Mystic River

13 Mar

In this case, the mighty Nam Ngum north of Vientiane, where I have taken refuge in the relaxed and lovely Rivertime Lodge, run by the effervescent Barnaby (originally from Milton Keynes). The rest of the staff are either Hmong or Lao.

RiverTime Lodge(97)RiverTime Lodge(74)

The lodge web address is and it’s well worth a visit… they built the place without chopping down a single tree, and they’ve got really rustic little huts, with dorm and double accommodation – I’m in a dorm with Mack & Chelsea – it’s cool to have some friends around. In one sense it looks as if it’s been thrown together, in another it looks like it completely belongs in the jungle. I’ve got to say, when I arrived I wondered what I had done, with the ramshackle outbuildings and the home carved signs and furniture – but after a few minutes, I loved its rustic charm and ethic authenticity. The river runs past the front of the lodge, there’s a floating restaurant with a pool cut in the deck, and hammocks. Just upstream is the local ferry – 2000 kip a trip. They have a car ferry which actually looks quite stable and safe, provided I don’t think about the fact that it’s built on a few home brewed metal pontoons. Mind you, when anyone walks across the restaurant it bounces – a close inspection reveals a large number of oil drums supporting us, and I do wonder if the restaurant is securely moored to the bank.

As soon as we arrive, we’re part of the party – there’s a Baci blessing ceremony going on for a couple who just got married – Sienna Miller and Jude Law have had this ceremony performed for their wedding – so I have now been blessed three times, and I have three string bracelets round my wrist to bring me luck and good fortune. Although Laos is a communist country, and Buddhism is the primary belief system, the belief in spirits runs deep (one Rivertime employee won’t cross the river because of the dragon that lies beneath the surface). The Baci is a huge part of Laos identity – it takes a couple of days to prepare and bless the centrepiece (although this was a small one). And as the ceremony ends, the sun sets above the river… another sign of blessing for me. I suppose I should expect it, but over the next few days I really do feel as if I am under some divine blessing, as so much thought becomes clear, so much that was hidden becomes obvious..

Baci Ceremony (6)Baci Ceremony (2)

First night there’s a rustle in the roofspace – I decide to investigate, but can’t see anything. We’re assured the wildlife isn’t hazardous to our health – but we do find a cool gecko on the wall (he seems to have stuck his arms behind his head for some reason), and there are some humungous (and beautiful) butterflies too, that I spend ages chasing round the forest waiting for them to alight on something for a photo.

RiverTime Lodge(120)RiverTime Lodge(69)RiverTime Lodge(131)

So, apart from drinking and eating, it’s been time to . . .laze in hammocks, listen to the river flow past, wander along the narrow paths round the resort,kick back, read a book, watch the activity on the river and the ferry going back and forth… there’s no pressure on me here to go and do anything – to see the sights, to visit a temple, to tour some ruins, do an activity.. I don’t have to work out where to eat dinner… it’s just a time to take it easy, to think, and dream (and, actually, do some work that I am very excited about – watch this space!!).

RiverTime Lodge(82)RiverTime Lodge(78)

And Laos does its best to add to the collection of great sunset photos too…

RiverTime Lodge(107)RiverTime Lodge(113)

It was international women’s day on Tuesday, which is (in a blinding flash of insight) a national holiday in Laos. So the pool is full of kids, and the bar is full of women – and one very drunk Lao, who invites the three of us to join. So, after a few bottles of Beerlao, and friendly consumption of the local rice spirit (comes in a recycled water bottle and is actually quite potent) we are invited to karaoke in the village the other side of the river. So, a dozen Lao, two Americans and one Brit pile onto the ferry and escape to the village to spend the evening dancing and drinking in someone’s house. So much alcohol is consumed that we have to send Mack off to the shops on the bike – he ends up at another party so the next time he takes me along as a diversion – I do the dancing with the women while Mack buys the beers.

RiverTime Lodge(87)RiverTime Lodge(89)

We never do really find out if the intention is to marry me off to one of the villagers, but it feels like a close thing – there’s lots of laughing at my dance moves, and lots of laughing generally. But the food is good, and the energy is very engaging! When we sit down with the head of the household, I do make sure that I’m careful about when I nod and what I drink to – would be a bit of a crimp on my plans if I accidentally got engaged in Laos. Our original inviter decides that we really need to get back across the river, so we hop on the ferry and back to the lodge.

RiverTime Lodge(84)

I do decide to jump in the pool, with hat attached – it’s a bit like an aquatic running machine – you’ve got to keep going to stay still. I do get a bit spooked by something that’s trying to wrap itself round my leg. Until I realise it’s the rope from the innertube, at which point I can relax. The inner tubes are vital, here, simply because the river flow is so fast (and this is dry season)

Rivertime JumpRiverTime Lodge(101)

This sign is aimed at the locals, who are a bit confused by our toilets in the same way as we are confused by theirs

RiverTime Lodge(125)

Mack and Chelsea do a cookery course in Lao food, so breakfast is really good (and ‘Lao Spicy’) this morning… although it’s a bit gentler than the green papaya salad we had last night, which was hot to the point of dangerous. Think they were trying to call our bluff.

RiverTime Lodge(122)RiverTime Lodge(123)

And then M&C are off to the airport – destination Hanoi. I doubt I will catch up with them again on this trip (although anything is possible)

RiverTime Lodge(124)

I had an extra couple of days at the Lodge – I soent that time chilling, relaxing, and working on some of the great programmes that I planning for when I get back. I took the time to work on changing spme of the beliefs and behaviours that have so far limited my succcess… but otherwise a pretty relaxing and uneventful couple of days (apart from nearly electrocuting myself when the shower malfunctioned – I decided a dip in the river would be a wiser and safer move!)

And then I’m off in a song thaew (open taxi 0 like a tuk tuk only a bit bigger) along potholed country roads at a speed that probably qualifies the driver as a health hazard to himself, myself and to the wide variety of other road users (including the oxen), and reminding me of the Runaway Mine Train at a Disney theme park. And after all that, he delivered me to the wrong bus station – and I had to spend another 50000 kip going BACK the way I had come.Oh well….


Next stop… Pakse!


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