Nong Khiaw is a small sleepy little village in the north of Laos, located on the Nam Ou River.  I had spent 5 nights in Luang Prabang and was ready to make a move so I decided to take the quick 3.5 hour trip north to chill out and see some well known viewpoints.   I was really lucky with an amazing group of people traveling in my minivan with me.  A couple in the back behind me were from Seattle.  All of the sudden I hear him ask “wait is that a tattoo of the space needle on your arm?”  Obviously, we became instant best friends.  The couple next to me were from the UK and adorable.   We ended up staying in the same guesthouse.  In front of me I had a girl from France and a girl from London.   We all chatted the entire ride and made plans to hang out while we chilled out in Nong Khiaw.

It makes me laugh writing this because every time I load a bus or minivan my mindset is “I’m going to get some reading, writing and editing done”.  I try to stay focused and not make eye contact or listen to the conversations around me, but I always get sucked in.   You see the thing about traveling, especially alone, is that you’re surrounded by so many like minded people.   I can’t help but be attracted and drawn to people who see life the way I do.  These are my people.   I struggle to find long term travelers back home, therefore, my heart grows when I meet all these wonderful humans with great stories and the same dreams and ambitions as me.

Of course, when we arrived in Nong Khiaw, it was raining.  This seems to be my luck in Laos.  We all loaded into the back of a Tuk Tuk after negotiating the price and off we went into town.  It wasn’t all but a mile or two and we all could have walked but it was seriously pouring down rain at this point.  All of our guesthouses ended up being really close, but then again, it’s a really small town.  So, I guess, there’s that.  We all split off to get settled but exchanged info to meet up again in the next few days.   I got settled into me PRIVATE room!   That’s right folks, place to myself for 3 nights!  I was living it up.

After a shower I was ready to rock and roll, so I headed out to explore the village limits.  As I was walking the main street I ran into the couple I had met on the slow boat into Luang Prabang.   We had dinner together the second night on the slow boat tour and I was really excited to run into them again.  They are also from the UK.  Does anyone else see a trend here??  People in the UK are traveling!  I love it.  Anyways, I adore them.  I invited them to watch the sunset with me that night and we also made plans for a 6am hike up to the viewpoint the next morning.  We also met up with the two girls from my minivan and we all had dinner together as well.

The next morning we all met in the AM to make the hike up narrow pathways through the jungle, while ascending steep limestone cliffs, to reach the expansive 360 degree viewpoint.  I had read online that it was a 1.5 hour hike.  Me, being a moron, thought yeah right we can do it in an hour.   This was a challenging hike and I was challenged.  My lunges were stretched beyond comfortable levels and it’s a good thing I didn’t eat breakfast because it would have been compromised.  Don’t forget it had rained hard the night prior and it was muddy.  You know you’re climbing a steep slope when there are ropes to pull yourself up with. I haven’t sweat that much EVER, in my entire life.  It was as if I had showered with my clothes on.  It was absolutely disgusting.  I don’t want to go into the numbers of times I wanted to throw the towel in, but I finished that climb and I was rewarded with the most amazing view I have ever seen. The cloud coverage was amazing and added a very nice element to the scenery.  Watch without judgement my video of the viewpoint.

 
 

After we survived our hike and got showered and cleaned up we made plans to meet up for a much deserved meal.  The girls bailed on us for food, so it was just Lucy and Mike, my UK friends.   We met at a restaurant I had read some good reviews of.  We were starving to death.  No one had eaten before the hike and we had exhausted all our resources climbing that giant mountain.  We ordered our meals and then waited over an hour.  We were the only customers in the restaurant and there was only one chef, but still why so long?  The thing about Laos is, they move at a very unnatural speed.  They literally have all the time in the world and they intend to use it.   I was about to rip someone’s head off and start throwing chairs because I was so hangry!  Right before I was about to reach the point of no return, our food was delivered.  Thank god I was in the hands of good company, otherwise that situation would have been fatal.

I spent the rest of the day trying to be productive with my blog and videos.  Mostly, I just drank beers.  I had some things to get worked out for a tour I booked in the south of Laos to go zip lining for three days and sleep in tree houses.  No big deal.  If you didn’t know, then now you know.  It’s going to be amazing.  I’m terrified to death but I think there is something so liberating about facing your fears.  Anyways, I took care of all the details for that and then crashed hard around 8pm like the old lady that I am.

The next day I was invited to join a little motorbike party with the cute couple that sat next to me in the minivan and some of their friends they had met up with in Nong Khiaw.  One of which was a girl I had met and hung out with in Pai, Thailand, when I was there.  It’s crazy just how small this backpacking network is.  Especially here in SE Asia where so many people are taking the same routes of travel.  We all met up after breakfast and spent the day riding our motorbikes through the lush landscape that is so beautifully Laos.  We stopped off in a few different small villages and walked around saying hello to the locals and giving high fives to the kids.  At one village a few kids who had just gotten out of school walked with us.  Staring at us like we were aliens.  I love the children here, well I love children period, but I really love to spend time with them here.  Watch me ride through Northern Laos.

Around lunchtime we turned around and went back into Nong Khiaw to have lunch.   After lunch we drove in the opposite directions and stopped at a trail head that one of the guys had found on his phone.  After parking our bikes we were approached  by a local with some unknown Laos whiskey in a water bottle.  He whips out a shot glass from his bag and it’s a party.  He’s pouring shots for all of us, in the middle of the road mind you!  He pours us shot after shot of a very strong whiskey.  We basically had to run away from him.  He didn’t speak any English and for sure didn’t know what “no thank you” meant.  A few of us were a bit buzzed as we headed down an unmarked road.

The road ended up leading us through a giant banana plantation.  I have never seen anything like it.  It was so fascinating seeing the banana operation in action.  I could tell that the Laos laborers working the fields also lived there, many of them in some pretty rickety little shacks.  We passed many children and families.  Mothers, fathers, grandparents, all working the banana fields.  The path ended at the village.  It was pretty obvious that the villages main income is the banana industry.  They eat, sleep, breathe banana.  I could tell that many of the children had never seen a foreigner before, honestly maybe even some of the elder villagers as well.  One lady, who I’m sure was the only person who knew a few English words came up and asked us if we wanted to sleep there.   We said, no, but thanked her for the kind offer.  I could have stayed for a week and worked in the banana fields during the day and played soccer with the kids in the afternoon, but we had to get back to return our bikes.

That night was my last in Nong Khiaw, I had booked a minivan back to Luang Prabang for the following morning.  I met up with Mike and Lucy for a beer and to say goodbye to them, they were on their way into Northern Vietnam.  I really hope our paths cross again.  Did I say how much I enjoyed them?  Then I met up with my motorbike crew and we all had dinner together and then enjoyed a card game until the bar shut down and kicked us out.  Something you probably don’t know about Laos, because I sure didn’t.   The curfew is midnight, so bars close at 11:30 and stop serving drinks at 11pm.  Then the entire country goes dark.   It’s weird!

The next morning I took my minivan back to Luang Prabang and then caught another minivan to Vang Vieng.  Long day of traveling, but I survived!