Boating Back to LP

Finally, a picture of a meal! Turned out the Nong Khiaw Riverside Resort had a really good restaurant (open air and overlooking the river, of course), and we happily ate all of our meals there. For breakfast the first morning, Mel ordered congee, which is a kind of rice porridge common in Asian counttries, and it looked delicious. I think those are bits of fried garlic on the top.

Like most of the restaurants we’d been to in Laos, you could order Thai- or Chinese-style dishes as well as Lao specialties and a few Western classics thrown in for good measure (i.e., the ubiquitous fried egg). So you’d probably see a few kinds of fried noodle; fried fish; grilled chicken, beef and pork; fried vegetables; a few curries and some soups. “Fried” generally meant “sautéed” or “stir fried” in Lao menu-speak, although all the fish I tasted – mostly Mekong carp – was definitely deep fried. The Lao dishes tended to be spicy with really vibrant seasonings, and sometimes contained something fermented, like fish, which we generally tried to avoid. Fried, yes; fermented, no.

Anyway, since we were the resort’s only guests for the length of our stay, we were always the only ones in the restaurant when we were eating – which was often. It felt like we had our own private chef.

There was a tiny, black-and-white kitten who kept us company much of the time; I think he lived in a corner of the dining room under some equipment with his momma. I have never seen a tinier cat, nor one as intrepid.

the world is one big dining-room mystery to be explored

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As planned, we spent our day doing mostly nothing. The area had lost power sometime in the early morning (which wasn’t unusual), and no one knew when it would go back on (also not unusual), which was no particular hardship except that it meant we couldn’t use the fan in the bungalow and it was a freakin swelterfest that day. At one point Mel persuaded me to go for a walk along a dusty path that paralleled the river, but there was no shade in the blazing sun, and I turned back after a short distance. Who was I kidding? When I’m in lazy-ass mode, I like to stay committed to my goal. Of laziness.

I returned to the bungalow to lay under the mosquito net in my underwear.

Mel came back a few minutes later.

Mel’s feet AFTER a post-walk scrubbing

The next day, we checked out of the guesthouse and walked back across the bridge to Nong Khiaw. Silasak had returned and we were taking a boat back to Luang Prabang – a four-hour trip down the river. Also along for the ride was the boat driver’s wife and young daughter.

We loaded up and got on our way.

In contrast to the boat rides we’d taken around the islands down south, the Nam Ou trip was all about mountains. Massive, beautiful, craggy cliffs.

The boat, which was very long and very narrow, featured one stubby wooden chair on each side of a single aisle, and an area towards the back for storage or sleeping. Mel called the chairs “kindergarten chairs” because they were so low to the ground.

boat nap behind squatty chairs

Most of the trip was pretty smooth sailing, if you will, but as we got closer to Luang Prabang, the water got pretty choppy. Not seasick choppy, though – get wet choppy. The boat rode pretty low in the water and the sides were also kind of low, so when the current slapped up against the side, we got sprayed. Luckily, I’d brought along my fancy new Gore-tex raincoat (a trip present from my boyfriend), and was able to shield myself and my camera gear underneath it until the current calmed down.

Exciting, I know.

Anyway, about 25 km from LP, where the Ou River meets the Mekong, we came to the famous Pak Ou caves (which literally means, “caves at the mouth of the Ou”), where locals have supposedly been leaving statues of Buddha for thousands of years.

We climbed the steep 50 meters up to the lower cave, which is said to contain thousands of statues in all shapes and sizes. There was an altar near the entrance where you could light some incense (for a fee) and ask for a blessing.

Silasak told us that since the lower cave doesn’t have a gated entrance, there’s been a lot of looting over the years, and although there were a lot of Buddhas still there, they were mostly damaged and dirty and just kind of laying around haphazardly. It didn’t look like anyone was taking care of them, and the place kind of felt like a giant, neglected storage facility. The cave itself was cool, with bats flying in and out of deeper, more mysterious recesses, but other than that, I was underwhelmed, maybe because everyone talks about how the caves are a MUST SEE!! To each his own, I suppose.

I think I was more intrigued by the bamboo pier our boat was hitched to.

To each his own, indeed.

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