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A view of the Nam Ou river at sunset, from the village of Muang Ngoi.
In Luang Prabang we met a one Mr. Tongdee, whom we found hanging out on the street in front of his house in Luang Prabang, a copy of the Rough Guide in hand, accosting passers-by to see if anyone was interested in hiring a boat. We were, and we hired Tongdee to head up the Nam Ou river to the northernmost frontier of Laos, to the village of Hat Sa. This is a four-day journey by boat heading into one of the remotest corners of Laos; the further upriver we went, the fewer foreigners we saw, until at Hat Sa we were the only tourists around. Conditions were very basic, mostly consisting of small bamboo huts with no electricity or running water; still, it was reasonably comfortable and the people were incredibly friendly along the way.
For the first couple of days we were accompanied by a Danish couple (who were unbelievably also on their honeymoon!), but beyond Muang Ngoi we were on our own. Though we had chartered the boat the entire way upriver, we let the driver stop to take local passengers as well. It seems that river travel along the Nam Ou is becoming less common now that roads are being built in the area; we expected to see a large number of passenger and cargo boats, but found almost none. Still, the boats are much more spacious and comfortable than pickup trucks or local "buses" - if you don't mind getting wet and occasionally rained on.