Nong Khiaw.. an absolute beauty, Even as I carried my 20Kg under the sweltering heat of midday, I was beaming. Mountains at every view point; the inviting (though muddy) river; smiley people who stood curiously as we walked through the simple yet active village. Yes - this was what I had been waiting for! At dusk more people were outside - and everyone said 'sabaidee' (hello) and seemed genuinely happy to see us. At dark, people washed in the side stream - was quite funny seeing everyone washing, showering, brushing teeth - such a lovely community feel.
Almost a week spent in this beautiful, quiet serenity. The bamboo guesthouse was equally delightful - hammock, mosquito net and balcony... what more can one wish for? Of course my great German friends made all the difference. Interestingly their friend had come five months before and hidden treasure for them to find! It was a struggle but we eventually found it... (See pictures attached of treasure map and pig-like treasure.) Day one was spent walking in the heat trying to find the special rock formation and finally it was discovered on day five. Such fun and games... I love challenges.
But nothing could beat our adventures in the real outdoors. Day three - mountain biking... literally. Up and down, up and down... the determination and will power to drive oneself up juxtaposed the great descent. Though it sounds fun, flying down pot-holed dirt tracks was often met with cries of fear! But breaking through the emotion was a lesson - cowardice cannot disable you from living fully... thus enjoyment was eventually produced after much practice and a fall at one point!
Visiting numerous hill villages was so interesting. How they live, eat, wash, live with each other in community is so refreshing to see. No doubt it's difficult as well I'm sure. The Mong village, where we stayed the night, served as a real experience; in particular the decision by the Germans to shower under the communal tap. Dressed in towels alone, we struggled to wash without revealing too much - the more we tried, the more the villagers looked on! Soon we were surrounded by staring locals (adults, children and teenagers) as we assisted each other to shower modestly, laughing hysterically through the process. Fortunately the locals laughed with us (or at us - not quite sure which!) a sign that we did not cause too much of an offence... which was a relief.
Later that evening, we reflected on our day as we gazed on the wonder of the starry sky. What a sight that was. Absolutely amazing. Noticing a woman washing under the light of my torch, I realised how women would wash at night to avoid embarrassment! Sensible option.
Dinner was interesting. The meat was questionable with mainly fat, skin and bone. Bamboo soup had a strong fennel like taste which did not agree with me... however sticky rice was in abundance which satisfied my hunger to an extent. Drinking Beer Lao was enjoyed by others, not me. Later we played cards and learned some illogical Lao games... they eventually made sense with practise though.
Sleeping was heavenly, again in my princess/mosquito net bed. Waking was not so pleasant - blaring Lao music, chickens, roosters, children - a So I slept with earplugs and woke up in time for a wash before breakfast- this time only my face! Eggs and rice = perfect meal. We then went to see the primary school - so crowded! Traditional desks and blackboards - the maths on the board was really difficult! Hard to believe that the eldest class (11 - 12 year olds) will be married in a few years. Scary stuff.
Bikes to the boat and then boat to a small waterfall and then home for pumpkin soup. Great day. An added bonus was spending the evening with Ta (tour guide) and his friends in a Lao house and bar. Drinking Lao Lao was an experience - I really didn't want much but the boat man kept topping me up! The locals are very quiet and unassuming... felt a bit awkward at times but we definitely felt welcomed.
The next day was a real adventure. Ta had organised a boat for us privately. We met at the riverside - at someone's house and took the boat with Song (Ta's friend) though he didn't speak a word of English! The boat was a tiny longboat, almost as narrow as a Kayak, and we were in it for about an hour. The view was delightful and I was so content as I listened to Mumford+Sons and Bob Dylan. Idyllic.
On arrival we stopped at the village directly next to the riverbank. We were confused as to the situation - there were locals talking in Lao and laughing... it unnerved us slightly. A guide came with a little book and he ushered us to follow him. No English was spoken! So we followed and soon realised that we could have never done it on our own! The way was not obvious and there was no clear path! It felt like the real jungle - the leaches were not pleasant and I felt constantly on edge! They seemed to love me too much.
Our guide was so cool - he walked in flip flops and waited patiently for the girls to apply their bounteous amount of lotion and repellent. He wanted to go quickly and though he spoke no English, he talked a lot which gave us the impression he wanted to talk and help us out! The waterfall was amazing - climbing up the many rocks was fun and we were helped a lot by the two guys. The guide especially was very strong and once we arrived at the top, we had the remaining bananas and a smoke. We were so hungry!
On the way down, the guide chopped down some bamboo sticks - they were certainly helpful! Walking down a different way, we had a different scenery, Again, beautiful. We got back just in time for the boat back home, after receiving several upon several of greetings from the kids who followed us!
Overall - a fantastic time. The place was delightful and the people so genuine. I miss it!!