Stray Laos: Luang Namtha to Nong Khiaw

Nong Khiaw is a rustic little town on the bank of the Ou River in Laos. It is squeezed in between some of the most fantastic limestone mountains to be found north of Vang Vieng […] Nong Khiaw has a plenty of charm, a decent range of accommodation, plus conveniences like 24 hour electricity and a connection to the road network for those interested in exploring the surrounding area.

-- WikiTravel

One of the Dutch couples hopped off in Luang Namtha to spend a few days trekking in the area. We also picked up a guy from Australia and an English girl so we left with 13 people (and two guides) on the bus in the morning. The plan for the day was a four hour drive, followed by a lunch stop, and another three hour drive to reach Nong Khiaw - allegedly, 'the most beautiful location in Laos'.

The Drive

From Luang Namtha to Oudomxai (our lunch stop), the road was very good - being close to China, the border region of Laos has been turned into sorts of a Chinese colony with Chinese companies given rights to establish mining facilities and timber logging industries in this resource-reach region. In turn, Chinese companies have built very nice highways in this region to provide for efficient transport of their goods. It truly is a stark contrast between those roads and the road past Oudomxai. While, still being the major highway (the only one in Laos), the road quickly turned into a pothole-rich and partially paved dirt track with heaps of dust raised by every passing bus and truck. We were sure glad we had air conditioning in the minibus, otherwise we would all be covered by this dust if we had our windows open.

While not much better, our driver's attitude did improve a little bit and we did not feel the wheels departing from the payment today, but there were still a few hairy moments while we were flying through the curves and turns, especially on the dirt stretches of the road. The views were still breathtaking and, once again, I wished we would have stopped along the way to take a few pictures. Our lunch stop was at the bus station, which was surrounded by vendor stalls. The lunch choices were even simpler than the day before - noodle soup with or without meat.

44km Village

After lunch, we stopped at the 44km Village - the official name of the Hmong settlement located, you guessed it, 44 kilometers from Oudomxai. This is a regular stop for Stray and each time they try to bring some gifts for the local school children. While in Luang Namtha, I went all out and spent just over $20 on a soccer ball while others got some pens, pencils, and notebooks. The kids were sure glad to see us and we were soon surrounded by pretty much everyone in the village. The school supplies were handed off to the village's elder and the ball was let loose with the kids really enjoying it.

Christmas In Nong Khiaw

Once we finally arrived to Nong Khiaw, we headed out to the Phathok Cave where the locals were hiding from the aerial bombardment during the war. Just like the waterfall the day before, the cave did not make a huge impression on me - it was not that big and the only thing inside was an area with a couple pieces of fallen apart bamboo furniture. Instead, we were all mesmerized by the views of the mountains and hills surrounding the area. Shawna and another Dutch couple decided to hop off there for a few days to enjoy the rich trekking options in the area.

After we were done with the cave, we drove back to Nong Khiaw where Anna booked us into the Sunrise Bungalows. At 80,000 kip/$10 per night for two person rooms in bungalows along the river bank, it was another great deal with the superb view of the river. For our Christmas celebration, we got together at C.T. Restaurant across the road. With our bellies full of rice and noodles, we finished the night by playing petanque with some locals while passing around a bag of Lao Lao that we got in Luang Namtha.

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