I’d thoroughly enjoyed my time in Luang Prabang, and for the first time in quite a while I felt as though I was clearly leaving a place before I really wanted to. But I had less than two weeks left on my Lao visa and other destinations in that wonderful country called.
The morning of my departure I woke early, finished packing and headed towards the house of a boat driver I’d met who was headed to north to Nong Khiaw that foggy morning.
But never made it. Said boat driver had planned to charge me 100 000 kip ($US10) but as I passed the town boat dock I found a Lao man offering a ticket on the same trip for 85 000. I headed down towards the boats with him and handed over my money. He’d just begun to walk away when I saw Sunny a Chinese woman who’d stayed in the dorm with me headed towards the boats. In no time I’d determined that she was also headed to Nong Khiaw and had paid only 65 000 for her ticket at the official ticket office which I’d somehow missed. The embarrassed Lao handed back my money and I walked up and purchased the ticket myself.
I headed back down to the mist covered boat landing where I sat and waited for my boat to depart (and since no transport in Laos goes anywhere until it’s full I figured it could be a while.)
Finally after I headed back up to the road for breakfast, after some re-arranging of passengers and after two more people showed up we departed up the Mekong for our eight hour journey with the surprisingly sparse cargo of five paying fares plus the driver’s wife.
The amount of waiting before departure was in almost no way a bad thing. It meant that most of the mist had lifted by the time we were away and I could enjoy the sights along the way right from the start (and since the bus to Nong Khiaw was faster and cheaper there was no other reason for taking the boat.)
The Mekong was generally pretty, though the first of the real highlights came as we turned off the Mekong itself and up onto a tributary, the Nam Ou. At their confluence are two wonderful sights. First the Pak Ou caves, filled with hundreds of antique Buddha images. While only the entrance is really visible from the river, they were still quite nice. More impressive still were the cliffs that towered above the Nam Ou just as we entered it. They were made even more spectacular by the fact that in the morning calm everything above was reflected onto the river below.
The boat carried on up the Nam Ou, pleasantly similar to my Cambodian river trips with the wind in my hair and the sun above the (covered in this case) boat. Different from most of the Cambodian Mekong, however, was the relative paucity of settlements here. Villages did appear now and again, but they were clearly the exception rather than the rule. The rule was gorgeous steep green mountain slopes, the vegetation occasionally broken when the slopes became to steep and rocky to sustain it.