After our fantastic, but rather exhausting, two days in the jungle I was in need of taking things a bit slower. With this in mind we headed to Nong Khiaw purely because it sounded nice!
We arrived after a rather long and incredibly bumpy journey. I retrieved my backpack from the top of the minivan, grateful I had zipped the cover over it for it was coated in dust from the roads. I hauled it up onto my back, stretching out my weary and somewhat creaky legs from sitting down all day. We had opted not to book anywhere in advance and the sun was starting to set so we had to get a move on with finding somewhere to sleep for the night. After we had crossed the bridge we allowed ourselves to be beckoned into the first guesthouse, Sunrise Bungalows, and this proved to be an excellent choice. We took one of the new rooms with a balcony, perfect for watching the Nam Ou river and taking it easy. All for £6.50 a night! And unlike our accommodation in Luang Nam Tha which was a bit sketchy and a similar price, this was nice! I cannot get over how cheap Laos is.
On our first day we eventually dragged ourselves out of bed after watching the sun come up through the window whilst we lay in bed (the guesthouse had neglected to provide curtains, but that wasn’t really a problem for us). We had a really lazy slow breakfast and then set off to explore the town.
There wasn’t a lot to the town really, but it was nice enough and not heaving with tourists which won it bonus points. By lunch time we had pretty much wandered around the main parts so ended up having a slow lunch overlooking the Nam Ou flow by below us.
Come mid afternoon I summoned up enough energy to suggest that we go and pay the caves a visit. They were only a few kilometres away, but feeling too lazy to walk we hired a couple of bicycles and bumped away down the road.
The Tham Pha Tok caves are where some of the local population hid during the ‘secret war’ as it is now known. The secret war was a bombing campaign conducted by the US on Laos during the Vietnam war. This was despite the fact that the Geneva convention in 1954 declared Laos to be a neutral country, neither Vietnam nor the US forces could cross the border. The US started a bombing campaign of Eastern and North Eastern Laos from 1965 to 1973 to target the Viet Minh who were using the Ho Chi Minh trail to transport munitions. Sadly this meant for the people in these areas of Laos that in order to survive taking to the caves and hiding during the day became their best bet. They would then come out at night to gather food and supplies under the cover of darkness.
Walking around the caves was somewhat eerie. I couldn’t imagine what it must have been like being forced into such circumstances. There wasn’t a lot of information at the caves, but the occasional sign in the gloom told us that an area had been a hospital or an art area for example.
The next day we dragged ourselves out of bed again after another lazy lie in. I was very much appreciating that we were staying somewhere with a mattress that didn’t resemble stone or a plank of wood, a rare thing in Asia! Today we were going to go to the viewpoint on top of the nearby hill. It was a hot and sticky climb, we were thankful it was shady for a lot of it going through the trees, but the view was well worth it.
The rest of our time in Nong Khiaw was dedicated to eating. I had already fallen in love with Laos food, especially with their usage of coriander in a lot of dishes which is my favourite herb. I particularly wanted to try the river weed we had seen on the menus. We sampled this in Alex restaurant and it was delicious! Served with the ubiquitous sticky rice and a delightfully smoky eggplant dip and washed down with the equally ubiquitous Beer Laos. My love of Laos food just continued to grow in Nong Khiaw!