetables, sticky rice, some mystery Lao sauce made from vegetables (and plenty of chilli) and some very sweet bananas to follow. The fantastic element of this meal was that the whole lot was served up on large, green banana leaves. Who needs a ceramic, or even a bone china plate?! It made us feel as if we were really getting by on natural resources. Like jungle rats!
Some local boys came to eat the leftovers!
During the lunch stop there was also time for a quick dip in the river, which was desperately required, as we had worked up quite a sweat from all the canoeing. The water was so soothing, especially in the roasting afternoon sun. The sun was so powerful that we dried in no time once we got out.

We continued canoeing and, as we did so, we admired the humongous peaks of the mountains surrounding us whilst glancing around for small tribal villages, fishermen and locals who were panning for gold.
Further downstream, the dynamic duo were not so careful of the rocks in the water as we said earlier in this blog entry. It was the grand finale of the rapids and our chance to paddle towards it like we never had before. Instead of following the deeper sides of the flowing river, we went for the centre streak and found ourselves lodged on top of stones. Our group was flying past us at the speed of light as we were jolting our bodies in order to shift the canoe through the rocky path. We got there in the end though. It’s not what you do, it’s the way that you do it!

After taking our minibus back to the centre of Luang Prabang, we had a cool shower and then hit the street markets! We went to a food stall where the woman in charge gave us a fairly small plate and we had to choose what we wanted from a selection in front of us. Jon’s technique proved successful for us in terms of our received quantity. He started by cramming rice together to form another base on the plate, chose some vegetables and noodles to pile up, starting from the outside in so that it would balance. This small plate was intended for one person but we actually managed to get a meal for three onto it. Get in! We then handed the plate back to the lady and she sizzled it for us in the huge wok that she had. She then had slight difficulty with re-piling the cooked food back onto our plate, but the point is that she did it. It was all very delicious by the way!

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