Muang Ngoi by Joshua P Jacks

Muang Ngoi. By the time I learned how to pronounce it right, it was time to leave. Recently, I had the opportunity to go on a girl trip with some of my closest friends! After a 3 ½ hour van trip and a 45 minute boat ride, we made it to this small riverside town. There wasn’t much there, but the breathtaking view of the river, a few bungalows and a small village was all we needed for a weekend of fun!

We had 3 days and two nights of walking, talking, bonding, dreaming, and playing together! From exploring caves to swimming in the river. From eating French fries with a fruit smoothie to playing card games together, it was a time I really needed away.

I’m so thankful for the opportunity have spent some time with a few of my closest friends.  I’m even more thankful that I get to live this life surrounded by such amazing people!  Here are some pics! Thank you Lauren Seymore for loaning a few of your photos to the post!

To Houn and Back Part V by Joshua P Jacks

For our final post, we’ll take a look at our time after heading out of Houn. We left Singkham’s village and headed southwest into Pak Beng. It was another 45 turned 90 minute drive to the quiet river town. Along the way, we were stopped by a group of young cattle herders. We saw a few of them coming up over a hill and then a big group shortly followed. Just as quickly as they'd arrived, they dissappeared into the tall grass on the other side of the road. It was a pretty surreal sight to behold.

This was our first look at the cowboys.

This was our first look at the cowboys.

Hang on!

Hang on!

Houn cowboys heading off into the sunset.

Houn cowboys heading off into the sunset.

We made our way into Pak Beng late that evening. This is a small town that has a steady stream of falang (foreigners) coming through. This is mainly due to it’s boat service to Luang Prabang from Houy Xai, Laos, as well as destinations further up the Mekong and into Thailand. These services include a two day “slow boat” and a 2 hour “fast boat” to Luang Prabang. I’ll let you guess which one is uber dangerous.

Pak Beng boats 

Pak Beng boats 

Pak Beng Port in action.

Pak Beng Port in action.

Chillaxin

Chillaxin

A father and son having a quick chat.

A father and son having a quick chat.

This guy wasn't too impressed.

This guy wasn't too impressed.

Smoke break.

Smoke break.

Pak Beng doesn't have a lot to do, but it does serve as an excellent place to spend the night and get some food. Sean, Bruce, and I partook of the “free” meal that as included in the price of our room. Out of the three options, we decided that pizza would be the best decision, as it’d been a while since eating western food. We were pretty stoked when we saw three whole pizzas come out of the kitchen. We EACH got a pizza. Sorry, not sure if you caught that. WE EACH HAD OUR OWN PIZZA. Best guesthouse meal ever.

The three falang thoroughly enjoyed their pizza.

The three falang thoroughly enjoyed their pizza.

We finished up dinner and headed down to the river bank. At this point, we were pretty used to strange looks but the workers and patient passengers weren’t quite as warm as the new friends we’d made on the journey.

After a good night’s sleep we made started the day long journey back to LP. Early on in the trip we crossed over the river via ferry. We were just a few months short of the bridge being completed. Once completed, it will increase the flow of goods into Laos exponentially. This will bring opportunities for growth as well as exploitation in northern Laos. This is a common issue when it comes to progress in our area.

Waiting for the ferry.

Waiting for the ferry.

Boats for the current ferry service.

Boats for the current ferry service.

The ferry makes its last few river crossings in view of it's replacement.

The ferry makes its last few river crossings in view of it's replacement.

We made our way through the mountainous countryside and even made a few stops along the way. The three of us even had a totally unnecessary selfie opportunity. We stopped for some noodle soup in Hongsa and finished our journey that afternoon.

Noodle soup shop in Hongsa.

Noodle soup shop in Hongsa.

Good stuff...

Good stuff...

NERDS OUTSIDE!!!

NERDS OUTSIDE!!!

MOAR NERDS!!!

MOAR NERDS!!!

This mountain home was being occupied by a grandmother and her grandson when we arrived. As usual, we were greeted with some warm smiles and a friendly hello. We stopped here to take a few shots of the mist covered mountains.

This mountain home was being occupied by a grandmother and her grandson when we arrived. As usual, we were greeted with some warm smiles and a friendly hello. We stopped here to take a few shots of the mist covered mountains.

Employee parking.

Employee parking.

Another rural farmhouse.

Another rural farmhouse.

Farmhouses dotted the lush landscape. Here's just a few.

Farmhouses dotted the lush landscape. Here's just a few.

The four day trip was an eye opening experience. We made a lot of new friends and saw several new doors open for future get-togethers. The trip was very fruitful. With this post, we wanted you to see some of the people and places that we are privileged to come in contact with. Our hope is that as your eyes have seen the sights of northern Laos, your heart would be opened as well. This nation has been through some dark times, but we believe the future is very bright for Laos. As we wrap up this series, we ask that you’d remember us, the Lao people, and send some good thoughts this way. We hope to see you soon! 

To Houn and Back Part IV by Joshua P Jacks

We've finally made it to Singkham's village! This post is chock full of images so I'm not going to do a lot of talking. I'll give a brief setup and then you can scroll through the day!

The day was pretty much spent driving to and from his village along with village tours, reconnecting with old friends, making new ones, and soaking up the rich culture of the Khmu people. We spent the day building relationships and seeing doors open for future trips to our dear friend's home. 

We, along with the riders of the bike stopped to checkout the river crossing.

The current here was incredibly strong.

These guys left us and the bike behind. They didn't pack light!

One of the "safer" spots on the crossing.

One of the many Chinese dam projects that are popping up throughout northern Laos.

We reached Houn just in time to check out the town's market and grab some lunch.

Side entrance to the Houn Market

Lunch is served!

Singkham and I

The soup!

After we finished lunch, we headed into Ban Na (Singkham's Village). We were met by some kids that I'd befriended a few years prior. The young man on the left with the blue shirt was pictured in a previous post with a huge hunk of banana bread in hand!

Old friends.

Cheesin' for the camera!

A group of Houn kids trying to stay dry.

Houn Kids

Young Houn girl.

Kmhu woman with traditional headwear and pipe.

Young citizen of Houn

Another Khmu grandmother with a pipe.

Another Khmu grandmother with a pipe.

Our friend and his son.

Trying to get the picture.

He really wanted his kid's picture taken!

Our friend shows us his rat trap. He's hand made dozens of them and has them set up throughout the village.

Setting the trap.

Smoke break.

Ready to play

One of the nicest guys we met!

This guy had the biggest smile in the village! He flagged me down from across the road for a brief chat.

Saying goodbye!

Join us next week for the final installment of To Houn and Back.The journey to Pak Beng and on to Luang Prabang was pretty interesting. My hope is that you will see the beauty of the Lao people and nation as we do. Thanks for walking this journey with us!

To Houn and Back Part III by Joshua P Jacks

As we headed down the mountain, we were continually greeted by smiles and looks of surprise. An older woman was chewing on betel nut and as we passed, she looked, smiled, realized we were westerners, and spit it out all over the place! She kept laughing until we were out of sight. As most of our new friends mentioned, we were the first foreigners to ever visit!

We came around a curve and experienced one of the best views of the trip. You could see for miles and miles. Cornfields, villages, workhouses, and giant rock formations dotted the landscape. These rock formations looked totally out of place. It was so surreal!

Headed down the fast side!

Amazing views.

More corn than I've ever seen in Lao. I've also never seen corn this high up the mountain.

Singkham, Josh, Sean, and Bruce!

Farmers use these as a home base for their work in the fields.

We stopped at a group of workhouses and spent some time with the family there. We gave out the last of our snacks and talked with them for a while. Singkham was able to really connect with them as he is also Khmu. These villages are just a few hours away from his hometown, but he’d never been this far up the mountain. This was an opportunity for him to explore his home district like never before.

Everybody out!

Singkham introducing us to the dad of group.

The last of our coffee flavored peanutes.

Our new Khmu friends.

Work village.

Beautiful vistas. Massive rocks everywhere.

Workhouse surrounded by the giant rocks.

One of the guys we stopped and chatted with on the way down.

With the sunlight disappearing, we picked up the pace so that we could get back to Singkham’s village at a decent time. This new route shaved about 2 hours off the trip back to Houn.

Approaching the valley. These cornfields were a little more organized than the mountain fields.

Headed home after a long day's work.

Rice fields at sunset.

Losing daylight.

His family had invited us to a meal and celebration/blessing ceremony. I visited a few years ago and both parties were excited for me to be back. They planned a ceremony with the village leaders to bless Bruce, Sean, and I. After a delicious meal, the leaders gathered around us and began to tie strings around our wrists to seal in the Kmhu prayers and blessings. After they were finished, we got to go to each person to pray and bless them in our way. It was a beautiful moment and we believe that our prayers were heard and that things would begin to happen in their lives and village.

Singkham's family and village leaders post meal.

Getting ready for the ceremony.

The blessings have begun!

Groupie!

After the ceremony, we took a quick group shot and headed to Pak Beng to our hotel. This would be our base for the next two days. The “30 minute” trip to Pak Beng took over an hour and we arrived to a closed hotel. After 15 minutes of calling and banging on a few metal roll up doors, an employee emerged from his evening shower to let us in. It was an interesting ending to a perfect day.

Stayed tuned for our last 2 days of travel! 

To Houn and Back Part II by Joshua P Jacks

Thanks for checking out Part II of our “To Houn and Back” series. Last week served as an introduction to the series as well as a short summary of our first day of travel.

The second day was quite an adventure! We ended up getting a late start out of Oudomxay because I couldn’t find my loupe (giant eyepiece). I used it during our temple filming the night before and we spent a chunk of the morning retracing our steps. I found it a week later in one of my mic boxes:) After that, we headed to the town of Houn and by the time we reached the district’s main village, it was time for lunch! We ate at one of Singkham’s favorite noodle shops and headed out.

Noodle Shop Kitchen.

Amazing noodles with beef and chicken.

Singkham and I.

We left Houn town to check out Ban Talae. This mountain top village is home to a newly discovered waterfall and we were told that it was a 45 minute drive from the main road and had some stunning vistas for us to take in. The reports were half right :) 

This is the "new" road. Took us two and half hours to get to this nice section of freshly "graveled" road.

We took off down a narrow dirt road and after about 20 minutes I gave up the wheel to a much better driver in Bruce! With the 4WD engaged, we headed up the mountain. I didn't get any pictures of this sketchy road because I was too focused on my slightly irrational fear of dying. The 45 minute trip turned into a three hour uphill adventure. 

One of the many villages we passed through en route to Ban Talae.

One of the many villages we passed through en route to Ban Talae.

One of the many villages we passed through en route to Ban Talae.

We passed through multiple villages that sat at the top of beautiful tree covered mountains. Each time, a local would tell us that Ban Talae was only 20 minutes away. We quickly realized that nobody had a watch and that it was DEFINITELY not 20 minutes away! Each time we crested another mountain, we failed to see Ban Talae, but were presented with another breathtaking view. The trip took much longer than expected, but it was a journey we’ll never forget. 

Crazy rock formations with rice homes on the edge.

Landslide.

Another "model village" we passed through heading to Ban Talae.

Ban Talae is a village of the Khmu ethnic group and was full of beautiful and friendly people. They had never met a westerner and encouraged us to bring our friends and family the next time! They were thrilled that we had come to visit them and even sent some of their young people to guide us around the village and down to the waterfall. Bruce took this shot and you can check out more of Bruce's work Here.

Ban Talae Welcome Party.

Ban Talae

Shortly after arriving, Singkham started handing out the snacks!

Singkham chatting with our new friends. He's also Khmu!

This shot of Talae Waterfall was taken by Bruce! Check out more of his work at www.brucedirden.com

Ban Talae

Friendly Kmhu man with a cigarette.

This grandmother and her friends helped us clean up after the hike.

Group shot sans Bruce. He was behind the camera for this one. Don't worry I'll get him in one of these posts :)

Our time spent in the village came to an end as the sun started to set. Our new friends told us that we could actually shave  few hours off the trip if we headed west down the other side of the mountain rather than returning the way we came. We said goodbye to Ban Talae and headed down the mountain. This leg was just as beautiful as our trip here. With just an 1/8 of a tank of gas left, we were happy about the mostly downhill drive.  

We'll continue down the mountain and into our friend's village in Part III. Check back soon!!!

The start of the road back down the mountain.