BootsnAll Travel Network

ngok ngok!

beer lao!, originally uploaded by maliayosh.

ngok ngok means “cheers!” in laotian. we learned this over beer lao bottles and homemade rice whisky with our tour guides in hongsa, laos. i also learned the hard way that the combination is a sure way to a mean hangover in the morning…

but hangover aside, the night we spent in the tiny town of hongsa en route to the mekong river was one of those real, honest times when you feel less like a tourist and more like a houseguest. it’s these kind of moments that really make me so happy that i’m able to take this trip and to really interact with the people i’ve met along the way.

i booked a two day package in chiang mai that would take me to the northern laotian town of luang prabang along the mekong river. the small group in the tour included two girls traveling together from ireland, and michelle and claus, both from denmark, but each traveling solo. the ride from chiang mai to the border was somewhat uneventful, but as the ride went on we were hot, and as comfortable as you can be when sitting all day in a minivan traveling at warp speed around some major curves and hills! but that was a piece of cake compared to what awaited us on the laotian side of the border!

we arrived at the nan immigration checkpoint around 3:30pm after driving for around 7 hours. our visas were checked, officials were bribed, and we were let through to laos. apparently tourists don’t often use the border crossing that we were using, it’s an “unofficial” checkpoint, hence it was necessary to bribe them to let us pass. luckily a “bribe” equals 30 baht, or $1US. most tourists make the thai-laos border crossing at huay xai further to the north, then travel by slow boat two days along the mekong, whereas our trip had us crossing further west, eliminating one day of slow boat travel.

claus, michelle and i hopped into the back of the pickup truck with all our luggage and got ourselves situated for the ride ahead. it was the bumpiest ride of my life! we all had deathgrips on whatever we could grab – i had my arms wrapped around michelles suitcase – as we flew over the, narrow, unpaved mountain road. once in a while we had to pull over for people walking (where are they coming from or going to?? we were in the middle of nowhere!) or for cows blocking the road. after an hour or so we finally arrived in the sleepy little town of hongsa, which is apparently famous for elephants (although we didn’t see any the whole time we were there – we were told they’re all “in the forest”).

our guesthouse was very plain and basic, the water heaters didn’t work well and the morning chill in the air kept the rooms damp and sort of cave-like. to escape the gloom of our rooms, claus and i decided to wander around the town – i was on a search for these elusive elephants and claus brought along his big fancy camera to take pictures of the countryside. again, none of the roads were paved so we had fun getting lost in the little village and finding our way back again. we also saw an amazing red sunset – the sun itself was BRIGHT RED and shone through the clouds just before it set over the mountain.

red sunset in hongsa

after the sun went down, we got our first initiation to the wonders of beer lao. we had dinner at the little restaurant/tour shop across the street (one of three restaurants in the village) and the food pretty much tasted just like thai food, except with more ginger maybe? we ordered a bottle of beer lao to wash it down and noticed “lao whisky” on the menu for half the price of a bottle of beer, so we decided to give it a try.

lao-lao is the rice whisky, supposedly illegal in laos – although the government brews their own brand, so i’m not quite sure how that works. the one that we tried was obviously home brewed, and came served to us in a plastic water bottle with a tiny glass for sipping. for $1US we had an entire water bottle full of whisky! of course we had to share.

so i went over to our tour guides and asked them to join us and they pulled up chairs and we all toasted to new friends. the rest of the night is hazy, but it was so much fun to see all the cultures intermixing. in between shouting ngok ngok! we spent a lot of the night with our heads bent over the english-lao dictionary and learning new pieces of languages from our respective countries. i even learned some danish (but i won’t even try – i’m totally butchering it! haha).

learning laotian

we turned in at 11pm (it felt like 3 in the morning!) and i went to bed with a smile. i woke up with a splitting headache and danish and lao phrases floating around in my head… welcome to laos! ngok ngok!!

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3 responses to “ngok ngok!”

  1. Mom says:

    Laos looks interesting:)…..take care! Hugs. Mom

  2. christy says:

    cool malia! oh the life you live. i wish there was two of me. one to be with you and one to be here.

  3. Eric says:

    What an amazing experience!!! Great shot of that sunset btw…ahh..

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