That time we “went fishing” & ended up crashing a mid-day mid-week Laotian roadside wedding .
We’d entered Laos through Northern Vietnam a week or maybe ten days prior. Muang Ngoi, the town we arrived in was quiet, to say the least — home to several hundred locals & a “layover” for travelers. Tired from a month of constantly moving, we spent a few days there. In the mornings, we’d cross the narrow suspension bridge from our room to town, chow on some hand-made coconut pancakes and/or noodle soup colored bright red with chili, drink a beer or two, & head back over for some cards, journal-writing, & whatever else. No one spoke much english. It was peaceful (apart from the tone-deaf karaoke off in the distance, & the morning town-wide PA announcement) & it was beautiful.
On the third morning, we took a long boat down the river to Nong Khiaw. Twelve or so of us, plus a Laotian man & woman who seemed to be disagreeing quite frequently about how best to drive the boat / navigate the river. At one point, the engine battery died & we had to pull over for a repair. This period was particularly contentious between our Laotian shepherds. A bit later, we got to a huge, partially-built dam. We’ve learned since then that these dams are being constructed up & down the Mekong (& the rivers that flow into it), quite controversially.
By early afternoon, we arrived in Nong Khiaw, another small town built along the Nam Ou river. It was clearly more set up for travelers, with treks and trips being offered and some english spoken, but was thankfully pretty empty the week we called it home.
Four or five days in, we decided to sit down at a little restaurant that never seemed to have any business. The waiter, a man in his 20's, was happy to have us and ensured the food would be delicious. As I remember, it was fine. Towards the end of our meal, the man (let’s call him Loy) asked us if we’d be interested in going on a fishing trip with him. I forget exactly, but I think he quoted us around $5 each — including transportation, a meal, & the fishing experience itself. He spoke broken english, so the plan wasn’t so clear, but intrigued enough with the prospect of a morning on the river, & impressed by his salesmanship, we accepted the offer.
The next morning, we returned to the restaurant at 10am. Loy appeared with no rods, but a net that was lined around the edges with small weights. We knew this was a possibility, though, so we weren’t thrown off — instead, excited to see this style of fishing. A few minutes later, Loy’s friend arrived, & it became clear our transportation would be on the back of two old scooters. & then, we set off — in the opposite direction of the river. Increasingly confused, but trusting in our new friends, we embraced the winding twenty-minute ride away from the only water source we knew of.
We arrived to the banks of a much-smaller stream, a tributary of the larger Nam Ou. After a short walk & a steep climb down from the road, Loy stripped down to his swim trunks and jumped into the water. Wearing jeans & a t-shirt, his friend followed. We watched. First, they’d throw the net into the water & then submerge themselves — goggles & all, in an attempt to pull trapped fish from underneath.
In the first few minutes, they pulled four tiny fish into the air, & I was sure we were going to have a lucky day. I was wrong. We followed the men up the river for about half an hour, ending up with six fish all about the size of the palm of my hand. Ultimately, it seemed we’d arrived too late that morning — so, we bought a few larger fish (& a couple of beers) from a woman who’d been out earlier than us & made out better. Our friends then built a fire & constructed methods of cooking our fish from sticks & bamboo & banana leaf, & we ate a delicious little meal of bamboo shoot soup & sticky rice & freshly-caught fish.
Before we headed off, Loy asked if we wanted to “stop off” at his friend’s wedding on the way back. (Casual.) Keep in mind this was about 1pm on a Wednesday. So, of course we said yes. After a short ride back towards town, we approached a large roadside tent with music blaring. We were immediately greeted by a gentleman probably in his eighties holding a couple plastic cups of clear Lao liquor. He gestured for us to drink. Naturally, we threw them down the hatch.
Next, we were welcomed into the tent, where we were sat down in the middle of the action, given small cups of beer, & encouraged to finish them each time we cheers’d. Loy approached me & asked for 50.000 kip ($5.80), which ended up getting us four beers — our wedding present to the happy couple.
We sat there, nodding & smiling & cheers-ing & drinking. What else does one do when crashing a wedding where you don’t speak the language? A few songs passed. Suddenly, “Mister Sam! Mister Sam!,” over the speakers. It seems our friend Loy was to sing karaoke, & wanted us to dance. Embarrassed, but feeling the pressure, I stood up & went to the dance floor. & there, in front of a wedding full of Laotians & my equally-embarrassed girlfriend, I stood there frozen. The music got going, & I slowly gave in. Solo at first, bouncing around awkwardly, & then soon surrounded by a group of amused, supportive faces.
The song ended, & I shook some hands, feeling like a bit of a celebrity. Soon after, Loy told us it was time to go. & that’s the time we “went fishing” & ended up crashing a mid-day mid-week Laotian roadside wedding.