February 28, 2014

Northern Laos: Luang Namtha & Nong Kiauw

Oh my, as I think back to our 18 days in Laos, I realize it was filled with so many things: drinking with fellow backpackers at the Thai-Lao border with a view of the sun setting over the Mekong, mountain biking through rustic Lao countryside, partying at a Lao village party (which was amazing!), chilling out in Nong Kiauw (and dodging the dodgiest scam we've ever encountered!) and eventually heading down south to Luang Prabang and Vang Vieng. 

As we've learned in SE Asia, sometimes not everything goes by the plan. We crossed the border to Huay Xia with our minds set on taking the 2-day slowboat to Luang Prabang. One thing led to another and after the sixth Beer Lao with a traveling Dutch couple and a solo Canadian, we decided to ditch the boat and head up north to Luang Namtha and Nong Kiauw instead. And we're so glad we did.

In Luang Namtha we kayaked down the Namtha river, biked through dusty villages and ricefields, and eventually got invited into a village party. Beers were poured, Christian danced with the Lao ladies, beers were poured, smiles and hand signals were the language of choice, beers were poured, we were the only foreigners and even more beers were poured. It was such a unique experience and one of the highlights of our time in Laos. If it hadn't been at the urging of Denis that we "just go check it out" then we never would have known how hospitable the Lao people were (and such party animals!!).

A few days later we braved a rather bumpy ride through the mountains to Nong Kiauw. Once again we biked through the mountain roads (and Christian got a flat tire but Lao motorcycle guy came to the rescue together with an audience of Lao kids) and joined a kayak trip (which is where the scam came in and uggghhh it's such an annoying, long story but on a positive note: we didn't fall for the scam. Just trust me when I say don't join any tours with Jewel Tours anywhere in Laos!). 

Christian and Denis got up bright and early one morning to hike to the viewpoint over Nong Kiauw but I just couldn't peel myself out of bed and opted for a solo sunset trek up the mountain instead. First ever solo trek and quite a difficult one (especially after being lazy on the Thai beaches for so long!) but I made it up just in time to snap some pics and start my descent as the forest around me got dark and I turned on the flashlight. It felt really good to do it on my own.

And it was a very sweet surprise to see Christian pacing at the bottom of the trail for my safe return :).
{Our magic bus to Nong Kiauw...and quite a bumpy ride}
{Viewpoint at sunset}
{Delicious Laos laap}
{Biking the back roads of Nong Kiauw}

{Action pic courtesy of Denis!}
{And a Lao guy shaming Dutch bike repair ;)...he changed the tire in about 40 seconds flat}