Nong Khiaw

Trip Start Oct 30, 2005
Trip End Ongoing

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Thursday, May 4, 2006

We awoke in Udomxai the next morning and after some breakfast and making a trip to the bank to get some cash (no ATM's in Laos!), we were off to the bus station to get tickets to our next destination, Nong Khiaw.

Unfortunately there were no direct buses to Nong Khiaw that day so we could only get tickets to Pak Mong (a town close to Nong Khiaw). There were many travellers wanting to go this way, so we were lucky that we got tickets early. We jumped on the bus to save our seats. We spotted a lady next to the bus selling ice cream... Glenn was salivating at the thought being that it was so hot that day ( cream). Some of the other travellers at the front of the bus got one - and as Glenn was about to try to get them to buy one for him (he was crammed in the back) the bus suddenly pulled away and left :( He was thinking about that ice cream for the rest of the trip poor fella.

The trip to Pak Mong, although windy, was filled with stunning scenery and we travelled through lots of picturesque hill tribe villages. After about three hours, the bus stopped in Pak Mong and we had to negotiate with a songthaew driver to take us the rest of the way (about 1 hour). We negotiated with the driver and his mates for a while along with a few other travellers and although we couldn't quite get the local price we managed to get a price that was acceptable to us and we were happy to have onward transport. We were quite surprised that one of the other travellers from the bus was still trying to get them to go even cheaper than Glenn (perish the thought!).

Six of us got into the songthaew and made our way to Nong Khiaw. The songthaew seemed to struggle a bit, especially up the hills and there were a few occasions that it actually broke down, but with a hit here and there and a fiddle with the wires the driver got the songthaew started again each time without too much trouble. We were a bit concerned whether we would make it to Nong Khiaw at all that day, but eventually he had the stereo blasting with Lao music and we knew that if he could manage to get the stereo to work the rest of the trip would be plain sailing!

And it was. We arrived in Nong Khiaw an hour or so later and we were immediately impressed by it. It is actually two towns separated by a river, but with a bridge now built across the river, it is thought of as basically one town.

On trying to find accommodation, Christie spotted a place next to the river where the songthaew dropped us off - but Glenn was keen to cross the bridge and check out some on the other side - they looked great and the guidebooks hyped them up too. Needless to say we checked out about 3 on the other side - and they were all very expensive and out of our budget. Back over the bridge, we made it to Christie's first choice and got a good bungalow at a decent price. After all the stress and carrying heavy packs in the stinking heat...when will Glenn learn that Christie is always right (he he :))!

After breakfast the following morning we decided to walk to some caves in the local area. It felt like a very long walk in the heat. The guide book said that it was 2km to caves, and that you could clearly see where they were on the right. Not sure if we had reached them yet we went down a path through some fields where we could see some locals tending their crops. Through sign language and knowing the Lao name of the cave we worked out that we still had a bit further to go, although the old guy said there were some other caves in the cliffs behind his place.

We eventually came to the cave we were looking for (Tham Pha Thok) - a limestone cave - like a bunker. We had to go up big wooden staircase to get to the cave entrance. We weren't sure how stable it was but we made it up okay.

Inside, there was a young guy hanging out near the entrance. We guessed he was probably hoping to be a guide, but we continued inside without him. The cave was sign posted at various places where bunkers and offices had been setup inside the cave during the war, and there was enough natural light coming in to make it easy to get around.

It was reasonably short, but quite a large cavern and toward the end there was a bamboo ladder making its way precariously down a cliff face inside the cave. Keen to explore but aware of the danger, Glenn offerred to "test it out". Knees wobbling, he slowly made his way down the ladder, but with the steps between each rung seemingly huge, he advised Christie not to attempt it. And she was happy with that...

The Ladder seemed to lift a bit as Glenn was climbing down and it didn't seem to be fixed to the rock. Once at the bottom Glenn found another big cavern - once used as a makeshift hospital, but it didn't go very far. The worst part was that below the bamboo ladder it was now clear that the remains of an old bamboo ladder sat broken next to it... great - I've still got to get up this thing!.

Glenn climbed back up and we made our way out. On exiting the cave, we came across the guy that was hanging out at the entrance at the start and he followed us as we walked towards the next one.

We eventually made it to the "Bank Cave", and as you can tell from the name the cave was used as a bank for the area during the war. We both did the first part down into the deepest cavern (the "accounts department"!) along with our new guide. There were about 3 other sections which Glenn and the guide did without Christie (she was getting caved out!). There were a few small squeezes - which the guide was not that keen to go on. Glenn squeezed his head through and then thought better. Oops - clothes filthy.

After exiting, Glenn gave the guide a tip (yes money) and when we got down to the path we were about to bid him farewell, but he said there was another cave a bit further on.. so off we went. Glenn did this one with the guide while Christie waitied. This cave at least had some nice formations inside.

After this we made the walk back into town. Glenn had to wash the dirt off his clothes and also wanted a swim, so he decided to combine the two and wandered down to the river. He ran into two Irish guys (that we had met at the caves earlier in the day) and they all swam against the current (making no ground, but clothes getting cleaned in the process).

Once he had had a good chat and managed to clean his clothes Glenn made it back to Christie looking a bit drowned but with clean clothes none the less.

As the sun was setting we had a wander wround the town to take some photos, and finding locals wanting to practice their English on us, kids playing games on the bridge and "fishing for birds" we really enjoyed our last evening here.

Tomorrow we take a boat up river our next destination - Muang Ngoi Neua.
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