Recovery in Nong Khiaw – caves, waterfalls, squirt gun fights, jump rope and lots of French folks

After an awful 14 hour bus ride the day before we were glad to wake up in Nong Khiaw.

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Nong Khiaw is another small town in the mountains of Northern Laos.

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A main bridge connects the east and west sides of Nong Khiaw over the Nam Ou river.

Ben and I rented a couple mountain bikes and headed east on the windy road that had brought us to Nong Khiaw from Sam Neua.  There was a series of caves that were used by Laos fighters during the “CIA’s secret war” a couple kilometers east of town.

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A log bridge across a stream led us to a steep staircase in turn led to the caves.

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The caves would have made a good hiding spot for Laos fighters.

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There are several nice openings that overlook the nearby fields.

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These openings which would have provided a good lookout spot.

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Some parts of the cave were quite deep and dangerous.

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We didn’t brave the cave alone.  We had the help of a young Laos male from Nong Khiaw.

Our guide leads Ben down the steep staircase

Our guide leads Ben down the steep staircase

There was no electric lighting in these caves so the farther away we got from natural light sources the darker it got.

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The flash of my camera did a pretty good job of capturing the nooks and crannies we explored. Several of these hidden spots had signs posted that read things like “Bank”, “Munitions”, “Common Quarters”,

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Without the camera it was pitch black.

Without Ben’s iPhone light and our guide’s small flashlight we would be in trouble.  Well, Ben and I would have been lost – our guide knew these caves like the back of his hand.  Quite literally, he “could do it blindfolded.” He proposed getting a shot of us when we finished caving and I was happy to oblige, and happy to give him a good tip for the hidden places he showed us.

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After our cave exploration Ben and I made our way back across the log bridge, this time with eight Laos boys following us.

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Sadly several of these boys, aged 5-9, were smoking cigarettes and doing it with deliberate flare, no pun intended.  It was clear that they considered smoking to be machismo behavior.  The older ones would demonstrate to Ben and I as well as the younger ones how “good” they were at taking drags.

Ben and I continued east and were surprised to find a couple turkeys wandering near someone’s jeep.

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At the bottom of a big hill we came to a “waterfall”.

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Calling it a waterfall may have been a bit of a stretch though.

We saw several villagers taking turns washing clothes 50 meters downstream of the waterfall.

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Two of the younger kids that had accompanied their mother had brought squirt guns to keep themselves entertained.

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The formula for a good squirt gun fight is universal and these kids were doing it in the exact same manner Ben and I had done when we were young:  (1) Be near a relatively limitless water source; (2) fill your water pistol; (3) get within point blank range of your enemy (which, counter-effectively, allows your enemy to do the same with you); (4) fire away; (5) repeat steps (1)-(4).

The boy on the right is executing Step No. (4) here

The boy on the right is executing Step No. (4) here

Ben and I turned around at the waterfall and headed back west towards Nong Khiaw.  We got many of the same views we had enjoyed the day before on the bus ride, only this time we could stop and enjoy them.

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As we’d seen in three or four rural SE villages already the local kids liked to follow us and ride next to us on their bikes.

They don’t mind waving for the camera either.

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When we got back to Nong Khiaw we saw some kids enjoying another universal game.

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I took a turn to show him that I was once a rockstar in Jump Rope for Heart – watch how fast the girl on the left get swinging…

At this point of the day the sun was hitting the cliffs on either side of the bridge at just the right spot.

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There were all manner of vehicles crossing the bridge during the day.

I'm still not sure what this is.

I’m still not sure what this is.

A short distance from the bridge the green water of a tributary stream merged with the brown water of the Nam Ou.

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We took a quick lunch and a stop at our guest house to enjoy the view.

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Many guesthouses and hostels in the world have a “take-a-book-leave-a-book” bookshelf.  The idea is that backpackers generally carry and read only one book at a time.  Books take up a significant amount of real estate in a small pack so having only one at a time is generally a logistical necessity.  I noticed that the shelf at our guesthouse in Nong Khiaw, amid a majority of French novels, had a book from one of my favorite childhood series.

Sorry for the spoilers, but if I remember this correctly, in this book its bad to get your picture taken with the camera the boys find in the old Coffman house….

Sorry for the spoilers, but if I remember this correctly, in this book its bad to get your picture taken with the camera the boys find in the old Coffman house….

Later in the afternoon we took a windy steep ride north of town along the Nam Ou.

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It led us to another local village where I nearly killed myself trying to give a backseat bike ride to a local boy and his younger sister.  I ended up riding them up and down hills for about 300 meters until I was utterly exhausted. To finalize the interaction I gave them a pen – kids are just crazy for pens in Nong Khiaw.  They will ask for pens more readily than money.  I’m guessing (and hoping) they will be using them for school.

At the end of our day Ben and I stopped by Nong Khiaw’s schoolyard.

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Games of volleyball and Sepak Takraw went on side by side.

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The play was pretty competitive and the mountains provided a good background to the action.

We left the schoolyard and noticed a Russian flag along the left side of the street.

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This is the second Laos town we’ve been to and the second time we’ve seen Russia’s flag proudly displayed – I never realized the countries were such good allies.  We finished our day of mountain biking with some beers by the river and the beginning of the sunset.

Later that night we got beers with a French friend of ours.

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Just as Russians made up the majority of tourists in Mui Ne, Vietnam, the French take the cake in Nong Khiaw.  Half the people we met in Nong Khiaw were from France and most of the guesthouses had menus in three languages – Laos, English, and French.  Watch out Australians, the French have your number up here in Northern Laos.

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