BootsnAll Travel Network

Nong Khiaw: Chocolate Water

From Huay Xai, we had originally wanted to travel by boat north to Luang Nam Tha. There was nothing we wanted to see in Luang Nam Tha, we were going there simply for the boat ride, which was said to be beautiful. The reason we still got a bus to Luang Nam Tha was based on a recommendation from some South African guy in the travel place in Huay Xai we were in.

As we asked the lady behind the desk about getting a boat up north, he chimed in with “Yeah, instead you can get a boat from Nong Khiaw to Luang Prabang. Beautiful trip.”

There was nothing in the guide book about the trip, other than to say that every few weeks one cargo boat made the trip from Luang Prabang up to Nong Khiaw. But we put our faith in the random stranger, and booked the bus to Luang Nam Tha, which was on the way to Nong Khiaw.

What amazes me now is that we didn’t even question the decision to trust this guy. When you travel, the faith you put in the other people around you can sometimes be overwhelming. But you just don’t think about it. You trust them, and if things don’t work out, well, you just deal with it. That’s life.

We spent an uneventful night in Luang Nam Tha, and first thing the next morning hopped on a bus to Nong Khiaw. Well, it didn’t actually get us all the way there, but took us six hours in the right direction, before dropping us in a small village called Pak Mong and turning off towards Luang Prabang. We could have stayed on the bus to Luang Prabang; it was our eventual destination, but my desire to take at least one long boat trip in Laos had us catching a tuk-tuk an hour further up the road from Pak Mong to Nong Khiaw.

There were about ten of us in the tuk-tuk, which was basically a small truck with a custom made cage on the back and a couple of long bench seats to rest your arse on. We shared the ride with some young stoners from Australia and the UK, a super-friendly Israeli girl, and an annoying 29-year old Canadian girl suffering from Arrogant Traveller Syndrome, and who produced frequent ubrupt and aggressive comments like “What?! You didn’t love Cambodia?! I bet you only went to the touristy places!” You know what love, I don’t really give a shit.

About twenty minutes into the hour long ride, the truck ran out of petrol. By chance (or else this truck driver really knows his mileage), it was at the top of a hill, and we were able to roll all the way down to the bottom where we picked up a couple of litres of petrol from a shack on the side of the road. It was barely enough to get us to Nong Khiaw, and must have been sloshing around in the tank in such a way that when we began going up hill, the petrol would not make it to the engine, the result being that at every hill we came to (and this is the north of Laos, there’s nothing but hills), the stoners had to get out and push.

Rolling down the final hill, we made it to Nong Khiaw and found ourselves a couple of beds for a few dollars, before heading down to the boat pier to see if our trust in the South African stranger had been well placed. If there was no boat going, we would simply have to return to Pak Mong, and then catch the bus down to Luang Prabang the next day.

We spoke to a few boat drivers, and it seemed that, if there were enough people wanting to go, we could get a boat for about twelve dollars each. But we wouldn’t know until the morning.

With the travel arrangements out of our hands, we relaxed and took a stroll around the scenic village, which was straddled over the wide, chocolate brown Nam Ou river. Huge limestone karst cliffs rose up around us, and the clouds hung low around them like short dresses. Small wooden boats criss-crossed the river, chickens ran through the streets, and the locals gathered around a patch of dirt to play petanque.

Beautiful. Peaceful. Relaxed. Laos.

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