Today we were off to Nong Khiaw, a town about 4 hours north of Luang Prabang, mainly to see the countryside and do some walking. We had to be up early to get breakfast before setting off in a mini bus. We were one of the last to be picked up so we didn't get good seats. There was an Israeli couple in the front who had been separated from their friends and they insisted on driving all over town to make sure they hadn't been left behind (in fact they were on another minibus).
So an hour late we set off. The route took us quickly into the hills. It was through lots of small villages. The villages all looked very primitive - one room bamboo huts with straw roofs. These were the good ones as they had electricity. The journey was quicker than first thought and we arrived at Nong Khiaw by lunch time. It was basically a dirt street off the main road with all the accommodation consisting of bamboo huts with various levels of luxury (no bathroom, cold shower only or super deluxe with hot showers.) either side of a large bridge. We negotiated a price for the best one available (with river view!) and dumped our bags.
We took a walk down the road to see some caves. These were famous as being the hideout of the Pathet Lao when the Americans were bombing Laos in the 60s and 70s. The caves were advertised as 1km away - some 40 minutes later we arrived at them, we must have walked almost 4kms. We negotiated the 100 or so steps up to them - a new addition as there was originally a very long bamboo ladder to them. As caves go, they weren't that inspiring but each area in them was labelled as to it's function - e.g. Provincial governors office. The network was quite extensive.
After this we went back to the town to organise a guided trip for tomorrow. None were running as yet so we were left with the option of an expensive private guide - we passed on that. We had dinner outside, none of the restaurants had any side walls, and froze as it was unseasonably cold (the Lao people were complaining about the cold).
We had a miserable night's sleep - there is zero insulation in the huts and the bedding that we had wasn't very warm. After this, we decided to cut short our stay and leave that afternoon. We found there was a walk along the river that we could do on our own - so after breakfast we set off.
The walk was scenic - ran along the river with the limestone hills all around. The path was easy to follow - until we came across some cattle on the path. One didn't look too friendly so I hung back and sent Fran in to clear the way. As she inched forward, he took a long look at her and eventually went off to join his mates. We met up with them a little later - Fran deciding that being bold was the answer and the cattle duly moved.We returned to the town at lunchtime for the 2:00pm minibus - only to find one waiting so we hopped on it and went back to Luang Prabang. There we had some food to warm us up and booked our ticket out to Vientiane for the next day.