• 28 . 02 . 11
  • Arriving in Nong Khiaw, northern Laos, we subject ourselves to a legalised assault, then sit back to watch the world go by. It goes by sedately.

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Assault And Batteries

The Thai massage in Chiang Mai was a pleasure. Body oil, infused with lemongrass. Facial creams, soft towels, low lighting and relaxing music. Soft hands with firm pressure relieving me of the aches and strains of 2 days of strenuous activities. Relaxing enough that you even forgot that the masseuses were former guests of the Chiang Mai Women’s Correctional Institute.

A Laos massage is more like being the victim of an assault.

No water-boarding, fortunately. They had the towels, but it’s the dry season, so they stuck to more routine torture. Feet on the back, knuckles into the shoulders. Dynamic stretching perhaps, on steroids. Or meth. Legalised ABH. Arms, fingers and legs bent at impossible angles. Spine contortions. Karate chops to the neck and back. Being shaken around like a rag-doll. Ligaments and joints protesting, creaking, cracking and popping like logs on the fire and then, resistance broken, magically offering up relief.

Being physically abused by an 18 year old Laos boy and paying for the privilege is quite an experience. All above board of course. Not the kind of abuse that a politician or priest would go in for. No leather. Except the soles of my travel-weary feet.

Plans to go out this afternoon abandoned. We nursed our injuries instead with cocktails and got accidentally drunk. 10 dollars gets you a lot here. 10 tall Beerlaos. Expansive dinner for two. Riverside bungalow on stilts facing the river.

We sat and looked at the view. It’s the same one as yesterday, the same as it’s been for thousands of years I imagine, but remains awe-inspiring.

Limestone cliffs on both sides of the river stand imperiously over the small town, dominating the skyline in every direction. Everything else tiny by comparison. The Nam Ou flows lazily on, pared back to a comparative trickle by the oppressive heat. A single bridge strides across the water connecting 2 settlements. A grand structure for such a modest place. A good foreground for the pale sunsets over the peaks.

An occasional motorbike passes through, breaking the silence for a minute, before being fading out again to birdsong and the sound of children playing in the river. A few riverboats. Life is slow here. Except for the heat, you might say glacial.

24 hour electricity only reached Nong Khiaw last year. The sockets are rickety and our equipment doesn’t charge properly. Batteries will be running out shortly. I kind of like it, even if (because?) it is only for a day. No interruptions from doing… what? Whatever we choose. It’s an excellent base for trekking and kayaking.

We might skip that though and go back to watching the river.


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