We may not often hear about Laos back home, but backpackers in Southeast Asia will almost always have it on their itineraries. Good news for Laos tourism, but not such good news for travelers looking to get off the tourist trail. Even Muang Ngoi, which many guidebooks still describe as “a quiet tucked away oasis” and “a sleepy riverside village” had more tourists than guest house rooms when we were there.
Now, I try not to be too snobbish about getting ‘off the beaten path’ and away from other tourists, especially as tourists usually mean great things for local economies, and you know I love a chance to practice my German and French with some good eavesdropping, but I have to admit I was ready to go somewhere a little more remote.
So after spending the night in Muang Ngoi, Dan and I grabbed our backpacks and set off on a hike to Huay Bo, a nearby village we had heard about from a friend in Chiang Mai. The walk there was only about two and a half hours (it would probably have taken two if we hadn’t wandered off into some rice paddies), but I quickly felt like we had put some distance between us and all those banana pancakes.
This was also the point of the trip where I realized I was traveling with Daniel, not Danielle. Danielle, whom I traveled through Southeast and Central Asia with last fall, is teeny tiny and made me feel like a fitness rockstar, as I could generally make it up a hill a few paces ahead of her with a bit less panting. This was not the case with Dan, who didn’t even falter when faced with this
I may have taken dance lessons for twenty years, but balancing with a backpack on? Just, no.
A few close calls and some very wet feet later, we arrived in Huay Bo village, greeted by a few chickens and pigs and some very tiny puppies!
We stayed at Konsovan Guest House, which consists of a restaurant (which, oh hey, serves delicious banana pancakes) and four guest rooms with simple mats and no electricity. The loosely woven bamboo walls made it feel a bit like camping, especially in the mornings when we were woken up by a cacophony of farm animals.
There was supposed to be another small guest house in the village, but on our second day there we watched it being torn down, so … maybe no longer?
The village does have a little electricity that is drawn from the river, but mostly the nighttime there was dark and quiet – perfect for sitting around a fire chatting with new friends.
We stayed in Huay Bo for two nights, spending the days visiting neighboring villages and waterfalls and playing in the rice fields.
Village visits are a popular tourist activity in Laos, with lots of organized trips offered by tour companies. However, something about paying a guide to go into a small village feels incredibly awkward to me.
We once passed a group of tourists climbing out of a van for one such visit, and it looked pretty awkward as well. In fact, we talked to an American couple who had done one of these tours, and they said that they felt very intrusive, as if they were walking through private homes, wholly unwelcome.
Visiting Huay Bo independently and staying at Konsovan Guest House was a nice way to see a bit of village life without feeling like we were paying to visit a human zoo. I did feel a little uncomfortable when we first walked into the village with our flashy backpacks and hiking boots, but Konsovan’s owner immediately put me at ease with his hospitality and general gregariousness.
From the lack of attention the villagers gave us, it was also clear that they’re quite used to visitors (though I do wonder what they think about all the tourists coming through). At least the kids seem to enjoy it! Like this little
Or this girl from nearby Ban Na village, who easily charmed Dan out of his bottle of water.
She was a pro.
Overall our experience in Huay Bo was really great, and Dan said it was his favorite place that we stayed in Laos. Highly recommended!
We stayed at Konsovan Guest House in Huay Bo, which cost 10,000 kip ($1.25) per night.