Laos’s southern lands are covered in mountain jungle and so the majority of things to see are in the north. So north we went, to a dusty town called Nong Khiaw. Known for adventure activities, morning fog formations, and the peak climb, the town is little more than a cluster, but gives perfect access to the landscape around it. We sped up from Luang Prabang in a sweaty minivan with a chicken or two, to see what was there.
There are lots of activities on offer in Nong Khiaw, which you can sign up to at the tour office. However, with a hefty price tag on all the ones worth doing, we opted for our own two wheeled adventure, hiring bikes from a jaunty Swiss man. There are some wonderful views in the area, that you don’t have to fork out to see. Going out of town, there are villages, caves and farmland. If you go through town, there’s another route out that follows unmade roads of steep hills and dirt. Chose whichever floats your boat, no judgement here. We took the former (its 35 degrees for petes sake) and sped along in quiet bliss.
Like much of the region, limestone forms massive peaks, hills and mountains alike. Walking around Nong Khiaw you can see plenty, but there’s a smallish one you can actually climb. The best times to go are either early morning, for a fresh cool walk and misty mountain view, or mid afternoon, for a sunset to remember. We went at 3 o’clock and it was the sweatiest I have ever been, forget the school beep test or summer in Hong Kong, this is the winner by miles. We dodged low hanging branches, squeezed through boulders and basically crawled over root mazes. It starts in a wood, then changes to jungle, then bamboo forest, and finally, bare rock. Holy sh*t that view! Emerging from the rocks, with sweat dropping off our fingertips like a tap, the view comes into sight. Nong Khiaw, the river, hills and the low, warm sun sitting smugly on the horizon as if it hasn’t just bled you dry. When you’ve collected your lungs back together, let breeze fill you up and your eyes indulge.
It’s 20,000kip from the little entrance point at the bottom. The climb is signposted and there’s enough of a path for you not to get lost. It takes about an hour and a half round trip for most of us averagely healthy people, and varies depending on your inner Usain Bolt levels. Apart from the stunning view, it’s nice to finally be able to get above this landscape, and -yes it’s cheesy- feel the achievement of getting to the top.
A few other bits to know about little Nong Khiaw: Unfortunately, there are no riverside bars, everything runs of village time so don’t expect anything rapido, there’s a little Indian community here and they have the most delicious food( go on why not?), and electricity only got here in 2013!