- Jamie Shannon
Civilisation at last! Lazy days in Nong khiaw, Laos and meeting a kindred spirit
Arriving in Nong khiaw, I was faced with a plethora of bungalow options in which to choose from. Thinking I deserved one that was value for money, I rode across the bridge in order to find someone/anyone to ask about the options available. The backpacker I stopped didn’t really have a clue – the guy didn’t even know which way the bus station was. Thinking this search would yield zero results, I went back across the bridge and parked my ass by the river at a restaurant where I thought the internet might be able to help me a little more.
I was in fact almost done with my quest for the perfect bungalow when a girl walked in and, always thinking first-hand information is the best, decided to shout over to see which place she was staying at.
“Oh yeah across the road”, she said.
Immediately I could tell from where she hailed and so…
“Spreek je Nederlands?”
“Ja, hoe weet je dat?” (How do you know that?)
"It’s sooooooo obvious. It’s a sixth sense of mine."
Anyway we carried on talking for half an hour after which I got myself booked into one of the bungalows across the road. Obviously I was completely filthy from head to toe and dressed in my Sunday best thus it took me a while to present myself in a reasonably respectable fashion but I did my best.
“Ahh, so this is what you look like?"
“Sometimes yes, but most of the time I look exactly how you found me – a mess”
Her name was Laura and since we were getting along well, we decided to have a walk through town in order to take a look at a cave that was situated on the edge of town. We never made it however and in the end, spent our time playing bowls with the locals which, to be fair was a lot of fun. We ended the evening 5 – 4 in Laura’s favour but I still profess that I didn’t play to my best which in the end screwed my game up.
We were really having a great time together and so we went to the fabled Indian restaurant that I had heard so much about on the internet and it really did live up to its expectations.
Having been cooking my own food for the past week and a half, it was just delicious. I could not have asked for any more. Well we did actually as we ended up going back a couple more times.
We then went to a small bar across the street and hung out with some people upstairs who were all really nice apart from some angry French girl. Make no mistake about it. Although I usually love French people and they are usually just fine old people, there really are far too many in Laos. It almost seems at times that 90 percent of the tourist traffic in this country consists solely of French people. I don’t know what they expect to find here – a little piece of France perhaps – but It certainly is not little France, not by a long shot. Upon leaving Luang Prabang twelve day’s later I didn’t want to hear any more French for a long time. (I love you frogs though make no mistake)
We spent the next day together during which time I managed to persuade Laura that paying for a $60 trek was simply not a good idea. I mean you could just do it on your own for $5 and so I agreed to do a trek with her as if to prove that this was indeed the case. Laura knew this of course but it was just the ease of it that appealed to her. She really doesn’t need anyone telling her what to do. Very Dutch.
She wanted to take a boat up the river in order to stay at a small village and to sample some local life this day but I just didn’t have the energy to do so. I had a zillion things to do on the bike and on the computer now that I had electricity and internet access and so she went on a small hike by herself in which she drank a glass of mud water that was gifted to her from the locals.
I felt sufficiently refreshed and ready to take a boat down the river to a village about one hours ride away the next. It felt great to be off the bike and enjoying going somewhere with a different mode of transport and, well, it just felt great to be doing something else with someone else for a change.
We arrived an hour later at a small jetty where we were confronted by a few people ushering us all into various guesthouses. I hate this part. Just let me make my own decision. Well ,we didn’t complain as we followed a lady to a bungalow that was without doubt the most beautiful room I have ever stayed in. I mean this looked like something out of a honeymoon suite with its crisp white sheets and curtains and golden coloured wood. It was lush.
Having visited a viewpoint and some caves where the local population hid in whilst the Americans bombed the hell out of the area during the 70’s, we decided to stay another day so we could take a long hike to a neighbouring village 5 km’s away where we would be able to see people without the interference of the tourist industry.
On the way back, a tractor drove past at which point I got caked in mud, and me being the type of person whom doesn’t think things through, had no clothes to wear for the rest of the day. Luckily, Laura had a sarong and, though I didn’t quite feel like David Beckham, it was very comfortable.
I was sitting back at the bungalow on the balcony later that evening when an excited Laura came running back from the bar exclaiming that there was a sunset that I just should not miss. I reminded her that I had but a sarong on but, wanting to see it for myself dashed back with her.
It was undeniably stunning. It was possibly the most amazing sunset I have ever seen and the fact that I could share this with someone made it all the more special. I have witnessed far too many unforgettable moments on this trip but with which I could only share with my kindle. I love travelling alone but it’s true that some moments are better shared with others. It was fantastic.
We arrived back in Nong Khiaw the next day but, since we would have been in a rush to leave, decided to stay one more day there. Things were going well. I didn’t expect anything like this. How could I have known three days ago, huffing and puffing up those humongous hills and covered in sweat and mud that I would meet an amazing girl just a few days later. Do things like this really happen?
We went out to dinner this night. I was sat quite happily on the balcony reading my book whilst Laura was getting ready. Some minutes later she walked out and I looked up. I didn’t quite have any words. This girl looked stunning in her red flowing dress. I was left speechless. I then looked down at myself and I just had to apologise. I looked a mess and I wondered what she was doing with me here.
Laura had stayed in Luang Prabang for one week before coming to Nong Khiaw, but as she was heading back there before going onto the capital, we decided to meet up the following day.
I know I could have just caught the bus with her instead of cycling and I was really tempted to do so but the next 150 km’s were supposed to be the easy part and so I said I’d cycle as fast as possible in order to make it to Luamg Prabang in a decent time.
Back on the road - cycling to Luang Prabang
Thus it was that, having said goodbye to Laura on her way to the bus station, I headed off on my two day dash towards Luang Prabang. I reckoned I could be there by twelve the next day if it was reasonably flat and so I just got on with the job at hand. Mercifully, it was flat….ish. I couldn’t believe it – the first piece of flat land in Laos that lasted for more than two km’s that I have encountered. I was in a great mood. I’d be back to camping and doing my things in the woods again tonight but at least it was only for one night.
It was mostly an uneventful day apart from later on in the morning when I climbed down from my bamboo shelter and I came face to face with an elephant. That was unexpected. Thus far I hadn’t seen any monasteries or elephants in Laos, but following the main highway south now, there were monasteries and elephants galore. I must admit though that they didn’t look like they were having much fun – the elephants that is, not the monks. They seemed to be loving swimming in the river down below.
I cycled about 95 km’s that first day – the most I have cycled in quite a while. I was feeling very pleased with myself and I found a nice place to camp.
Thought’s started to whizz around my head about what had happened in the previous five days. It all seemed a blur you know. From being on my own in the mountains, mud and rain to spending some fabulous days with a fabulous girl hiking in the sunshine and eating great food. The turnaround seemed almost impossible.
I began to wonder if it was all a dream. Did it really happen? Was someone playing a cruel joke on me? It seemed a bit harsh after what I had done in order to get here but I really didn’t know what to think. Your mind can go a little crazy if left to itself in a dark tent. I instead tried to get some sleep and tried to remain positive too.
I left my campsite the next morning with just 60 km’s to cycle. It was flat apart from one huge pass and, despite what I had read; the road was in a great condition.
There really is no better feeling for me than finding yourself heading towards a truly great city with all the comforts that that entails. Now if that wasn’t enough, here I was cycling towards a milestone of the trip but with the added benefit of a beautiful girl waiting for me. Life doesn’t get much better than that does it? Sorry I’m gloating but I’m still sat here with a smile on my face as I write this.
I didn’t encounter the usual industrial wasteland that so often envelopes cities as I entered Luang Prabang and so the whole affair was seemingly very relaxed.
With no idea of where I was staying in the city, I simply wandered around until I found a café that took my fancy in order to make contact with Laura. She had been across the river taking a hike along a trail when I got in touch and an hour later she was stood over me with a huge grin spreading from ear to ear It had only been less than a day since I had last seen her but it felt great to be reunited again.
We walked back to her hostel and grabbed her bag before making our way to a nice guesthouse we had found online. I showered and made myself look as respectable as possible before I was guided around town by my new guide.
I couldn’t possible write about the seven days that followed in their entirety but some things are worth mentioning.
One day we rented a scooter which took us the 30 km’s to and from a beautiful waterfall that we hiked up. The following morning I got my first taste of motorized transport on this trip and in fact my life too. Wow, what an experience. It felt very strange indeed to be driving a scooter and, as you can imagine, it took me just a little while to get used to it. I felt even better with myself too since I had another person on the back. I couldn’t believe I had done it. I had finally driven something with an engine around something larger than a car park at the grand old age of 31. I still like my bicycle though.
We went to the Vietnamese embassy on the Monday so I could get my three month visa. This was it I thought. Now is the time. I’m applying for the visa thus I must start work soon. Fuck. I will be working soon. That didn’t sit well with me. I haven’t worked in eleven months and had got used to the travelling lifestyle but, my bank accounts have been telling me to do something for a while now and so it must be done. At least it won’t be in rainy old England. This is a big plus.
Time to say goodbye and being gifted my first smartphone
When it was finally time to go our separate ways we both exchanged things that we would give back to one another when we met again (yes it’s been arranged). On top of these gifts I have somehow received something called a smartphone. Yikes! I don’t know what it is or what it really does. I just know people spend a lot of time on them. I hope it won’t change me but I’m honestly a little scared. I’m thankful though that it is just a trial and I will have to hand it back in the near future. This girl is changing me…
I can’t really say much else here apart from the fact that I have had the most amazing twelve days with an amazing person. After the deserts and mountains and rain and jungle, I needed something or someone. I don’t know. I just didn’t know that someone would turn out to be so special. It’s a funny old world.