It took about 3 hours to get to Nong Khiaw, a journey which consisted of a tuk-tuk ride to the house of the minivan driver, numerous stop offs to pick up locals who were essentially sat at random points in the hard shoulder, a very cute little baby who was baffled by my white, stubbly face and glasses (none of which I imagine he had seen before), a massive dam being built in the Mekong river, and the discovery that potholes in Laos are numerous and make the craters of the moon seem miniscule. (I exaggerate, but they are definitely big!).
My favourite moment of this slightly bizarre journey came when a car going the opposite direction went into one of these potholes, spraying a tidal wave of muddy puddle onto our van & straight through the windows that were unfortunately open. It goes without saying that Claire was one of the unlucky ones who was sat next to the window & received an unexpected face wash!
All of this had been in order to get to a town that was in the opposite direction to where we were headed & we were only about 50/50 as to whether or not we wanted to go to in the first place. Fortunately, it was definitely worth it!
An offshoot of the main backpacker trail, Nong Khiaw was significantly less touristy than anywhere we’d been previously bar Mae Hong Son. There were a few guest houses, a couple of bars & a scattering of restaurants but probably only around 30 tourists in town. There are 2 main attractions – the view & the activities.
The view was amazing – a small town set on both sides of a river surrounded by jungle covered mountains. Here’s a selection of pictures – there’s not much more I can add!
While in town, there are a few activities you can do – jungle trekking, kayaking, boat trips & visits to nearby villages and towns. The town itself had little going for it, other than a very slippery hike up to a viewpoint set up in one of the nearby mountains. It took us about 3 hours for the round trip, including time at the top, and again was well worth it. Claire needs shoes that can find some grip in the mud though…
We decided on a day trip that combined a short jungle trek – called the 100 Waterfalls trail & well known in town – with some kayaking to get there. We were joined by a group of 4 Brits who had been teaching in Vietnam & were travelling there way home, but they didn’t fancy a hot sweaty kayak so jumped in the boat with the guide on the way there. We briefly spoke to a few fishermen on the way, who all seemed a bit confused about us & why we were not using a boat with a motor but were all very friendly.
After a couple of hours in the kayak, we parked up next to a small village & met our local tour guide (there isn’t a need for one really, but a different member of the village takes any tours that come in each day so each family picks up a bit of extra money over the course of the year which seemed like a good system). The walk itself was basically a stroll up a river which created a number of small waterfalls as it ran down the hill. You literally walk up the middle of the river though, so it was a very wet & muddy route but was pretty good fun.
At the top we had lunch before heading down a leech infested, slippery path. Between the swearing at the leeches, the occasional thud of someone falling over & the amount of mud half the group managed to cover themselves in, our guide must have thought were we a bunch of total weirdos! When back in the village, we rewarded ourselves with a BeerLao each before heading back to the boat (there was no desire to kayak back upriver by this point!) for a relaxing ride back to town.
The rest of the time we spent in Nong Khiaw was mostly spent relaxing on the riverside balcony of our otherwise relatively shabby but adequate guesthouse or in bars & restaurants – it was a lovely place to just sit back & watch the world go by.
Next up, we headed down to Vang Vieng by sleeper bus as we started our journey into the southern half of Laos.