The group all caught buses early in the morning – all the other guys heading to Vietnam, and Angelica headed to Nong Khiaw with me on her way to cross up into China. We visited the market briefly to see all kinds of fruit and vegetable for sale, and rapidly departed after I went for a cracking shot of a tiny kid at a stall, which instantly sent her to bawling and tears as the lens pointed at her. I did ask someone first so didn’t feel too bad, but luckily, Angelica’s trick she practised well in Vietnam and Cambodia got me through it – blowing up a balloon for the child, already rescued by her mother. As soon as westerners approach some of these kids they give you looks, so it had to be left next to the stall, but it was smiles all around as her mother picked it up for her. I’m going to use that tool in the future! (I’m writing this in Vientiene a couple of weeks later and have already secured two bags of balloons!). We also saw our ‘Orange truck guy’ who gave us a lift last night selling his goods, minus the ones we ate on route and the ten or so I nobbled at the end.
The eleven hour bus journey was great lasting 8am to 7pm, a good few hours longer than expected. We passed through superb terrain, rishing up through the morning clouds, passing through amazing villages and waving to the locals. Luckily the bus was half empty so we had loads of space to wonder around, open windows, take pictures and the rest. We listened to tunes, read books, chatted, and laughed as the kids closer to Nong Khiaw started to scream louder as the bus passed through their village, it’s pretty much a lifeline here. Again, we were the only tourists on the bus. I was given a South East Asia phrasebook (thanks Angelica – note to self – use it more!!).
The villages were real rural Laos. This was another journey I wished I was undertaking by motorbike. I would have stopped more, but travelled faster, probably balancing it out. Under or next to several houses in the villages, they were dying material and weaving, and going about their daily lives, drying chillies and other foods on the woven roofs.
We got to Nong Khiaw in the dark, and glad we did. It’s weird how it’s different strokes for different folks as I was told I could maybe miss this place out if heading to Vang Vieng. Angelica and I were a smiling walking across the bridge as the mountains around us were lit by the strong moonlight. We settled for the second accommodation we looked at (Pha Noi guest house (I think!) right next to the end of the bridge with the restaurant the first thing you see) and shared the $2 charge for our bamboo hut looking towards the river (albeit beside the main bridge over the river), and settled in for some well deserved food and beers. The accommodation was nothing more than a bamboo shack with fan and balcony, but nothing more or less than we required.
I had made it almost back to Luang Prabang in record time, only a few days elapsed since I left, and now only a few hours north of the place. I had been thinking about heading north with an Irish lass Claire, and a couple of Scottish blokes she was travelling with. I wandered if they had now passed through and went to Luang Nam Tha, or to the Gibbon Experience, but was glad I had opted for the trip I did, and glad I never went back to Luang Prabang. As happens in trips like this, who walked up the steps, but Claire. They had moved north and were taken in by the quietness of Nong Khiaw and had stayed a few days, opting for a day trek to village and a waterfall which she was buzzing about, and a cycle along the main road which ended up with them playing cards with local kids by the riverside. After a quick catch up Angelica and I headed to speak to the guide they used, at 9.45pm!
We spent 45 minutes with the poor guy discussing options for our next day, and haggling hard (they got their day for $15 but ours,a bit more complicated, with only two of us was going to be $25). We debated over a beer and decided we’d do it ourselves. When we went back, the price dropped to $15, but we stuck with it, returning again to say we wouldn’t be there at 7am to tell him whether we’d go or not. It was a shame as the guy was super friendly. If you go there, head to the turn off for Sunset Guest House (on the East end of the bridge), and directly opposite there on the main road is a yellow sign for a tour guide – pop your head in.