Is Laos’s Khiaw merely a traveler’s hub or does it have its own unique pulse?
Dusty dirt roads and old wooden storefront buildings.
This is what I saw when the bus dropped me and a van full of tourists off in the middle of the main street of Nong Khiaw.
Did we arrive yet?
No one seemed to know. The small quiet town looked like a Laos version of a deserted Wild West with occasional motorbikes, kicking up dust as they passed.
Oh my god… what could I possibly do here? I thought…
5 minutes after arriving, I contemplated re-boarding our local minivan bus, but I’d just finished a three-hour ride from Luang Prabang.
The town’s main street
Correction… five hours!
Taking a Laotian van bus isn’t a bad thing– it just takes time, if you have it.
The bus from Luang Prabang left on standard Laos time … late. Why? It was waiting for more passengers to fill its max load. Whether bus or boat, that’s how the Laos transportation schedule works– full squeeze ahead.
After finally leaving Luang Prabang, that’s when it occurred to the driver to check his gas tank. Fuel levels were low, so we turned back to L.P. to go to the gas station …only to discover there was a power outage in town! Almost every fuel station was down, so station-to-station we drove, searching for an “Open” sign. I saw a lot of the outskirts of Luang Prabang (which wasn’t nearly as exciting as my bus ride back, when it made an emergency stop for a young couple on the way to a hospital with a newborn baby, struck ill and connected to an IV drip!)
Nong Khiaw is a transportation hub, not a sightseeing goal
Crossing the bridge from the town to the enclave of guesthouses and few traveler restaurants, the karst panorama of Nong Khiaw instantly sparks you!
But its captivating and magnetic charm, lasts only up until you walk up and down the town’s one main street to realize that’s it; that Nong Khiaw is the place travelers pass through on way to another destination!
The bus station is a 10-15 minute walk to the end of the street; and the ferry dock either, whisks you north to enjoy village trekking or glides south (to Luang Prabang) where the river laps along a tranquil landscape masterpiece.
What do you do when you’re stuck in a place with one dirt road as a main street and it doesn’t offer much?
This is when a camera comes in handy. Seeking out the gems in a place- when the obvious flash and twinkle of sightseeing tricks aren’t there- takes time, patience and a geniunely laid-back spirit of exploration. Though I wasn’t finding anything exciting to do, didn’t mean nothing was going on.
What defines a town is its people, their lifestyle, livelihood and history. Every town has a life of its own… a unique heartbeat.
It took me an afternoon to warm to the town and discover its shy pulse. In Nong Khiaw, the residents and the small-town quirks of daily living are its most valuable and surprising excavations. If you’re there when the local school is in session, the town youth reveals its true pageantry.
Here are some of the Nong Khiaw’s gems:
Locals wait for the boat along the river.
Ticket seller for the ferry.
A man making his fishing net
Inside a Laotian classroom
David Bowie’s monkey
Woman making sweepers.
Sometimes, when you give small towns a closer look, they end up surprising you!
Related Laos articles on GRRRLTRAVELER:
- Winging it Solo in Vientiane
- What will your Kip buy in Laos budget accommodations?
- Surviving the night seater train to Laos
- Fear Factor Foods in Laos