Mueang Ngoi, north of Nong Khiaw.
Gabriel is from Sweden, and he was fixing a bicycle as I walked by the restaurant that he co-owns with his wife. We started talking and I asked Gabriel “how did you end up staying here in Muang Ngoi?”. Without skipping a beat he said “Penny”. The restaurant was previously a guesthouse in the early 2000s, and it has been owned by Penny’s family for a long time.
“At that time, she was the only person who spoke English in this village and all the foreign travellers knew her. They invited her for a trip around the country, and I met her in a bar in Vang Vieng with her traveller friends. We kept in touch, I couldn’t do much then as she was with her friends, and in 2011 she asked me to come to Muang Ngoy to help her here. I’ve been here since.” he said as he broke into a smile. “She started young, cooking, selling and building a business here in her family home, and she learned English all on her own.”
Gabrielle and Penny now have 5 kids together, and they’re gorgeous. “I use to run a guesthouse here, but most visitors wanted a river view. So we built the bungalows by the river, and turned the guesthouse into a restaurant”, Penny said as she sat in front of me and her daughter Dina came over. They visited Sweden with the children to meet Gabriel’s family and they plan to do so again next year, “but it’s too cold” she said.
The village of Muang Ngoi and Sweden are worlds apart. The children speak Lao fluently, and one day they will be sharing stories of their own on their travels. How their parents met in a bar and fell in love, and how they grew up in a remote village in Laos, playing by the rivers, the jungle and the mountains.
Yeah, the baguettes and mayonnaise are homemade and delicious too. If you’re ever in Mueang Ngoi/Muang Ngoy, drop by Phetdavanh Restaurant (you can’t miss it - it’s right at the junction on the Main Street up from the pier) and the PDV Riverview Bungalows, and say hi to Gabriel and Penny. They’re good people.
PDV Riverview Bungalows