Nong Khiaw

For the last four years, I have daydreamed about Luang Prabang. It's one of my favorite places we've been, ever, alongside Hanoi. When the plane dipped down out of the clouds and we started to see the mountains and that deep brown, winding river, my heart leaped into my throat. Luang Prabang, there it was. The visa line moved fast enough, the immigration line moved quickly, our suitcases were there, the driver was there, check check check. We pulled out of the airport and within minutes were recognizing corners, buildings, landmarks. "Oh, I remember that!" "There's that one wat, remember that?" "Now I know where we are -- we go around this curve, remember how we stopped in that shop?" Such a lovely feeling, familiarity in a surprising place.

The last time we were here we stayed in a great little place on the other side of the river from everything, and while we loved the hotel, it was not all that thrilling to me walking across that high bridge in the dark. The middle of the bridge is reserved for motorcycle traffic, and pedestrians are relegated to the outside walkway. The boards are loose -- sometimes 3 boards wide, sometimes 4 -- and some boards are warped, there are random nailheads sticking up which require me to keep my eyes on the boards, which means seeing through to the muddy river far below. All at once it will get to me and I am nearly paralyzed.

So this time we chose a hotel on the side of the river with all the stuff there is to see. The hundreds of gorgeous wats, the restaurants, the Hmong night market, the shops, the riverside walk. It seemed more filled with tourists this time than last, but maybe I'm not remembering correctly. By the time we got to the hotel it was around 3pm and we'd spent the last 26 or 27 hours getting there. After a change of clothes and getting settled in, we headed out to walk around the town. We'd already made a reservation for dinner at 7, at Tamarind -- a restaurant we ate at last time, and coincidentally next door to our hotel.

The pictures in the previous post followed us around town, down to the river, in the streets, to the restaurant. We were pretty shattered, and at 6 went to the restaurant for dinner. We were asleep by 8pm, deeply exhausted and looking forward to our trip to Nong Khiaw the next day.

Lao breakfast -- Marc's noodle soup (L) with fixings (middle), and my rice porridge (R)
We set off in a big van that could've held 10+ people, but it was just us and the driver. Even though the trip from Luang Prabang to Nong Khiaw is only 59km, we were told it would take 3 hours and we couldn't figure out why. We still can't, but it did. We were often going 40km/hour, but still it did take 3 hours. And I was as carsick as I've ever been. The road was often potholed and sometimes there wasn't a paved surface, but instead a pile of rocks -- and granted, I was lying down trying not to vomit so I didn't see too much of it. Marc wasn't at all sick, it was just me, but that was a terribly long 3-hour trip. I was never so glad to arrive anywhere as I was to arrive at Mandala Ou.

And SO BEAUTIFUL it is, too. Our room has a porch that faces the Nam Ou and some giant mountains that are just otherworldly. When we arrived it was sunny and just looked for all the world like a movie. We ate some lunch -- a vinegary green papaya salad -- and we swam, though the moment we decided to jump into the small infinity pool at 3:30, the sun slid behind the mountain and it was cold. We were in and out of the pool pretty quickly, and while we were drying off, another guest slipped into the pool and looked at up us. Marc said, "It's cold, isn't it!" and he said in his chipper British accent, "It's refreshing!" We all laughed through chattering teeth. My stomach still wasn't great so I rested a bit while Marc explored. We wandered into town, crossed the bridge under the night sky, and ate Indian food at Deen's - $6 got us channa masala, chicken tika masala, rice, and garlic roti. We were asleep by 9pm.

But this morning, oh this morning. The first morning light was astonishing. Soft soft soft coming over the mountains, and low-lying mist everywhere.

the view from inside our room

gorgeous just around the bend -- that's the yoga studio with the blue banners

if only the pictures could capture it
Before breakfast, Marc took a little walk into 'town' and came back grinning from ear to ear, talking non-stop about the little market, the feeling in the quiet little town, how much he wants to move here, how easily he could live here, and asking if I would walk with him very early tomorrow morning. Which of course I will.

the security gate at our hotel. yep. bamboo. big gaps.

walking toward the market

this is the corner -- turn right at the umbrellas

oranges? limes? RATS? and um, no idea what the thing at the top is but check out those teeth.

the market materialized and was gone a couple of hours later

I wonder if people get there early to get a particular woman's stuff because it's extra good.

peppers, everyone has peppers
After breakfast -- totally nondescript toast and yogurt and coffee....not even the thick Lao coffee -- we walked into town and stood on the bridge over the Nam Ou. HOW I wish I could catch the feeling of the place. It's very different in the misty morning than it is around noon when the sun is bright. We just kept standing there saying stupid stuff over and over: Gosh, can you believe it? This is so beautiful, can you believe it? It's unreal, I can't believe it, can you believe it? Look over there -- did you see that? Can you believe it? Neither one of us could believe it.

the view from our breakfast table
walking to the bridge.....can you believe it? I can't believe it!
standing on the bridge looking toward Vietnam, I think
on the bridge looking the other direction. that's the boat dock, obviously.

i don't know. i just can't believe it. it's too beautiful for words.
We came back to the hotel to recover from all the scenic splendor -- too bad! It's scenically splendiferous here too! So I took myself down to the yoga spot where I could hear the river running past, and birds singing. Marc lay in a hammock while I did my thing:

OH did that feel good. Excuse the hammock.

Marc's view
All good things end with a bit of a corpse pose.
Then we borrowed bikes from the hotel and rode into/through town, up to a small wat on the hill, had a bit of lunch, rode back, swam in the hot sun for an hour (but boy was the water cold...) and listened to some radio program Nick, the owner, was listening to. Paul McCartney got some kind of lifetime something award? So it was all his music, Beatles, Wings, one gorgeous song after another. On a sunny November day in Nong Khiaw, in mountainous northern Laos.

Tomorrow morning we're getting in a boat for a ~6-hour ride up the Nam Ou, where we'll stop in some small villages that are only accessible from the river. We'll poke around in some caves -- karst landscape is brilliant for caves. And once again, it will be us in a boat on a river in southeast Asia, which is certainly one of the best places to be.

Yeah, we just want to stay here. Skip Luang Prabang, stay here until it's time to go to Hanoi, come back here again and again and again. Live here. But the hotel is booked and I do want to eat in that alley in Luang Prabang again, so our only solution is to come back here another time. Gosh this place is so beautiful. I can't believe it.

1 comment:

  1. I'm so envious of that yoga location! And seriously, what IS that creature at the market? It looks scary!


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