Friday, April 12, 2013

Nong Khiaw A sleepy fishing village

I left Sam Neua and headed towards a little fishing village north of Luang Prabang. Since the trip would take 13 hours, I decided to split the it into 2 days. I made the right decision. Leaving Sam Neua was another interesting experience! I love these days! I hiked a mile straight uphill and quickly confirmed that I need to ditch some of my belongings or send them home. I am carrying too much stuff for that kind of a hike. But I did it! Sweaty and happy I arrived at the bus station in time for the "private minivan" to Vieng Thong. I bought my ticket, heaved my backpack to the man on top of the minivan and waited to load. I noticed people kept coming and giving belongings. The van had a humongous load - it was a mountain on top. How many people could possibly be going on this trip? The driver looked at the 4 of us that were westerners and pointed to the back seat. It was me (I am not a little woman) and 3 guys that were more than 6 ft tall. We squeezed in and prepared ourselves for a long bus ride. The bus had 9 seats. When we left the station, there were 11 of us in the bus. We bounced and swerved down the roads. We came to a village and I see 2 people with luggage waving us to stop. The bus pulls over, the luggage is piled on top and we now have 13 people in the van. A little further down the road, another man waves us down. Yes, we had 14 people crammed into a 9 person van! I now know how clowns at the circus feel cramped into a small car1  We had luggage at our feet and you could not move. The middle row had the seat folded down with 5 people sitting on it. All 14 of us were adults. I giggled and decided this was more dangerous than hitchhiking! It was a long 6 hour bus ride. I was cramped and sore and ready to rest in Vieng Thong for the day.  
Vieng Thong is a small town with a National Park. I walked through town and found the park entrance but it was closed. I guessed it was lunchtime and they would be back at 2 pm. I wandered to a small village about 5 km away and enjoyed watching the people farm and the children play. By the time I returned to town, I needed a shower and decided to skip the park. I cleaned up and went for dinner at a restaurant down the street and then to bed early.

I was awoke at 8 am when the maids came and told me I needed to get out. I tried to argue but nobody spoke English and I just eventually gave in. I dropped my bag at the entry and said I would get it before I left on the 1pm bus to Nong Khiaw. The lady followed me with my bag and threw it outside. I am not sure what I did. The problem was I was now stuck with my backpack until the bus arrived. Ugh! I walked back to another guesthouse that advertised high speed internet and asked what he would charge. I found the other guys that had stayed in my guesthouse....they all got thrown out too! None of us know why. We laughed and figured it was some crazy woman.

I was ecstatic when I saw the bus to Nong Khiaw was an actual bus! I was scared I would be stuck with another 6-7 hour minivan ride. Yippee! The young kids loaded our bags and told us they were taking a 15 minute stop and then we would be on our way to Nong Khiaw. He was a young and was serious about getting to his final stop. He whizzed through villages and we arrived in 4 hours! It was a welcome surprise.  I immediately loved Nong Khiaw and was glad my friends (the McCrosky's) had told me to visit.

It is a village on the Nam Ou River with little garden bungalows. It is small, quiet but has plenty of activities. You can hike, kayak and spend your days laying in a hammock reading a book. I had decided to stay here for 4 nights to rest and relax and just enjoy the town. I walked to the first place and got a cute little bungalow for $23 for all four nights! Yes, less than $6/night!
Granted there is no air conditioning or tv but I don't need them. I have everything I need.... fan, hammock on the porch, free wifi and a mosquito net over the bed. It is wonderful and quiet. I woke up the first morning to the sound of rain on the roof of my bungalow. It was beautiful and I decided to spend the morning reading a book and drinking tea in my hammock. Oh, the indulgences of an unemployed woman traveling the world with no worries! I finished one book and started a second. I am reading books about the countries I am visiting. I just finished Colin Catrell's mystery The Coroner's Lunch. It is great if you want to get an understanding of the Lao life and a it was good read.

After being lazy, I decided to get up, check out the market and get something to eat. Everyone is getting excited for Pii May Lao (Lao New Year). Water guns are on sale and children are already practicing. The Lao new year is a water festival. I will be wet but it is ok as it is getting hotter each day. Today it was 96F and high humidity. Bring on the water! I am ready for the celebration. 
The next morning I decided to go on a half day kayak trip down the river. The guide tried to talk me into a 3 day kayak trip to Luang Prabang with camping on the river but I knew I would never make it that far! The kayak trip was fun and beautiful. I got lucky with a guide in the back of my boat. We passed cliffs and water buffalo and then eventually we were picked up by a tuk-tuk to take us back to Nong Khiaw. It was a nice day on the river. 
The following day, I was off on a hike along the river. I hiked up to a cave but decided not to go in when they told me I would need to rent a headlamp. I am not a fan of tight, dark caves all alone. The hike was beautiful and was a really good workout.

It had  a wonderful stay in Nong Khiaw and I highly recommend this village to anyone coming to Laos. It is beautiful, relaxing and set-up well for tourists and outdoor activities. 

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