(The Phonxali-Muang Khua-Muang Ngoi boat ride)
Sitting in a 6m x 1m wooden boat with 20 odd people and their luggage wasn’t a fun experience. My knees were squashed up to my chin, the water level was inches from my face and there were as many rapids to navigate through as there are villages along the river banks.
All these discomfort and worries were soon thrown to the wind as the boat started to cruise down the brown-coloured river. The cool morning air and the splashes as we bumped through the rapids were refreshing.
These boats are used mostly by locals as their mean of transport to commute from their villages to towns or bigger villages to buy their provisions. Sharing the same boat with me were a few families going back to their village with bundles of goods. They chatted while munching on their cucumbers like we would munch on popcorn. My packet of chips suddenly looked so unhealthily out of place. I quickly stashed it away for later.
We passed by many villages with wooden house and tin roof, most of them were really small with a handful of houses clustered together. But there was always one thing in common: children playing by the river banks. As we passed by, these naked and half naked children would wave and smile at us. And if we approached a village for the people to get off, the children would swim towards us, climbed on the boat and used it as a springboard to somersault into the water. It was easy to be captivated by their display of innocence and carefreeness. Their rhythmic laughter sounded like the crescendo in mother-nature’s mellow soundtrack.
Nearing my destination the scenery changed, the flatland dotted with villages gave way to limestone karsts that rose vertically from the river to the cloudless blue sky. The river snaked around a few dozens of these mighty looking karsts. They are not unlike giants, covered in vegetation and plants, standing guard over the beautiful landscape. In the shadow of these giants, as the sky turned orange by the setting sun, fishermen cast their nets into the tranquil water, hoping for the last catch of the day before returning to their loved ones a few rapids up or down the river. This image framed a timeless picture that no camera could capture but the heart.
A last turn around 2 guarding giants I arrived in my destination – Muang Ngoi, a small peaceful village by the river flanked on 2 sides by the imposing karst. The setting is just majestic. Here I could lower my backpack, unpack a book and relax on my hammock overlooking the river. Sigh! Such is life.