We left Luang Prabang by minivan to head North to Nong Khiaw, a small city on the Nam Ou River. The journey by minivan was quite tiring. The driver was driving very fast in the mountain road which was in a very bad condition. Fortunately we had met a very nice French-Belgian couple at the bus station, Clément and Vanessa, so we spent most of our time chatting together. It was the first time we were getting on so well with other travelers, so we decided to have dinner together in Nong Khiaw. And we saw each other several times the following days.
We found a nice wooden guesthouse with hammocks just on the river and we enjoyed two days in Nong Khiaw which is beautifully nested in mountains and hills.
The weather was not very nice though. We climbed Nong Khiaw viewpoint under the mist, but the amazing birds-eye view on the top made us forget we were wet and cold!
Apart from the viewpoint, there are not a lot of other treks to do easily. Most people take a tour for several days, but it was too expensive for our budget. We did a little walk to some caves next to the village and that had been used as a shelter during the Indochina war. However this walk appeared to lead to one of the most ridiculous scam we ever had. When arriving at the caves, a man led us to cross a river and so we took off our shoes to cross. But we were a bit suspicious because we felt he would ask us some money by helping us crossing the river, and I had not read anything about crossing a river by foot to go to the caves. So we made a u-turn and told him we were leaving. About 50 meters away on the path we found a bamboo bridge crossing the river!! A man asked us some money to cross but we said we would pay for the caves ticket. At the entrance of the caves, guess who we found? The first man who “tried to help” us! He was asking us money to go into the caves! We asked him for a printed ticket. He told us there were a lot of people coming and he did not have any tickets left. Just because we were chocked by this attitude, we left without visiting the caves, not without calling him a liar and a thief! It was the first time, people were showing so much dishonesty…
After this bad experience, we really wondered the effects of tourism on the lives of these people. They only see us as wallets to take money from. How did they become like this? Is it because of tourists who pay anything at any price?
Anyway, our stay in Nong Khiaw was still worth it for a couple of days, and we took advantage of being there to go even more inside Laos, by taking a boat along the Nam Ou River to Muang Ngoi. Muang Ngoi is accessible only by boat, and it took us one hour to reach the village which is only composed of two main roads. We found a guesthouse just next to the pier, and met again Clément and Vanessa who had come one day before us. Our stay in Muang Ngoi was very relaxing. We had a bungalow on the river with hammocks, and we took a good rest as Alex was recovering from a cold caught when we were climbing Nong Khiaw viewpoint.
We also trekked during one day to a village, 10 km away. It was a nice walk going next to rice fields. The village itself was all in bamboo houses, with noisy roasters in the streets, but we did not find the villagers very welcoming. Maybe we had been too welcomed in Thailand! It looked like people were used to see tourists coming every other time, so they did not even bother to say hello or smile. However, Clément and Vanessa slept in this village and told us that people are not friendly at first because they do not speak English, and they were lucky to talk with them because their host introduced them to the villagers.
As we were a bit disappointed by our visit to the village, when going back to our guesthouse, we saw a group of people aside of the road who started waving at us. That is how we ended up drinking Lao rice wine at 4pm on what was the bamboo floor of a future house, with the man building his house and four students. We laugh a lot with them, and it gave us back our faith in Lao people!
We left Laos after only 10 days in the country, so we feel we missed something in this country. We did not feel so welcomed as in Thailand, maybe because of language barrier. It was also the first time we could not find a host on Couchsurfing to live with, so we did not have a long lasting contact with local people. We hope we will manage to live with Lao people next time and experience the country from the inside and not from the point of view of a tourist!