Day 34: Day off the trikes in Nong Khiaw

Apologies for the late posting of this blog – when I would have been writing I was either in bed or vomitting and writing a blog seemed far too much like hard work.  But more of that in a moment.

We had booked a day trip with Tiger Travel which started with a boat ride up the Nam Ou river to a small village, Muang Ngoy.  Nong Khiaw is only a small place but it has hit it big with back-packing tourists because of its spectacular location and there were loads and loads of Europeans who were taking in Nong Khiaw whilst travelling through South East Asia.  We felt older than the vast majority of them, note the absence of signs of an alternative lifestyle such as multiple tattoos or multiple rucksacks and were significantly shorter than most of them.  That is not to give us an inferiority complex but just to say that, as a couple in our 60s, we sort of stuck out as short, “tatless” and staid (must be our floppy hats but we did eschew socks with sandles this time).  We only notice this when we are in a crowd of other travellers, which is pretty rare to be honest.

Bernie being driven off to the boat – on the back of a motorbike and no helmet – when in Rome!

The boat was long and thin (one person wide) and the engine noise made conversation limited; but the scenery was lovely.  High cliffs to begin with then some farmland next to the river including buffalos cooling off in the water.

  After an hour and a half we reached the village and went a little further to a landing stage where we disembarked to start climbing up to a cave and view point.  We reached the cave after about 10 minutes, took our our head torches and entered.  It had a tiny entrance but then expanded out to a long, thin cave system which was about 250m in depth.  This was one of the many caves that villagers used to live in during the bombing raids carried out by the US military (and not officially acknowledged at the time) during the years 1967 to 1973.  I am reading Max Hastings’ book on the Vietnam War which details how the USA dropped more bombs on Laos than were used in the whole of the second world war – all in a pretty futile attempt to stop the Viet Cong supply lines from China.  There is still unexploded ordnance in the jungles and so leaving the path is inadvisable (to say the least).  It was an entire air war – no troops invaded – and yet it caused huge devastation in this beautiful country.

The cave was a cave – with cave features like stalactites and stalagmites.  It also had a large boa constrictor snake that had taken up residence and was seen by others who had sharper eyes.  But I am pleased to say we got out without being aware of the snake’s existence.  Bernie, in particular, would not have been too pleased to know that she was sharing a thin cave with a large snake.  

We then climbed up to the view point which overlooked the river valley.  Having seen so many fantastic views from mountain roads in the past few weeks, we were not blown away by this.

On reflection – not too bad a view!

  But it did give us the chance to meet a lovely couple from Canada where the woman was taking advantage of the 4 over 5 scheme, and travelling for a year with her husband (he got 6 months off) and 3 teenage/student children.  Mention of this scheme brought us back to some people we met in Mexico in 1990 who were doing the same thing.  Essentially, a Canadian public servant can opt for 80% of their pay (which is probably about 90% after tax) and has to work 4 years out of 5, and gets paid for the fifth year without the need to work.  If the UK government wants a scheme which creates both motivation and retention, they could do no better than study the Canadian scheme.  

The view point was crowded and there were giggling youngsters who were carrying on loud banter that was hugely sexual and seemed to have started at least the previous evening nd possibly had been going on for longer.  Travelling and casual sex might be synonymous for some on the road, but perhaps there are others who don’t need to hear the details or the aftermath – especially on a viewpoint.  Or maybe I was just being “Mr Curmudgeon” – something I am working on.

Next we descended to near the river, met up with our guide (who spoke Lao and French but not much English) and ambled into the village.  This has had a lot of investment in recent years with brick houses replacing wooden shacks, mostly on the back of the tourist trade.  

We were confused as to what was happening next as we thought we were going to walk to a waterfall, but we were led back into our little boat.  There is an extent to which, on these trips, one just has to put oneself in the hands of the guide (on the basis they do this every day) and go with the flow – although we find that difficult at times as we are so used to organising our own time.  The boat took us half way back to Nong Khiaw, but then we stopped at another small village, disembarked and understood that we could now walk to the waterfall.  Just outside the village our guide produced “lunch” from his backpack – packs of rice with limited vegetables.  These had been in his pack since the morning; getting hotter and hotter.  We were hungry and had little choice so we consumed them – and both paid the price later.  

The walk to the Tad Mook waterfalls took us through some irrigated rice fields and past an organic farm.  It was getting very hot and it was a relief to reach the shade of the final few hundred metres up to the waterfalls.  They were also crowded but there was room to swim in the pool under the main waterfall, and we duly put our heads under the cascade and felt pummelled by the water.  

The walk back down was easy and we were happy to sit in the boat to go back to Nong Khiaw.  We turned down the chance to change to a kayak when offered because we both felt drained, and then found that there was no kayak on offer anyway (which was a shame for the other two in the group who wanted to paddle back to the town).  

When we got back we made tea, and then crossed the bridge into town for provisions.  In the distance I spied two touring cyclists who seemed to have come from the East – just where we were going tomorrow.  So we busied ourselves across and introduced ourselves to Tino and Alice.  They were from France and had started in Hanoi, and were heading to Bangkok.  So we wanted to get information about the roads they had just travelled and they wanted the same from us.  We agreed to meet a bit later after they had showered and eaten pizza – something Alice had decided she needed after a long day in the saddle and lots of climbing.

We went off to eat and, by chance, bumped into Adrien and Damian so they joined us.  However, by this point, my world was starting to feel distinctly unstable and I doubted I could eat any of the food I had ordered.  I excused myself and went back to the room, leaving Bernie to talk with our friends, although she was not feeling a great deal better than me.  I am pretty confident that it was a bug from the lunchtime meal that had upset my stomach, and it duly all re-emerged.  So I collapsed in bed and felt sorry for myself but it is an almost inevitable part of travelling in this part of the world so I had nothing to complain about.

Bernie went out to meet Tino and Alice and shared travelling tips and road conditions before coming back to collapse herself.

2 thoughts on “Day 34: Day off the trikes in Nong Khiaw

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