Monday, November 16, 2009

Sunset beauty spot

Just before reaching the riverside village of Muang Ngoi Neua on the downstream boat journey, a monstrous slab of narrow rock, the limestone equivalent of the NYC Flatiron building comes into view. It heralds the arrival of some of the most beautiful landscape in Laos. Muang Ngoi Neua clings to a high ledge on a broad curve on the Nam Our river.

Boats pull in at a set of steep concrete steps that lead up from the river bank to the first set of bungalows. On the steps, local women wash clothes and then wade in, clad in sirongs, to bathe. At the top of the slope, tourists swing in hammocks or slurp on fruit shakes from bamboo balconies.

Behind the first scattered row of bamboo huts and restaurants is the main street that sprouts pebbles and grass. Dogs, chickens, geese and toddlers squawk and screech as locals and tourists mingle and meander up and down. Next to a tourist hang out, a local woman boils her rice wine on an open fire; in the next shop, a Lao seamstress fidgets at a sewing machine making fishermen’s trousers for the tourist who has run out of clothes.

At the end of the day, the mountains that enclose Muang Ngoi Neua, swallow the sun earlier than elsewhere so the sunset drink starts early. From 4pm, tourists gather at the best riverside bars to drink Beer Lao and snap the rose glow that seeps across the river and the limestone facades.

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