4/30/18: Hardest Hike Yet: Muang Ngoi, Laos

We woke up around 6:30 on the floor of a balcony in northern Laos. It was admittedly a bit nice to wake up outside to crisp, clean air, but I was also in a lot of discomfort from sleeping on wooden planks the whole night.

We decided to go find the owner, Gabriel, to get a new room and maybe nap for a bit before starting our day. We figured he’d probably be at his restaurant.

We were right— he was whipping up some chocolate sauce when we walked in.

We told him about our situation— that there was a rat in our room, and we would like a new room if possible.

Gabriel, instead of saying sorry, asked us why we didn’t just sleep in the bed “with the mosquito net around us,” “if we had any food in our room,” and that “it’s a small village and of course there are rats.” I found that pretty annoying, since I don’t really think anyone would enjoy sleeping in a room with rats squeaking and scuttling around every few minutes, and he essentially was trying to blame us and make us feel stupid for freaking out over a rat.

Anyway, Gabriel was too busy preparing breakfast for the morning buffet to take us to a new room, so we decided to get breakfast on our own and then start our hike to Pha Boom, the one we tried to do yesterday but didn’t have enough time for.

We chose a restaurant down the street, where I ordered rice crackers with banana and honey. As soon as we ordered, the owner walked across the street to get all the ingredients for our food– rice crackers, bananas, eggs– which I found pretty funny.

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Buying the ingredients across the street

I didn’t really know what to expect with my food, but it was surprisingly good and quite filling.

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My rice cracker tower

The coffee was disgusting though; it was way too watery.

It was after breakfast that I had one of the greatest revelations in recent memory.
Earlier that morning, Adrian had taught me the word for “good job” in German: gute arbeit.
I was repeating the word to myself as we were walking, and it dawned on me that it sounded very similar to the word for part-time job in Japanese, arubaito (アルバイト). The word most definitely comes from the German language, and I got so excited. I had always wondered why that was the word for part-time job, since it doesn’t sound like any word in English (and usually words that are written in katakana come from English), but I finally figured it out!

We got to the starting point of the Pha Boom hike, and within 2 minutes we were both panting and sweating. The climb began with steep stairs, with ropes to help pull you up. The stairs continued on for half an hour before we reached a small view point.

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Crazy path
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Adrian climbing
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Little view point

Adrian was really tired, so he decided to turn back at this point.

I was tired but still ok, so I kept going.

Immediately after leaving Adrian, I accidentally followed the wrong path and realized a few minutes later when the climb was just too ridiculous to be real. I had to get down, but there was nowhere to place my feet. I ended up sliding down a few feet, hitting a rock along the way. I scratched up the top of my right leg, bleeding a bit, but it was nothing serious. I cleaned it up with my water bottle and kept going.

I got to the first viewpoint where I saw the French couple who we crossed paths with the day before when we were trying to go to Phanoi viewpoint. I asked them if they were going to the very top of the mountain. They told me they weren’t because it was too foggy and they wouldn’t be able to see anything.

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First big viewpoint

I decided to go up to the top because I was already halfway there, and didn’t want to turn back early. Plus I had a feeling the fog would clear.

This second half of the climb was intense. No stairs, just random muddy footholds, some bamboo ropes, and branches to hold on to. There were some sections where I had no idea how I was going to climb up, but after some testing of the strength of nearby branches and bamboo trees, I’d figure it out eventually. I felt like Alex Honnold (a free soloer).
It was also a bit scary because I was alone, and if something happened to me I knew it would be hours before someone discovered me.

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So much bamboo
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The “path”

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Bamboo rope

Sweaty, exhausted, and completely covered in dirt, I reached the peak 45 minutes later.

I was smiling BIG when I got to the clearing at the top. I was completely alone and could be as loud about my excitement as I wanted to be. I was so proud of myself, and the view was actually breathtaking. Usually, I like being able to share moments like this with others, but it was sort of nice to have this moment to myself and be completely alone to take it all in.

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First view from the peak

I took some (read: many) pictures, and wanted to hang out there for a while, but the bees and flies would not stop bothering me so I decided to go back down before I got stung.

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Self-timer fail

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Euphoria

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The way down was a bit scarier than the way up. It was super slippery and hard to control my feet. I fell a couple times, but it was nothing major.

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So many camo trees in SE Asia! I love them

I got to the bottom at 10:30– it took me 2.5 hours to do the whole thing. I was really tired, but was also feeling the adrenaline high from having completed such a challenging climb.

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Down on the ground again

If I were to do the hike again, I would bring a small bag to put my water in. It was super annoying to carry it in my hand— I kept having to place it somewhere so I could use both hands to climb up and down, and then pick it back up again.

My shower was so nice— I was really freaking dirty by the end of the hike. I had dirt and little scratches all over me.

I was a bit hungry, and thought I would have some of my ginger cookies. I opened my backpack, pulled out the bag, and found a hole in it. I thought it was odd, and then reached in to grab a cookie. However, the bag was empty. My cookies were gone.

It dawned on me that it was the rats. The rats had taken my cookies! And it was my fault that we had rats in our room the night before. I felt so bad, and apologized profusely to Adrian. Ooooops. Sorry again Adrian!!

We were hungry so we got an early lunch at Veranda. I got veggie laap, but it came with peanuts. Normally I would have just picked them out, but they were mixed in all through the dish, so couldn’t really eat it.

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Veggie laap
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Adrian wanted to be in the pic lol

I asked them to make me a new one instead, although I really hated that I was wasting a meal. I asked Adrian to eat some, but he really didn’t like it.

But I did!! It was good— it had some mashed eggplant, fresh mint, some other indistinguishable veggies.

We went back to our bungalow to nap, and woke up around 1:30 to rent bicycles and visit the nearby villages.

We were riding under the blazing hot sun, and sweating profusely. About 15 minutes into the (very bumpy) ride, we got to a bridge where we had to pay 10,000 Kip to “maintain the bridge”…. the bridge was in really bad shape— it was built with random, patchy pieces of wood and bamboo, filled with big holes— I was wondering how exactly that money was going toward the maintenance of it.

We kept going, and turned right when we saw a sign for Huay Sen, the village we wanted to go to.

The path got super narrow, and we kept riding until we hit the river again. We crossed the river and there were two paths to follow. We weren’t sure which one to follow, so we chose the one that looked more trotted on and kept going. It led to rice fields, and we rode through the fields for a while until we decided to check on maps.me if we were going the right way.

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Lost
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At least it was pretty

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We needed to get back on the main road, which according to maps.me was close by. We headed in the direction of the road, and after many rounds of getting on and off our bikes, lifting them up through the tiers of the rice patties, we reached the main road.

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Back on the road

We rode about 10 more minutes to Ba An, a village that we hadn’t intended on visiting first, but somehow ended up at after all our navigation troubles.

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Fields next to Ba An

We rode through it— it was a pretty small, basic village. We heard school children reciting something. It’s crazy that the village school is just one small building with no separation of grades or ages.

There were two other villages we could have visited, but we decided to head back because it was just too hot to keep riding.

The way back included many, many hills, which also meant many beads of sweat.

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Selfie

We stopped by the water cave, Tham Kang, on the way back, but the water level was too low for swimming. We just walked around it, got back on our bikes, and rode 15 minutes back to Muang Ngoi.

We both wanted something cold and refreshing, so we went to a restaurant for fruit shakes. I got a coffee and banana shake, which was pretty good but a bit too thin for my taste.

We returned our bikes to Gabriel and went back to our bungalow to chill.

Around sunset, we had pre-dinner beers and then left around 7:30 to have dinner at Bee Tree.

I got pumpkin curry— the main ingredient was, presumably, pumpkin. It was good, but I would have preferred if there were one or two other veggies included.

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Bad pic of good food
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hello again

We went back and watched Stanford Prison Experiment on Netflix. I enjoyed it, but I don’t think it added much to what I already knew about the study. It was just a reenactment, nothing more.

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