My original plan was to travel north from Luang Prabang to Phongsali, where the best tea in Laos is grown. While reviewing my transport options I realized that to get there would require two days of overland travel over mountainous terrain. I wasn’t in the mood for this so I looked for places to go that were less cumbersome to reach.
The owner of my hotel in Luang Prabang suggested I consider Nong Khiaw, about four hours’ driving northeast of Luang Prabang. After reading the positive recommendation in my guidebook and other travelers’ good reports on the internet, I decided to give it a try.
Nong Khiaw is a town on the Nam Ou (river) that is surrounded by dramatic limestone karsts. Lonely Planet said that it had only two streets, but when I arrived, I could find only one. Did this mean I was lost? After some thought, I decided I was not lost, since wherever I went, I still seemed to be in the same place. Nong Khiaw was indeed Very Small. (And, after some searching, I did locate the other paved street, and even a few smaller unpaved ones branching off from it).
Yesterday I walked a few kilometers east to find some caves nearby. After paying five thousand kip (63 cents U.S.) for a ticket, I climbed up a steep staircase to reach the hollowed out areas in the cliffs. Today I walked a good distance in the other direction along a wide unpaved road winding around the nearby hills.
There was not a single Indian restaurant in Nong Khiaw; no, there was actually a pair of them! Two seemingly unrelated Muslim families from Chennai had set up shop next to each other, offering the typical “pure veg” and “non veg” fare. I tried them both, and was impressed.
There were several other local restaurants catering to tourists, and they were clearly family-owned enterprises. It seemed every dining room had a children’s play area, with toys scattered across a blanket spread in a corner. At one restaurant as I was looking around for the wait staff I felt an object being set on my knees from somewhere below. I looked down and there was a menu on my lap, and behind it, the near toothless grin of a small person with soft, wispy brown hair (I learned later that she was all of 27 months old).