Nong Khiaw & Muang Ngoi

On Tuesday morning, after the monk procession, a van came to our hotel to pick us up and transport us to the bus station. We crawled into another, slightly larger van. Ricki gets car sick, so we claimed the two seats in the front with the driver, and we were so lucky that we did because the ride was breathtaking, and we got to see it all! There were mountains on either side of us and the road passed through small villages. It was a little twisty and wild, but each view seemed more majestic than the first. There is no way that I could pick a favorite tree of the day, because I loved each one more than the last.

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The bus station in Nong Khiaw. There is no place like it.

When we arrived in Nong Khiaw, there were tuk tuk drivers offering to take everyone from the van to their hotels. We showed them the name of our hotel, paid a couple of bucks, and were the last people dropped off. The route was circuitous, and we were new to town and had done no research so we had no idea that actually our resort was across the street from the bus station. Oops. We were taken in. We wasted a few dollars. That, paired with the fact that there were no rooms left at the resort Jason was staying, the only one with a pool, made us wish we had done a little more advance planning. But, since the owner of Jason’s hotel had recommended the resort next door, once we dropped off our bags, we headed over for lunch and pool time at his place. It was stunning.

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Ricki at lunch. Look at this view!

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Pool selfie – our lives are good.

After a couple of hours of lounging, we noticed the time and Jason and I decided that if we hurried, we could bike to the base of the mountain in town and climb to the top. We hurried. We did, on the recommendation of the owner of Mandala Ou resort, stop at the Chinese market on the way to buy some cheap flashlights. Good thing because as we arrived at the base of the mountain, a French Canadian was being turned away by the gatekeeper because he lacked the proper safety light. Jason ascertained that Pierre Luc was not a killer and then invited him to join us. We had a great ascent, chatting away with our new pal who was taking a year off to travel the world. We are most jealous that in December, he will meet a few high school friends in India to participate in a tuk tuk race from Chennai to Jaipur. Clearly, for Jason, who aspires to be on the Amazing Race, this would be a dream come true.

 

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If a place specializes in bras, hangers, drain, astroturf, and flashlights, everything is of the best quality.

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This is the magic we discovered at the end of our hike

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and another angle without the sun setting

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the pavilion at the top

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our new friend, Pierre Luc

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born to model

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scariest jump shot ever. I  was nervous just standing on the edge of the world

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The next time someone asks me to imagine my happy place, I am returning to here.

The summit rewarded us with spectacular 360 degree views of the rivers and mountains. We posed for some photos and had some water while we continued to chat. Shortly after we reached the top, another man submitted. He had been on my bus in the morning, and Jason later realized that he was also the guy who took some photos of all of us at the Waterfall on Sunday. So, Jason asked Robert if he was a killer. He said no, so we invited him to be our friend as well. After posing with our walking sticks and soaking in the fantastic views, we headed downhill. We were moving swiftly to avoid the encroaching dark, and only the ever prepared Robert used his flashlight the last 50 yards. While Jason and Pierre Luc dashed ahead, Robert and I chatted it up. I learned that he is from Catalonia, on vacation alone after a friend backed out, a scientist, and a former farm kid. Pretty much, he is fantastic, and meeting him was one of our luckiest adventures.

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a glimpse of sunset on our descent

At the bottom, we were reluctant to leave our new besties, but we had to make it home to reunite with Ricki. So, we chatted about our plans, and decided that we would all do dinner after some showers. However, since Robert was interested in joining us the following day on our private boat ride to Muang Ngoi, he decided to walk home with us. This was great because we loved talking to him, but our bikes didn’t come with a handy backseat like my bike in Vietnam, so we all had to walk. This took some time. Once Robert figured out where we were staying, he borrowed Jason’s bike to return to his place to shower while we did the same. Then, we all met at our arranged spot, and found some dinner. Ricki’s initial worry that we had been gone forever was quickly replaced by joy that we made fun friends.

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Our traveling family!

We all returned home for some much needed sleep, and the next day our group (minus Pierre Luc who had some caving plans), boarded an early morning boat to Muang Ngoi. Despite some fog (or maybe because of it), our views were magical throughout the more than hour of boating. First, we stopped at Sop Jam, a weaving village further upstream, and then returned to Muang Ngoi for lunch and a hike to a remote village.

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taking off upstream

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lots of livestock likes to swim

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view from SopJam

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trusty boat and captain

 

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the general store in SopJam. I loved it!

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Main St.

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Weaving is fascinating. I bought a lovely tapestry from this industrious lady.

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Just past the school in SopJam, I found a resting water buffalo

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There were butterflies everywhere!

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On our adventure, we witnessed a lady carrying all the fuel for her fire. So strong.

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Ricki shops for beautiful textiles

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the children of SopJam

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so complicated

Sometime around lunch, my stomach started not feeling so good, but we were about to hike through beauty. There was no way, I was going to miss that. About halfway up some mountains, Ricki finally acknowledged that my stomach had swollen to twice its normal size. However, Robert was a man with a plan that we all wanted to follow, so we trudged on trough some water crossings. Eventually, we reached Hauy Xen village, and I am so glad we did. For me, this was pretty much the highlight of the whole trip. Unlike SopJam, this village wasn’t trying to sell a thing. It was just a place where people lived and farmed. I loved every second of our time there.

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A cave on the hike from Muang Ngoi to HuayXen

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great scenery along the hike

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We did some river crossings. Never so glad to have Keens.

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Just some pigs on the road

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farming equipment everywhere

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my hiking companions

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all the drying laundry made the village bright and cheerful

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What beauty!

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Children were playing everywhere. I think Huay Xen still allows free-range parenting.

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Children here may even climb the stairs without supervision

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take off your shoes before entering

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3 generations

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a chicken coop and some drying peppers

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Everyone is so friendly

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These children had clay to sculpt

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when we went to the store for a coke, we had some followers

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Despite the lengthy menu, essentially you could have Coke, water, or beer.

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Loved Huay Xen, but not sure I am brave enough to stay in the guest house. It was a little rustic.

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The views on the way there and back were breathtaking.

Though we had a full and lovely day, we may have waited a bit too long to begin hiking back to Muang Ngoi to catch our boat back to Nong Khiaw. Good thing we hired a private boat or we really would have missed the last public boat. As we hiked, it was starting to get dark, and luckily as we passed the cave, a truck came along and we hopped in. Though it was wet and smelled like fish, we were thankful to save ourselves another half hour of walking. By the time we returned to the boat, I was pretty full on sick. My fever was spiking, so even though SE Asia is hot, I was freezing. Luckily the always prepared Robert lent me a jacket and I held on until we returned to actually get ill. The boat ride in the dark through scary currents was a bit terrifying for all of us, and I was never so glad to return to a hotel in my life.

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chilling with her cow friend

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the truck that saved us

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Robert 

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I wasn’t too sick to recognize beauty

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so lovely

Though I thought I could rally and make it out to dinner, that was not going to happen. Upon returning to our hotel, I admitted to myself and Ricki that I was pretty much the sickest ever. I believe it was probably food poisoning because I wanted to die for the next 12 hours, and then I was ok. Weak, but ok. Luckily, Ricki is the most compassionate and loyal friend. She went for dinner and returned with a whole care package of goods to get me through the next day and she rubbed my back. If you ever want to get food poisoning while traveling, take Ricki with you. She will convince you living is better than dying and stir your Coke so it is flat and make you tea with fresh mint.

Luckily, by lunchtime the next day, I was recovered enough to catch the van back to Luang Prabang. Of course, departure time was subject to the outcome of a bocce game and it took awhile to load all the chickens on the roof, but eventually we were underway.

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Our tuk tuk from the train station outside Luang Prabang to our last hotel

Essentially, if you didn’t notice from the photos and my gushing, northern Laos is amazing. I want to go there again, and it should make your travel list. Just take stomach meds with you, or meet a Boy Scout like Robert who will give you some.

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