Nong Khiaw recommended

As usual when I look up one of the incredible places I got a glimps of, now just in mind, a torn Lonlely Planet and online, I want to go back SO bad. With all the great impressions I got in those few months, and all my many adventures; there is so much I missed, due to time or budget.
Please make sure you wont make that mistake!

It was coincidental that I got to see this town. But I must recommend anyone who goes to Laos to at least spend a few days here!
I surely will go back to bring a longer visit!

Along the 1C you’ll find it, a small settlement named

Nong Khiaw, Luang Prabang Province, Laos

– Transportation:
I came in and left with an organisation I booked with from back home. Don’t do that.
The town itself small enough to walk.
It should be easy to rent or hire a boat, a bicycle or a bike, with which you can explore neighboring villages.

– Do:
Services to go out trekking, rafting and rockclimbing shouldn’t be hard to find. I even saw something about tubing
Here’s something I wish I’d done: playing a game of petanque (the traditional and still popular French ball game that excites even those who can hardly walk anymore) with the locals. Across from the post office you should find a playing court.
Going to the cinema is another one I’m adding to my list.

– Sleep:
Sunrise Guesthouse (cross the bridge then take a left – twin at 80.000 kip) has the sweetest bamboo huts, with balconies -and hammocks- to the riverside. A great place to watch sunset from!
There’s a diner where you can order your breakfast and have kittens playing all over your backpack.

[Take another look at this stunning town and how it’s revealed in the morning]

Luang Prabang smells beautiful

next destination:
LUANG PRABANG, Unesco Wold Herritage
population: ± 50.000

Day XV – April 2

I put my alarm extra early, so I’d be in time to capture the unveiling of the hills. I end up being too early, waiting around for almost an hour before the mist starts to clear.
It’s the most amazing show to wake up to, swinging back and forth that hammock like an impatient child, camera at the ready.

Before getting back on the road we visit a cave, famous for being a hideout to a communist community of 170 people, during the Vietnam War. Amongst them were some important polical figures, still acting as such from that cave.
It makes me feel a little claustrophibic, to imagine such a large group living a space this small and resolute for 7 years.

After a few hours we get off the bus and pass through a little nomans town. There’s an owl chained to a shop. Shop meaning: a fridge for sodas and a little counter with some snacks, on a porch.
When we finally do meet people, they use their lines, trying to tempt us into buying some traditionally handmade Laotian shawls, almost robotical. Our guide James steers us to a slowboat that takes us to the other side. There we visit the Tham Ting cave, decorated with thousands of Buddha statues.
Something about this whole scene makes me feel as magical yet itchy as I did that first time I saw Spirited Away.

Then we drift down the Mekong for a good hour.

Luang Prabang smells beautiful! Of soft crème and sweet syrup. It has a smalltown-feel but looks rather crowded. I’m looking forward to spending a few days here!

Check in to Spicy Laos Hostel, finally an actual dorm.
I was supposed to be booked in a different place, that was full, so with many apologies James brought me here – the rest of them are staying in some hotel. And I’m so much happier for it!

I have some stuff to take care of. Handing in my laundry so I’ll finally have some clean clothes. Get some more digital space for my Nikon.* Take out some kip, but all the ATMs in walking distance are down so that one fails.
I wanted to see about maybe sending a box home, with stuff I know now unnecessary, like that musquitonet and those spare jeans. But that turns out to be really expensive, about 360.000k; I’ll just drag it along.

Then finally can I sit down, with some random strangers. Right away it feels very homely. Everyone is nice and friendly.
It’s funny how this friend making works out here. It reminds me of festival, but more intense even, and you don’t have your basecamp at walking distance to fall back on.
Everyone here at the Spicy balcony knows each other already, if only just for a day. And I join the conversation the way back home people would look at you, like “Who the fuck are you?” But it’s all good and the same night I feel as much part of ‘the group’ as I would with my own friends back home.

“Where are you going next?” and “Have you already been to … ?” or “Oh, if you’re going there you have to go see …” are the lines I’ve heard most so far. Talk of the road ahead and beyond. Talk of visas and busses, exchanging tips and tricks. “Are you taking malaria-tablets?” and “Do you still spray muzzy?”
Names may come up upon meeting, but usually it’s not until the second or third day; no use bothering if you’re spending less than that amount of time together anyway. “Where are you from?” comes first, and then easier than names is Welsh or Finnish.
I still feel a bit of a layman though, just two weeks out.

Here in the hostel I do hear quite a lot of Dutch. Then again, people have been saying to me for weeks they’ve been meeting a lot of Dutch on the road. Guess it’s time for me to meet them too now…

Anything-goes Asia: Where cattle like dogs, goose, chickens, piglets and cows etc run free over land and road.

* SDmemory and other digital attributes are no cheaper here than in Europe. So get it in Singapore or get stacking discount back home.

Bumpy roads through stunning scenery

Next destination:
Nong Khiaw, northern Laos

Day XIV – April 1

Last night we went for dinner all together to this place James, the Stray tourguide, had picked out. I wouldn’t have gone in there if I’d had anything to say about it. But I guess at this moment I don’t have that luxury.
Their pumpkin-crème soup was very nice though.

After that we had a bit of a stroll over the local market but – much like the hotel, the street, the restaurant, really the whole vibe I’m getting of Nam Tha; not very inspiring, but dusty…

So then there’s but one solution; to the bar!
James insisted on introducing us to laolao: the national liquor. It’s being compared to whiskey. I thought the white version tastes more like tequila. There’s also the green version that should be fresher, and the pink that should be more like actual whiskey.
I drowned it with lao island iced tea and in there it worked well.
The party-animals were awoken – though I think in most of my current travel companions they rarely ever get any sleep – and it was decided to continue the party at the Chinese disco.
So I safely retreated to my room. I think it was only just 10pm when I turned off the lights.

This morning it turns out smog does actually put a dusty layer on this town, and with that cleared up more or less, making it possible to see the golden stoopa and some of the outlining hills, it already looks a lot nicer.
It is said Nam Tha is a good place to do trekkings from.

James pulls a witty april fools on us, saying we’d catch a plane instead of the bumpy road to Nong Khiaw.

From that smooth, spiffy new road we left Huay Xai at, it’s turned into dusty, worn down asphalt with potholes varying from big, to really really big.
Parts of the Laos highway have been sponsored by China who uses it for transport to Thailand and Vietnam. The rest of it is in a very poor state.
Oh and vomiting will get you kicked off the bus. So good luck to you girls and your hangovers.

As we’re driving eastward, the scenery is getting more and more shapely with humps sticking out in unfamiliar forms.

The town where we have lunch isn’t super big, but feels huge.
The road crossing right through it is a 4 lane at least, no smaller than the highway just outside of Bangkok. I haven’t seen more than 2-lane since.
On the side we’re on I can’t find the fruitshake I’m craving, so I make a run for it. On the other side I find a sort of garage/livingroom/streetvendor with a blender on their cart; a sign that they do shakes.
When my presence is noticed a young girl walks up and understands that I ask for a mangoshake and makes me one – with condensed milk and syrup. A few types of shakes indeed contain these extremely sweet ingredients – but not mango! However, I don’t have the heart to complain to her, so I pay the 7,000k and walk back to the bus.

After half of it I do start feeling quite sick. I leave the rest of it and hope I won’t end up being the one to be thrown off the bus.

Now I’d like to say something about the road we continue on, the one that takes us to Nong Khiaw, through these daunting mountains. But I don’t want to get mum and dad unnecessarily worried before I get home so I’ll just leave it for now. Anything-goes-Asia couldn’t be truer.

The scenery is becoming more and more spectacular now with every new line of limestone hills. Before we get to our destination we’re surrounded by giants sticking straight up out of the earth.

Tonight we make camp in this adorable Sunrise Guesthouse, with it’s sweet cabanas.
The diner is a pretty little bamboo hut painted in bright colours and with many smilies on the menu. Then, walking further down the courtyard, brushing past some big leaves, scaring of a rooster who just put down a big load on the stairs, so I‘ve got to watch out, I make my way between the little timber and bamboo huts to the one I’m sharing with Patrick. A triple, with a bed for the parents and one for the kid, but the double is all pink so it’s the one for the girl. Yeah, he couldn’t argue that.
At the back there’s a balcony with the hammock hanging right by the riverside.

With my camera I try to capture the sun sliding into the hill, and for the first time since I’m on, I’m happy about Stray. This place, I wouldn’t have wanted to miss out on!
James told us this is his favorite place in all of Laos, and I can see why!

Anything-goes Asia: Where the yellow line is no more than a mere indication.