View from the bridge
Nong Khiaw is a village occupying both sides of the Ou River (Nam Ou). This morning the limestone mountains rising up from the sides of the river have a thin layer of clouds covering them. It's around 7:30 AM. I heard rain earlier so the clouds probably were lower at night. It isn't a very quiet spot since we are by both a bridge and set of stairs down to the water. The river flows down to Luang Prabang and up North to Muang Ngoi and Phonsali.
Yesterday we left Luang Prabang to go to Nong Khiaw. To our dismay there were no buses only sawangtheaw-- pickup trucks with a roof, open sides and 2 rows of seats on either side. This wouldn't have been too bad in itself but the Sawangthaew which looked like it could fit 12 people reasonably was marked for 20 people. Rowshan asked the ticket seller if we could sit in the front. He responded, "Give the driver some money". Rowshan asked the driver and he said, "Yes." Then we waited. The sign said it would leave at 8:30 so I thought we'd made it just in time. Unfortunately they are run like shared taxis and leave when they are full. The last 2 arrivals were a couple more tourists. They looked pretty perturbed by the situation and I think they tried to jockey for the front seats. I worried the driver would start a bidding war but nothing happened.
The bus station in Luang Prabang
The back held 20 very uncomfortable looking people. I also noticed the tarp on top seemed to only cover half the bags on top. Since ours were in the front, they were covered. Then, at 10:30 , we were off. Soon it started raining. The road was paved and good. I dozed off a little as we wound past villages, burnt areas where clouds mixed with steam from the hot wet ground. Going through a village the driver hit a rooster. He did, however, slow down for ducks and a family of chickens. We speculated it was a form of revenge for being woken up at 4 AM every morning by roosters for his entire life. Occasionally I'd glance back to see how people were faring. At one toll station they put the plastic covers down to shield people from rain. At another place people demanded a pee stop. As I opened the door I noticed a terrible sulphur smell. I had noticed some of the people in the back had been holding their shawls/towels over their noses. I thought maybe someone had puked. The smell turned out to be emanating from the battery which was held, exposed to the elements (flying chicken parts, etc.) under the vehicle.
I'm sure by this time everyone in the back, especially the tourists, was cursing Rowshan and I vehemenantly. However, the driver couldn't seem to fix the battery. We all got back in. R and I were thankful we were in the front and the battery was behind us. About 4 hours later we got to Nong Khiaw. The rain had cleared up revealing tree covered mountains rising over the river.
Most of the tourist accommodation is on the side of the river across from the bus station. We got a basic bungalow with hot water, hammock on balcony, and a location a bit too close to the bridge and the stair access to the river side-- a bit noisy since the kids all troop down past our place. On the other hand, we have a great view of them splashing in the water, fishing with long bamboo poles, cruising by in long boats, and throwing sand at each other.
Village street in Nong Khiaw
Boys in a long boat
There are trees growing in front of us: a palm and kumquat (or oranges that haven't grown yet) and a garden full of flowers and butterflies below. We get the afternoon sun (good thing since I think the mornings are usually rainy and cloudy). Beyond our hotel, the village stretches along the road: bamboo walled houses, chickens, and chicks scratching next to the road, roosters crowing to each other, an occasional flock of turkeys.
Butterfly in flower garden
Home improvement project in the village
Today we walked a couple km down the road to visit the caves. We passed some fish ponds with a wooden house in the middle of one and lotuses blooming in the water. The rice paddies are irridescent green. Water buffalo both brown and sunburned looking white ones, graze and snort at each other. All around are mountains and trees. Kids greet us with, "sabadi pen" as they beg for pens. Rowshan responds "sabadi pen" back as if he thinks it is a new phrase in Lao.
Shelter in a fish pond
Lotus flower in the pond
Girl we met in one of the fields
The caves have a picnic area in front with a field. We crossed a bamboo bridge which led to a rice paddy. A young man was sitting by the paddy singing-- perhaps enjoying the acoustics provided by the echoing cave in front of him.
Rice paddies at the foot of the mountains
Picnic area by the cave
Exterior of the cave
The rice paddies had a shallow layer of clear water which reflected the straight blades of leaf which rose to about knee height. Dragonflies flew above, their wings making a shimmering cloud, like a mirage, accompanying the musical purr of the water.
Rice plants in the paddies
The cave had been used by villagers in the 60's during the war, as a living/ administrative center. The first cavern had a stairway leading inside. It was big but not too impressive as far as rock formations go. Around the cave were signs with things like, "Governor" "finance minister", written on them. I guess this must have been where they set up offices. It was kind of strange. There was a sand pile used for storing ammunition. The nicest thing about this cave was an opening-- complete with bamboo bench-- which provided a view of the rice paddies below and the mountains across. "It's like a wide screen TV," Rowshan said. I admired the view and watched pretty black swallows with red spots on their tails circle in front of the cave opening, while Rowshan took silly jumping photos. Then we walked down and followed a path between the mountain and rice paddies. This led past a cave with a small entrance up a steep dirt path labeled, "bank".
Admiring the view from one of the caves
Beyond this we walked to a 3rd cave. This was the "Finance and Trade offices". On the way I felt something cold and slimy touch my leg. I pulled my pant leg up and knocked a large brown leach off. Fortunately it hadn't managed to latch on yet.
This cave was quite deep and had some pretty sparkling lime formations. We followed a tunnel back. It opened into a larger cavern, then finished at a smaller one. Interesting rust and white stalactites hung from the ceiling. In one place there was an odd hole in the ceiling. Back out we followed the path back and then turned to wind between the rice paddies. A herd of water buffalo were grunting at each other. One seemed in a fighting mood and ran madly around finally locking horns. Another bigger one came racing in. The air also hums with birds. Cicadas made high pitched whines like dental drills.
Inside a cave
While walking through the paddies, Rowshan spotted 2 more leaches trying to get to my legs. (They were a bit thrown off by the socks). He got them off and brushed one off of his shoes.