Nong Khiaw and a Hundred Waterfalls, Laos

Proudly contributed by Mark Bibby Jackson

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Mark Bibby Jackson takes a Tiger Trail adventure to Nong Khiaw to discover 100 waterfalls, homestays and Lao-Lao, and finds himself stumbling around in the dark.

Tan lifts his glass once more towards mine and smiles yet again. Cutting the air in a horizontal with his free hand, he lifts his murky glass of Lao-Lao and pours its contents down his throat. I have little choice but to do likewise. I slam my empty glass back down on the table, only to see the now familiar smile staring right at me. Four fingers are held up in the air.

“You said three,” I counter weakly.

“Four,” he replies. “You do four.” He refills my glass. My initiation is almost complete.

It is not the first time I have been here. That was many years ago in a village in northern Vietnam, at the engagement party of a work colleague as her father forced me to slam rice wine “trăm phần trăm” (literally 100%) with the other eight people sitting cross-legged at the high table. Only as I began to lose focus did I realise that I was slamming with each man in turn, rather than taking them on collectively; the rest of the evening did not exist.

A Bridge Too Far

This time, I am in the Laos village of Ban Don Khun, and at least I have a chair to sit on, although I have no idea what is the Laos expression for “bottom’s up”, so I just smile increasingly vacantly.

The previous day, we took the road from Luang Prabang to Nong Khiaw, or at least we would have if one of the bridges along the route had not been destroyed by recent floods.

Our luxury Tiger Trail air-conditioned minibus grounds to a halt a kilometre before the collapsed bridge in a queue of traffic that has nowhere to go.

Driving to the front we see a void where the final stretch of the bridge used to stand, and unload our bags so we can take the impromptu ferry to the other side, while our vehicle returns to Luang Prabang.

“Tomorrow,” our guide Khit assures us doubtfully. “They say bridge will be repaired tomorrow.”

On the other side we wait for an hour as our new vehicle comes to pick us up, and this time travel with the windows down due to the air conditioning not working. This is real travelling I think to myself, as we pass by the remnants of villages.

The last time I had seen such devastation was in Nepal, when I visited the distraught country after the 2015 Earthquake to interview some of the villagers around Nuwakot struggling to survive. This time the scene of devastation is not caused by any natural disaster but by man’s voracious need for more energy, as the valley through which we are driving will soon become flooded as part of one of several dams constructed along the Nam Ou river. The plan is for Laos to become the battery of Southeast Asia.

Nong Khiaw to Ban Don Khun

En route to Nong Khiaw, we stop at the village of Ban Nayang, where women sit around weaving cotton with traditional looms, before dyeing the finished product with indigo, as the men till in the fields – or are they perhaps drinking Lao-Lao? Every house seems to have its own loom. I buy a scarf for a few dollars.

By the time we reach Nong Khiaw, the sun is beginning to set and men are playing pétanque in the local bus station, so I settle at my guest house the Phaxang Resort where I am the only guest, and enjoy the spectacular views of the tree-lined cliffs descending into the river, a bottle of Beer Lao by my side.

The following day we take the short boat ride along the river to Ban Don Khun village, which is the starting point for our trek to the 100 waterfalls.

This stretch of the river has already been flooded by a completed dam, although farming by the river banks is still precarious, especially when the sluice gates are opened; at least a warning of the impending flood is given.

Read full article at Travel Begins at 40:

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