Nong Khiaw, Laos Day 1
Oh Nong Khiaw. I could have spent many more days just relaxing in a hammock and having crazy adventures there. This town was definitely my favorite stop on the trip. Everyone we met there was so nice, hardly any tourists (it is a stop farther than most people seem to go, seems as though most people stop when they get to Luang Prabang, but man are they missing out!) and just absolutely beautiful. Really stunning. Like if it weren't so hot and humid and other such things I could see myself living there. I loved it so much. And even though everything was a bit of an adventure from here on out, a bit more exciting than we had planned, I wouldn't have changed it. But first a few photos from the last morning breakfast in Luang Prabang
Breakfast of champions - fruit (not sure what all of it was so I only ate what I knew wasn't mango or papaya and gave Raymond the rest), bread, and orange juice. See how neon orange it is? That is how all of the orange juice we tried was. Even the one from the "fresh squeezed" juice place (Or what I am assuming was fresh squeezed since I don't speak/read Thai - it had the "juice" spout coming right out of the orange display). Definitely not fresh squeezed orange juice, but it was good. Like tang.
And flowers from around the hotel. Now we had gotten up for our 9am bus to Nong Khiaw, ate, had our last awkward conversation with the front desk guy (he really was very nice, but he hovers and you can tell he just wants to chat with people. His conversation skills are not the best though so it is a bit awkward, but he was sweet. Definitely would give you all kinds of info on what to see and do) and were ready to go when the van picked us up. Now it said the drive would be 3.5 hours - so we would get in at 12:30 - but we of course planned for way longer. This was one time when it was actually accurate! Actually it was a bit quicker than that as we got in about 12:20! Crazy. So we were picked up from our hotel with a bunch of other people, and this was the second time where it was just a bunch of tourists in the van, no locals. We switched vans at the bus station and Raymond and I got the front seats in the new van which was perfect. Especially since the AC didn't work in the car! The people in the very back must have been boiling even with the windows down since the back ones didn't open. There was this odd French couple in the first row in the back and they asked right when we started going if the AC worked and the driver said no. Then the driver stopped for gas and the French guy immediately leaned up to the front and turned the ac on full blast which just shot tons of junk out of the vents everywhere. It was just like dude, the driver said it didn't work...this van is not exactly in pristine condition...I am betting it doesn't work. Anyways they were not the happiest people.
The drive itself was nice. Again through the hills I loved. The driver was in a hurry, but still careful which was good. He even pulled over to answer his phone! Lots of sections of road that were all torn up and bumpy where you had to go slow, but that is just the way it is there. We did see lots of people wearing camo along the way, and we even picked up two military guys and gave them a ride to the next town.
Then we arrived in Nong Khiaw! A super small town, can walk the length of it in a minute or two, but so beautiful. Just surrounded by giant limestone cliffs with the Nam Ou river cutting right through town. Gorgeous. Above is the bus stop which is maybe a km outside of town.
Walking from the bus stop to town. We walked with a lady from Toronto who was friendly. She had a ton of bags, a giant backpack and everything, and she was asking us if we stashed some of our stuff in Luang Prabang that we would go back for. We were just like nope - this is everything we brought with us. People always are shocked by how light we pack, but we acarry everything we need. I, on the other hand, am always shocked by how much stuff people bring. I always wonder what is in their bags. Like what are they carrying that I am not. It is much nicer to just have a small, light backpack than lug tons of stuff around. Sometimes I think I should give classes in packing for traveling as I have never really seen anyone else pack like us...
We secured a room at a place right on the water that was perfect! Well the accommodations were not that nice - holes along the tops of the walls and stuff - definitely needed out bug netting there - but it was only $8/night so I you can't really complain. Plus there were hammocks to lay in on the porch that overlooked the river...more on that later. Once we settled in we got some Indian food for lunch. Yeah I know, but there were a bunch of Indian places in town so we thought we would mix it up. Pretty tasty.
Now for a fun game of what is it? Anyone know what these next two photos are?
While at lunch we were talking about what we wanted to do with our time here. The guidebook highly recommended NK Adventures (seen on the right above) for a hiking, waterfall, kayaking day trip so we went to check that out. We had also read about this viewpoint that you could hike up to, said it took 90min, but it closed at 3:30 so we just thought we wouldn't be able to do that. After all I am not hiking at mid-day with the sun shining down on me. That is hide in the shade time! We went to talk to Home at NK Adventures and man he is such a nice guy. So friendly, so kind, seemed to genuinely want to help you if you needed it and not really about making money. He was amazing. We sat and talked to him for a bit. He was learning German, with the same books we have, so we even practiced our Deutsch! It was really surprising how many people we met in Laos and Thailand who spoke German. I was not expecting it at all. He gave us lots of good advise on what to do while we were there and you could just tell that he loves Nong Khiaw. He loves the people there, he loves helping them out, he loves showing others great places, he just loves his job. It really felt more like we were talking with a friend and he did not pressure us at all to buy anything, unlike some of the other places in some of the other towns. Really he seemed to want to save us money if he could. He was like well if it is only the two of you it would be 300,00/person (about $30) for the day trip including everything, but if more people sign up then it would only be 200,000 (which is such a great deal either way). But he was just like check back later to see if anyone else shows up as 300,000 is a lot and I want to try and get it cheaper for you and he was just awesome. I cannot recommend him and NK Adventures enough. He is one of those people who would just do anything to help out others. He also told us we should hike up to the viewpoint for sunset, but bring some headlamps for the hike down. We were talking about it and our guidebook was the only one at the time to even mention the viewpoint, and they had it stay open later once they figured out people would want to go see the sunset up there. He really was so welcoming and like you could just hang out all day chatting with him.
After talking to him for a bit we went down to the boat dock (on the right in the above photo) to see about a boat to Muang Khoua further upstream. I knew we might not be able to get there by boat, in which case we would just spend another day in Nong Khiaw or move along elsewhere. The boats only run if enough people want to go, and since we didn't see very many other tourists, and those we did see were all just heading down to Oudomxai or back to Luang Prabang, we knew our chances were not good. The boat launch was odd...lots of people sitting around and the signs were all faded so you couldn't really read them. No one seemed to know what was going on and we couldn't figure out when we would have to come back to see about a boat, so we decided to ask Home about it later when we checked in to see if more people would be joining us for our adventure the next day.
Man it was gorgeous there. The place we were staying was in the trees on the left hand side. This is looking down river - southish
And looking upriver - northish
We can see ourselves on the bridge!
Then back to the room to hang out in the hammock until we decided to venture to the viewpoint.
Plotting and planning. I could have just lounged in that hammock for a few days...if only we had had more time. If our flight back home wasn't from Phuket I would have seriously considered just making this a 4 week Laos trip. I didn't want to leave!
View from the hammock
The start of the hike up to the viewpoint. I don't know what we were thinking. Or rather I don't know what I was thinking. Sun sets around 6 so we had to be up there by then, and we wanted to give ourselves some extra time so we left at 4. Way too early and hot to be hiking up a steep hill! Anyways it was 20,000 to hike up and you got a free bottle of water so basically you paid for a bottle of water. The people you give the money to are the ones who maintain the trail and put the structure at the top which was really nice. They carried everything up and tried to keep the path nice and I was happy to support their efforts. But geeze louise! That first part of the hike is pretty open, sun beating down on you and I thought I was going to die. I sweated more than I ever have in my life. Literally dripping sweat like nobodies business. It was bad. When talking with friends afterwards Raymond was just like yeah, I don't know what was wrong with her. As I have said before my body is just not set up for this heat and humidity. While I was okay walking around town in it by now, hiking up a steep incline is a completely different story.
So we start walking up and almost immediately I was not good. We brought 4 bottles of water with us, plus the two from the guy at the bottom, and we used all of them by the time we got back to town. There were two rest stops on the way up (above is the first one), about every half hour, and at each one I thought I just don't know if I can do this. But the farther you went up the denser the jungle got so it was a bit cooler. Not a lot cooler, but anything helped.
Rest stop two - only 35 min more until the top! Here I really was like I am not sure I can go on. My head started hurting, I was sweating sooooo much...it was not good. I had my dress all tucked up so it was like a tube top and my little shorts on underneath and that was it. We hadn't seen anyone else so I didn't really care if I was showing too much skin for Laos. I needed to try and be cooler anyway possible. When I was just about to tell Raymond I think we should head back two girls came down the path all it is totally worth it! You are almost there! You can do it!! So we went on.
The top third of the trail was really dense jungle. Lots of crazy vines and stuff and it got significantly darker even though the sun hadn't set yet. It was almost dark enough for headlamps already. The trail was really steep, some sections had ropes to help you climb up and yeah. Crazy. Not for someone who is not in shape. Oh and it was a bit slippery as it had rained a little in the afternoon.
But then we got to the top and it was absolutely magnificent! And only took us an hour and 40 minutes, which is just 10 minutes longer than it said it would. I was surprised as I thought I was going really slow and stopping for a break ever two steps. Definitely definitely worth hiking up, even if it was so hard for me to do. You can see 360 degrees and it was breathtaking. One of the best views ever, especially at sunset. Unfortunately we couldn't spend that much time up there since we did still have to get down, and had that super steep, super dense jungle, slippery top section to get through. Not ideal for night hiking, but we did have our headlamps. Now for all the photos of the view!
Half dead from the hike up. Man I was so tired by the time we got up there. It was nice to be able to stop for a minute and cool off.
Click to see a larger image
Make sure you carry the empty water bottles back down, though there was a basket full of them at the top. I guess someone has to walk up to collect them once and a while. Man I still can't get over how beautiful the view was. It was good we did it that day as well instead of trying to go up one morning as it was pouring the next two mornings and we wouldn't have been able to make it up. The trail would have just been way too slippery. Now the walk down. Yeah. That was an adventure. We didn't have hiking sticks or anything, which would have been incredibly useful. We did have out headlamps (you definitely need them!! It is sooooo dark in the jungle once the sun sets. People have gone up without them and have had to wait at the shelter on top until the guy at the bottom notices they haven't made it down yet and someone has to hike up with flashlights to get them. There is like no way you could keep to the trail without a light and you don't want to stray from the trail, especially in Laos). So since I didn't have anything to hold onto I was grabbing tree trunks and such to help me down the steep slope, trying not to slip and fall. Well I didn't realize that young bamboo is jabby, it has spikes on it, and I grabbed onto one of those for balance and was just like ah!! Raymond was walking behind me just like are you okay?!? And I was just like yeah...bamboo is jabby! So we continued on and a little while later I was using a tree trunk to step down a steep incline and moved my hand around and all of a sudden my hand is all hurting and I look - there were tons of ants on the new section of tree trunk and they were all biting me or something! Then I almost walked into a ginormous spider that was right in the middle of the trail...it was just like the trail was out to get me! That last third up/first third down was really slow going. I thought we would never make it to that second rest stop, but we did 40 minutes later. From there it was smooth sailing and didn't take long. Only took 20 minutes to make it the rest of the way down. It was just that top section that was muddy and slipper and beat me up!
We stopped in to see Home on the way back to our room and two other people had signed up for the tour the next day so he was happy for us. We asked about the boat to Muang Khoua and he was saying he would try and find some more people who wanted to go there tomorrow while we were out. And his friend needed to make a trip up river so he would call and see if he could take us. It would be more expensive than the normal boat, but not as expensive as hiring a private boat for the 7 hour trip so we went to bed happy. He really went above and beyond trying to help us. I can't say enough good thing about him. If anyone goes to Nong Khiaw you definitely need to stop in if only to say hello. I am sure he would be happy to just chat a bit with you.
Then it was back to our room for cold showers and dinner and water at the restaurant where we were staying. I was WAY too tired to venture farther, and the food there was good.
When we got back to our room we found this ginormous spider in the corner by the bathroom! Seriously he was huge. Like at least as big as my hand if I spread my fingers out. But then he disappeared, but we had the bug netting so I brushed my teeth and jumped in bed, tucking the netting in to make sure nothing would get us! It was just like well I am not getting up in the middle of the night! Don't want to accidentally step on giant spider! Like I don't want things touching me, but I don't freak out if there are little spiders all over. He was just way too big for me to be calm about. It was fine though. We didn't see him again that night or the next morning. Luckily I was so tired I just passed out in bed. Oh what a day. Next up day 2 - my favorite day of the trip!