It takes three hours by minibus to the village of Nong Khiaw northeast of Luang Prabang, and another hour in one of the narrow, long Laotian boats up the Nam Ou river, to reach Muang Ngoi. The river is winding its way through densely forested mountains with steep rock faces.

Muang Ngoi is a small peaceful village that consists of a single dirt street lined with small houses built from bamboo and wood, with just a few brick buildings. A long stairway leads up there from the baot landing, where many of the narrow boats are moored. I was staying at the Phetdavanh guest house; it, too, has a wooden frame and bamboo mat walls. There is a nice upstairs terrace with hammocks. It’s very quiet in the village – there are almost no phones, no Internet, and my guest house is one of the few houses with electricity. Most others run a generator for a couple of hours in the evening, so the village is very dark.