Friday, November 26, 2010

Nong Khiaw

We grabbed a “bus” to Nong Khiaw, which is around 130km North East of Luang Prabang. The word bus in quotes because it was not actually a bus but a very large pickup truck, whose bed had been transformed into benches with a cover. Almost like a large Tuk Tuk. The ride was going to take about 3.5 hours, and since there were only 6 or 7 people on board, including us, and the bus could hold 20, I didn’t think it would be too bad. But like everything else we have encountered, not everything is as it seems. Instead of just taking us to Nong Khiaw, the bus makes multiple stops along the way, for various reasons. I’m pretty sure the “bus” is driver but the guy who owns. So he gets money from the bus station for the passengers he’s carrying, but he also loads up the “bus” with a whole bunch of other items, such as chicken food, pig food, cigarettes, vegetables, cleaning products,…well you get the idea. In addition, he stops anytime he is flagged down by people on the road and gives them a ride along the way, which they then pay him for and he pockets the money for himself. They tell him they want to get off by pounding on the top of the roof. Also, I don’t think he sticks to the 20 person capacity. At one point I’m sure we had around 30 people squeezed in. At one point a mother and her baby, along with her husband boarded. The baby seemed sick as he kept coughing, and sure enough we dropped him off at the hospital. Since the back of the bus is not completely enclosed, it is quite windy so overall the ride is quite tiring. But I have to give the driver credit that even with all those stops, we did make it in 3.5 hours.

We arrived in Nong Kiaw and were dropped off at the “bus station” which was really a ticket office and a patch of dirt. We learned we had to walk another 20 minutes to actually reach the town of Nong Kiaw. Along the way we saw a lot of school kids who were walking home from school. The scenery, once we reached Nong Kiaw, was beautiful. Large cliff peaks with a river in between were picturesque. We found a guest house and went to grab some food and some drinks. We woke up early the next morning to walk to a cave in the area. The walk wasn’t too long, as it only took 30 minutes or so, but when we got there the main cave was closed. The caves were used in the past during the Indochinese war as a Bank and various offices as well as a hiding spot. We explored the Bank cave, and the tunnels went on for miles. We started walking further up the road and came across a small village and all the kids came out to say Savadee (hello) to us. I thought they were all being very friendly and cute but they kept pointing at my backpack. I didn’t know what was in there that was so interesting to them. We kept walking and a guy stopped us to have a drink with him. At 10am he was already well past being drunk and he kept feeding Andrew beer. We chatted with him for a while, but since we didn’t have breakfast Andrew was quite drunk on the walk back to our guest house. We bought a cold Pepsi and Coke from the drunk guy, which Andrew was drinking on the walk back through the small village we had come across earlier. This time the kids were pointing at the Pepsi can he was holding. We figured out they just wanted us to give them something and thought I had more in my backpack. I did have a coke can in the side of my backpack and one kid kept pointing at it but I said no. Andrew gave in and gave them his half empty Pepsi which they happily took. The sun was shining down hard and he kept wanting to sit and rest. I would not let him and we made it back to town to have a nice cold bottle of water and some food. We showered and decided it to call it a day. It was HOT.

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