2.2.4: The Nam Ou to Luang Prabang

Day 89: Luang Namtha to Udomxai

David and I were up at 7:00 and got a tuk-tuk to the long distance bus station about 10 km out of town along with a Dutch guy who was heading to Vang Vieng. The bus we got was similar to the local buses in Nepal and was small and uncomfortable and I was glad to get off at Udomxai after four hours. I felt sorry for La who had a 24 hour bus journey back to Vientiane. We wanted to go to Muang La and got a sawngthaew but the driver spoke no English and there was some confusion over the price. The driver wrote down the price and we thought that he wanted 150,000 kip each (about £12), but in the end another guy came over and crossed out one of the zeros, so we were much happier about 15,000 kip. We waited quite a while for the sawngthaew to fill up and it became packed with passengers and their goods before it eventually left. About halfway to Muang La the sawngthaew broke down and the driver had to get underneath the vehicle to fix it. He succeeded and we soon arrived in Muang La.

89.1. Sawngthaew breakdown on the road to Muang La.

Shortly after we arrived we met a local guy who said he would show us a guesthouse. We walked along the road and suddenly Sam, who we’d met before in Vieng Phoukha, came around the corner on his motorbike. He had been turned away at the Vietnamese border because his 250cc bike was too large and so he had come back into Laos. We went for a beer at a nearby restaurant and our new ‘friend’ tried to rip us off claiming there was a service charge. The guesthouse wasn’t very nice and overpriced so David and I decided to head back to Udomxai.

89.2. The view from the bar at Muang La.

We found a guesthouse in Udomxai and discovered Sam’s motorbike parked outside. We checked in and met Sam in the lobby who was with an Austrian girl called Michaela and an English girl called Laura. We went for dinner together and Laura showed us some of her photos from Vang Vieng. It looks like quite a crazy drunken place.

Day 90: Udomxai to Nong Khiaw

David and I were up early and went to the bus station to get a minibus to Nong Khiaw. For me it was more comfortable than yesterday’s bus but for David it was worse as he was on one of the fold out seats. The discomfort was worse when too many passengers were crammed on along with all their goods which included huge sacks of rice. At one point we stopped because the rear door jammed and we all got out while the driver fixed it. Nong Khiaw was much nicer than I expected. It was surrounded by huge limestone peaks with the Nam Ou River running through them. We checked in at a guesthouse which had bungalows near to the river and then went for lunch.

90.1. The cliffs and the Nam Ou River at Nong Khiaw.

Afterwards we walked for a couple of kilometers down the road and found a cave that was used by the Pathet Lao (communist) forces during the war. We explored the caves and took some photos before heading back to town.

90.2. The David in the Pathet Lao cave near Nong Khiaw.

We came back and the sun was setting and the view across the river and the town was very beautiful. In the evening we took a walk around town before coming back and having dinner at the guesthouse.

90.3. Sunset over Nong Khiaw and the Nam Ou River.

Day 91: Nong Khiaw to Luang Prabang

David and I were up at 8:00 and headed down to the riverside to buy tickets to Luang Prabang but they weren’t on sale until 10:00. We headed back to the guesthouse and got some breakfast before returning to the pier. There weren’t enough travelers for the normal passenger boat so we had to charter a smaller boat. In the end there were eight of us, who were all German except for David and myself, and in the end it didn’t cost much more than the normal boat. The boat journey down the Nam Ou was very enjoyable with impressive views all the way. The first hour or so was particularly impressive.

91.1. The river trip on the Nam Ou from Nong Khiaw to Luang Prabang.

When the Nam Ou joined the Mekong we stopped to visit the Pak Ou caves, a series of caves containing many Buddha statues. It was nice enough but wouldn’t have been worth the day trip up from Luang Prabang to see it. We arrived in Luang Prabang just as the sun was setting and we found a guesthouse before going for dinner at a restaurant by the Mekong. Afterwards we visited the night market and had some more food and a beer before heading back to the guesthouse.

91.2. The Pak Ou Buddha caves and the view across the Mekong.

Day 92: Luang Prabang

In the morning we went for breakfast and decided to change guesthouses for another one across the road that was much nicer but the same price. We tried to see if we could arrange a boat down the Mekong either all the way to Vientiane or to Tha Daea, a town on the river near to Sainyabuli. In the end it proved to be too expensive so we decided instead to get a bus to Sainyabuli. We went to the market and had lunch of a baguette and a fruit shake and in the afternoon to a walk through town and visited some of the temples. We met some monks at one of the temples and chatted with them for a bit.

92.1. Some Luang Prabang temples.

We came to the intersection of the Nam Khan and Mekong rivers and crossed a bamboo bridge over the Nam Khan and visited the village on the other side. It had many shops selling handicrafts and was a bit more peaceful than the rest of town. We stopped by the Mekong for a while before continuing our walk through town. We found a nice restaurant by the Nam Khan and had Khao Niaw (sticky rice) with a spicy tomato sauce and a beerlao. The owner gave us a ride back across the river in his rickety little boat and we headed back to the guesthouse. On the way we met David’s friend Matt from Australia. Matt had been in Nepal with David and had gotten stuck in Kathmandu because of the problems at Suvarnabhumi airport. Matt was traveling with his sister Kirri and they went to find a room while David and I sat in the garden of our guesthouse and had a beer. In the evening the four of us went for dinner at the night market. Afterwards we came back and had another beer in the garden of our guesthouse.

92.2. In the bar by the Nam Khan.

Day 93: Luang Prabang

David was up at 6:00 this morning to go watch the precession of monks gathering alms from the townspeople. I decided to stay in bed and when I eventually got up at around 9:00, David had gone for a walk around town. I went and head some breakfast and then headed to an internet café. I met David coming back on the way and so we went together. Afterwards we went to a bookshop and I bought a new notebook. We went for lunch at the market again and visited another temple before coming back to the guesthouse. We sat in the garden relaxing for a while before heading out for a beer at the lao-lao garden. It was a nice enough venue but quite touristy and overpriced so we decided to head elsewhere for dinner. On the way we stopped by a temple where there was some kind of festival and many monks were there playing games. We walked a little out of town and had a noodle soup at a small noodle place. There was no English on the menus so we just pointed at the bowls of the girls opposite and had that as it looked quite good.

93.1. A small festival at a temple.

We were still a bit hungry though so later on we went to the Luang Prabang restaurant and had a very good laap salad and sticky rice. We chatted a bit with the waiter who was just about to start college in Luang Prabang and he was keen to practice his English. Afterwards I headed back to the guesthouse and David went for a walk and met with Matt at the night market.