Friday, March 6, 2015

MY PAK OU CAVES - LAOS

Visiting the famous Pak Ou caves north of Luang Prabang with 10 Theravada monks was like a dream come true and a very different experience than the usual tourist trip up the river with a boat from Luang Prabang.

Coming from the North we drove down following the scenic Ou River through the mountains and stopped at the district office so that the monks can have lunch before 12 noon and then continued on a bumpy and dusty dirt road until we reached the village of Nam Ou.

Nam Ou is the place where entrance fees and boat fees have to be paid, tourists pass by on elephants and a few local shops sell scarfs and wooden crafts. A dirt path leads down to the rivers, where the Ou River meets the Mekong River, passing a beautiful local Lao temple.

Monks are not supposed to be too close to females, so getting off the boat and up the long stairs to the first cave, Tham Ting, was a difficult task to manage. The stream of tourists going up and down never ended and upon the sight of monks, most tourists raised their cameras to get a sneaky shot of them. 

Tham Thing, the lover cave is filled with hundreds or even thousands of Buddha images and the view over the river, boats and mountains is breathtaking. Continuing to walk up the mountain to the upper cave, Tham Theung was a more meditative exercise. Less tourists and also a larger cave, which is deeper and completely dark. The Buddha images and small pagodas can only be seen with the help of flashlights. The upper cave would be an ideal place for a deep meditation.


















Tuesday, March 3, 2015

MY CLOSE ENCOUNTER WITH PARADISE - NONG KIAU LAOS

Finding a suitable accommodation in the middle of nowhere was quite a challenge when searching for hotels (vs. bed and breakfast) in the northern Lao village of Nong Kiau (Nong Kiao/Nong Kiaw). Simple huts or bed and breakfasts were available but I looked for something of a higher quality for several nights. 

Arriving just before midnight, there was nobody around and I had to wake a Lao security guard who spoke no English at all. With my Thai language skills I was able to articulate that I had a room reserved and got a key without any further instructions to the room itself. Given the cold weather, the fog, the late night and the fact that I had arrived in the middle of nowhere without really seeing anything around me almost had me convinced that it would be best to just turn back to Vientiane. 

However the next morning proved that reserving the Nong Kiau Riverside Resort was as close as one can get to paradise on earth. The night was cold and I would probably never go back there in the winter but rather at a milder time in the year. However, the shower was hot at all times, the bed was comfortable with many spare blankets and covers and a mosquito net which covered all sides and the top of the bed completely. 

The view from the balcony was awesome and despite this being my own hut in the middle of the forest I had several windows which gave the room enough light to not make it a dark sleeping hole. 

In my own rating system the Nong Kiau Riverside comes out as follows: 

Location 5 of 5 (as a conscious decision)
Room Size 5 of 5
WiFi free and working 2 of 5
Breakfast included and yummy 4 of 5
Staff competency and friendliness 5 of 5
Safety box in the room and adequate size 1 of 5
Bathroom functionality 4 of 5
Room design and functionality 4 of 5
Sounds 4 of 5

WiFi in the room worked relatively bad but I was not anywhere close to the router.

It worked better in the open restaurant/lobby, but given the cold weather in the winter sitting out in the open was unthinkable in the evening. Even in the morning it was freezing cold. 

The resort wants you to take off your shoes and put on slippers which are provided. Now that is not everyone's taste, specially when you have to leave your warm boots or hiking shoes outside the restaurant and put on some freezing slippers. It's a nice idea but not comfortable at those temperatures. The fact that there were no glass windows or doors in the restaurant also made your eggs and toast cold by the time you got back to your table. Again, it would be perfect on a warmer day. 

The location is awesome. Easy to walk to from the village. The best views I have had at any hotel in the country!  I had no insects, mosquitoes or frogs inside my room but there are wide cracks in the door and the walls are just woven mats, so I am sure it would be a different story in the summer. However there were all night frog concerts outside the hut!

The thin mats and the traditional style of the hut let any sound from the walk way go right through. In the middle of the night or the early morning I felt like someone passing by was right inside my room.  So hut number 1 which is the first one coming in from the road is where everyone is passing by. The huts further back are probably more quiet but you can't beat the view of the river and mountains of hut number 1. 

The safety box is mounted to the floor. It was a bit lose and way to small. You basically have to lay on the floor to program it, so I did not use it. 

It's a great wooden hut (or as they call it - bungalow) with a great balcony and an awesome view. I would definitely go back to the Nong Kiau Riverside Resort if I came back to this location.