We took the boat to Nong Khiaw to visit a less developed area than Luang Prabang. Most people stop off in Nong Khiaw on the way to more popular Muang Ngoi Neua. We decided to stay a couple of days to explore and take advantage of the trekking we’d heard was available in the area.
Nong Khiaw Tourist Information…A Little Lacking
A visit to Nong Khiaw’s tourist office yields distinctly little information. And what information we could extract from the attendant and the shiny, NGO-sponsored information pamphlets had nothing to do with Nong Khiaw. Donor money had built a nice office, but did not provide training or funds to reprint materials or develop the skills necessary to answer basic questions – much less promote local tourism.
Armed with our trusty hand-scratched map from the tourism office, we set out on a paved road out of town and headed towards the caves and waterfalls. We came across several villages along the way where simple village life lay in plain view. Even though we more or less kept to the main road, it was one of our most enjoyable treks, replete with beautiful views, friendly people, and lots of waving, smiling children.
In the second village we handed out the first of our Big Brother Mouse children’s books. The children we gave them to were bewildered. Although their village had a school, but they had yet to see a book before, much less understand what to do with it. When Audrey opened one of the books to show them, they pointed at the pictures and squealed out the names of animals and giggled infectiously. It was our own private Lao lesson…and possibly our own private life lesson. Next book you grab off the shelf at Border’s or Waterstone’s, consider for a moment that there are villages without the concept of what one is.
Nong Khiaw Caves and American Bombs
Along the hike we visited the Tham Pha Tok cave where Lao villagers hid out during American bombings in the 1960s-1970s. The inside of the cave showed where village elders would meet, eat, and take shelter.
The sign in the photo was above a huge crater in the ground next to one of the caves. According to our guidebook, the American government dropped over two million tons of bombs between 1964 and 1973 as part of the “Secret War” to root out communist sympathizers. Parts of northwestern Laos are still riddled with pockmarks and unexploded ordnance. Going off the beaten path in these areas is not an option. We are not munitions or math specialists, but if you run the numbers, that works out to about 3,600 300 pound bombs dropped every day for 10 years. Round up, round down, do whatever you like. But that’s staggering to us.
Despite this relatively recent history, we never felt any resentment or animosity towards us when we said we were American. Quite the opposite, our nationality was normally met with smiles and handshakes. Absolutely amazing.
Video – Trekking Nong Khiaw
Practical Details – Nong Khiaw Accommodation, Food and Transport
How to get there: By boat or bus from Luang Prabang.
Where to stay: Several guesthouses line the main road of Nong Khiaw and offer very basic accommodation for low prices ($3). Take a walk across the bridge and stay in a river bungalow. We stayed at Sunrise Guesthouse, on the left-hand side when you cross the bridge where our own bungalow with a basic bathroom and a pleasant deck with riverside views will run about $4.
Where to eat: A few restaurants around town serve basic Asian and quasi-Western foods. Our experience tells us that it’s acceptable to magically turn the chicken currry you just ordered into buffalo stew.If your palate craves something different, check out Nazim Indian restaurant for delicious and inexpensive vegetarian curries.