Cave swimming at Muang Ngoi

I was reminded this morning of one aspect of Lao or Thai life that i won’t miss : chickens! I can’t remember the last time i wasn’t woken by chickens, and this morning was no exception!
We ate breakfast at the Sunset Restaurant (pumpkin soup with coconut milk & egg, i wouldn’t recommend it!) before catching the 11am boat upstream to Muang Ngoi Neua (1 hour, 15,000KIP). On the boat James and i chatted to a Russian guy called Meesha (phonetically spelt, it’s actually probably spelt more like Michael) who resides in New York but has been travelling through Asia for 15 months, and the 3 of us checked in to the Saylom Guesthouse, which has a super friendly owner who was never without a smile on his face and a greeting of “Sabaii-dii!”
Muang Ngoi Neua
The locals actually just refer to this place as Muang Ngoi, as this was it’s original name. Muang comes from “meuang” which means a district or town, or in ancient times, a city state. Ngoi means cape or peninsula which describes the situation of Muang Ngoi. Many of the residents of Nong Khiaw used to reside in Muang Ngoi. However, since the construction of the bridge at Nong Khiaw allowed the road to span the Nam Ou, residents moved down river to take advantage of easier access to the markets in order to sell their crops and fish.
James and i thought that Nong Khiaw could not be improved upon, but it can. Muang Ngoi offers similar scenery to Nong Khiaw but a lot more spectacular. The village consists of one dirt street (there are no roads because there are no cars), there are no TV’s, no internet and electricity works on a generator, and very often doesn’t work at all. The only street in the town is lined with bamboo huts and coconut palms, little village shops, and the sight of the odd fisherman mending his net and children playing marbles or hopscotch.
James, Meesha and I decided to venture out to a couple of caves that were a few kilometres outside the village. It takes approximately 45 minutes on foot to reach the first cave, Tham Kang (Middle Cave). The water was crystal clear and you could even see the tiniest of fish swimming around the rocks. Unfortunately James and i had failed to realise how deep the cave ran or that you could actually swim inside it, so we hadn’t brought our swimming gear or a flashlight. Fortunately Meesha had both, so we borrowed his flashlight, and went swimming in the clothes on our backs!
The second cave, Tham Pha Kaew (Holy Image Cave), was a further 5 minute walk. it was smaller and you couldn’t swim in it , and in my opinion it wasn’t really worth a look. There was supposed to be a small stone Buddha image inside, but after 20 minutes of crawling around and being laughed at by 2 Lao guys who were on their way to polish of the bottle of Lao Lao (home-brewed whisky) they’d just purchased, we decided that we’d probably seen enough Buddhas on our trip and one more was not really going to make our lives any more complete! So we headed back to the village and stopped off to watch some Lao kids play a brilliant game of Kataw (volleyball using your feet and a small wicker ball).
In the evening we ate at Lattanavongsa Restaurant (right next to our guesthouse) with Meesha and a Spanish guy called Mikell (again phonetically spelt, i think his name is probably a version of Michael as well!). By 9pm the sleepy village of Muang Ngoi was very much asleep. James and i returned to our riverside bamboo hut and lay very uncomfotably in our hammocks, chatting by the light of a single candle on our balcony.
Photo is of the entrance to Tham Kang, Muang Ngoi

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