Sunday, April 10, 2011

Staying near the river

Laos has a lot of water.
There are rivers everywhere here, including the mighty Mekong river that flows through all of Southeast Asia.

After heading from Luang NamTha in the north, I traveled all day to try and reach Nong Khiaw (pronunciation probably seems absurd, but it's not too bad). Traveling all day can be quite tiring, but when you backpack you get accustomed to doing bus rides for 7 or 8 hours and accept it as normal. Whereas at home, in 7 or 8 hours I could get to Arizona or to Morro Bay,CA and I only do that a couple times a year. But on these buses you fill your time with reading, listening to music, chatting with the person next to you, people watching, landscape watching, worrying about if the bus goes off a cliff, and lots of  'looking inward'-- and that makes the hours fly by. Lots of interesting things tend to happen in transit.

Nong Khiaw is a very small village on the river Om and is surrounded by jungle covered limestone karsts. A absolutely gorgeous scenery. A small village with no more than 2,000 people, it was easy to explore the village and feel oriented in the first day. Oh the worst thing happened though... I had to get a cabana with a hammock on the porch looking out at the limestone karsts, hot showers, mosquito netting, and a quite garden setting around. It was absolutely horrendous, mostly because it cost me 50,000 kip ($5.50 USD)- I know, I was REALLY suffering!!
One of the days when I finally felt like getting out of my hammock, I walked about 2 km outside of town to some caves. These caves were where the people of the area hid out during the Second Indochina war which ended in 1975 (called the Vietnam War in the West and the American War in Vietnam) when the US and other forces were carpet bombing the area daily. Sidenote: Laos and Cambodia are two of the most heavily bombed countries in the world. You will commonly see signs in the area, and it goes without saying, that you need to stay on or near the path! Because of those millions of bombs dropped about 30% did not explode, refered to as UXO's (unexploded ordinances) Also, common decoration are old war relics, rusted bomb covers etc... well they at least make for good potting dishes! But, back to the caves. After a 2 km walk that I didn't mind so much because the scenery was beautiful, I reached the mouth of the cave. There was a sign at the bottom of a staircase leading up the said "Becare  full, stairs are slipperly"...ohhh I will watch my step! These caves had section all throughout that indicated "Nurse section" "Telecom section" "Provincial governor" "School" and so on because in these caves the people made a community in which they lived for long periods of time during the war. There was also Buddhist graffiti on the wall. A young Laos boy met up with me at the mouth of the cave to take me to the 'Bank Cave.' I thought it was humorous following this 24 year old Laos boy named Paul, with his one working shoe along the cave wall for one reason in particular, he was about 4 feet 10 inches... 5 feet at the most, I was taller than him!! Hey I fit in in Asia, everybody here is short, I sometimes even worry of bumping my head. Anyways, this bank cave he took me to was were the entire province of Luang Prabang kept their money and bank people from 1968-1974. Can you imagine going to the bank to hold your probably useless money in a maze of caves? It was pretty surreal. America has taken part in a lot of wars, but we have never been on that short end of the stick. I think we Americans don't realize how lucky we are, but also we don't realize the bad things we've taken part in all over the world.

The rest of my days were spent lounging around Nong Khiaw and reading until I headed up the river to Muang Ngoi ( I know the pronunciation!). On the way up the river by boat, there were herds of water buffalo everywhere and villages scattered along the banks. I thought Nong Khiaw was small, Muang Ngoi is even smaller. This village is not accessible by road, only boat, has a population of about 500, and the electricity is only turned on for certain (limited) hours of the day. I headed this way due to a recommendation from Beth, and she was right, what a great little village! Very relaxing spending your time on the river beach, reading, hanging with other interesting travelers, exploring the caves in these limestone mountains, swimming in the river, eating at the Laos buffet for 15,000 kip (2.00 USD) and whatever else came about. You might be wondering about all these caves, and it is safe to say that I'm kinda tired of going in them all by myself in the dark cool caves after I went in the cave at Muang Ngoi and saw a big black spider just larger than my fist headed my way- I high-tailed it out of there faster than you can say 'Muang Ngoi.' Creepppppyyy!!! But this is cave country in Laos and there are plenty to see, so I'll keep my eyes open for good caves as well as other people to accompany me!

Until next time ladies and gents. Hope all is well!


  1. Hey...I Like Caves!!!

    (and spiders :-P)

  2. Well Mr. Peanut, sounds like you'll have to come to Southeast Asia then!!

  3. That sounds amazing lady!! I bet you can't wait for Brad to get out there!


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