Luang Prabang to Nong Khiaw – Stray Travel Bus Tour Day 1

Stray Travel’s Bus Tour – Long Thaang Pass – Day 1: Luang Prabang to Nong Khiaw
Depart: 8:30am – Luang Prabang – Joma Cafe – Arrive: 11:40am – Nong Khiaw
Arrive early in Nong Khiaw to explore northern Luang Prabang Province

Today was the day. Day one of a day five day hop-on hop-off bus tour by Stray Travel. The “Long Thaang Pass” is the tour we signed up for. Should be interesting. We were excited, so off we went to meet up with everyone at the pre-arranged meeting spot – Joma Cafe at 8:30am. The details of the Long Thaang Timetable can be found on both the Pass details on their website and the VIP section that Stray Travel gives you access to.

Arriving at Joma, we quickly found our Australian tour guide Simon. He was wearing a Stray Travel t-shirt. Pleasantries were exchanged while we met some of the other people that would be taking this tour. It seemed that most of the others had already been on other bus trips with Simon before.

Right on schedule at 8:30am, we all hopped on the Stray Travel mini bus and we were introduced to Noi, our Lao tour guide. He spoke brilliant English. We also met our Laotian driver who also spoke English. When we realised that we had an Australian tour guide, a Lao Tour Guide who spoke brilliant English, and a Lao Driver who also spoke some English we decided we were very very lucky indeed. Communication problems with guides are common and can make it harder to learn as much as possible. This time, all the information would get to us. Yippee!

Including us, there were seven people from various places around the world on the tour. A lot of different nationalities made for a very varied group.

We left Luang Prabang all sitting comfortably in our air conditioned mini-bus and headed for Nong Khiaw. Simon shared what things would be like for the next five days. Lots of sitting on the bus, regular interesting stops and a different town to sleep in each night.

Stray Travel books all of the accommodation along the way but we still have to pay for it. Simon asked if we had any special requests, like separate rooms or twin beds, or anything like that. He also reminded us that for any stops we do, we would also have to pay for any entry fee, donations, snacks or shopping that we do. Simple Enough.

Both Simon and Noi shared a lot of information about Laos on this bus trip. They both had a wealth of knowledge. If one of them didn't know the answer, the other would. If the other didn't a quick phone call would be able to give us the answer we needed. Noi handed around a little book called Do's & Don'ts in Laos. It was a very handy guide that everyone should have to read before heading into Laos. Highly recommended!

Noi shared the rules of the Stray Travel bus. Without a doubt, absolutely no throwing up on the bus. And, in Laos, there is a toilet everywhere. All we have to do is ask the bus driver to stop and he will. For any reason, even if you just need a break. Nice.

Our first group decision happened very quickly. The last time Simon, our tour guide, had stopped at Nong Khiaw his group went fishing in the afternoon. Would we like to do the same? It would be an afternoon of tubing, fishing and a bit of a barbeque. We had to decide as a group and the cost for this excursion would be 150,000 Kip each. That seemed to be a lot of money for our first outing but it sounded like fun. Sure, why not!

We stopped at a school in Ban Bom village on the way to Nong Khaiw. This village is where Noi, our Laotian guide grew up. He had been a student at the little school. As a group, we all donated a small amount of money to go towards some new sporting supplies, soccer balls etc, for the school.

Visiting the Lao Primary School was awesome. We got to see a the classrooms, annoy the kids, pretty much turn their school day upside down and then enjoy hanging out with the children. Hopefully we didn't annoy them too much.

Noi translated for us. The headmaster of Ban Bom Primary School said that in the Pre-Primary classes of 3 – 5 years old there are a total of 140 children. In the Primary Classes of 5 – 10 year old there are 150 children in total. All these children with only eight teachers. That's a lot of work for the teachers. The school hours are from 8:30am-11:30am then 1:30pm-3:00pm Monday to Friday The two hour break at lunch time is so that the children can go home to eat, help with the family's farm or just play games.

Alas, we had to leave the school and all of its very cute school children. So adorable and sweet. Back on the bus, we reached Nong Khiaw in no time at all. We all checked into the Sunrise Bungalows. Each bungalow had a balcony with a hammock that overlooked the river. The view was truly spectacular.

After changing our clothes and locking up our stuff, we met everyone at the restaurant across the road to go on our tubing and fishing outing. We walked through town then all jumped in a long boat with inner tubes and a few long neck Lao Beers. Looking up at the mountains was just as beautiful as looking down at the river. Twenty minutes later and we were dropped off at the side of the river where we started tubing.

The tubing was fun for a while. It was relaxing and the views were spectacular. It became a little annoying after a while. We didn't have enough tubes between the eight of us so some of us had to share. This turns out to not work very well. Andrew ended up getting out of our tube and just swimming. It's a good thing he's a strong swimmer as the current was quite strong.

We all made our way to a little island in the middle of the river. Here we made ourselves at home with our Lao Beer, Lao Lao (fermented rice wine), and waited for the fish to arrive. The local Lao boys were out catching it for us.

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In the meantime, four boys young rocked up and used our fire to cook the fish that they had caught. While we waited for someone to catch fish for us, these boys were doing it all by themselves. It is times like this when you see how helpless we can be.

A family also came by and, without saying a word, used the fire to roast some corn they had picked. Once it was done they shared it with us. The corn was sweet, juicy and delicious! It seemed odd that they would approach a group of strangers and use their fire without at least asking first until it was explained that we were just standing around the fire. To them, we were not “using” the fire. Plus, in Laos virtually everything is shared. They needed a fire and we had one that we weren't using. What does it mean for it to be “our” fire anyway? How can you own fire? All we did was pick up wood from the ground so how did it become our property? This small event created a lot of interesting philosophical discussions.

Our fishermen arrived back just as we were running out of beer and cooked up a feast of clams, roasted eggplant and sticky rice. We also drank a lot of Lao Lao. So much Lao Lao was drunk that afternoon. Culturally, it is rude to not accept a shot of Lao Lao. Or is that just an excuse they told us get us drunk?

We finally made it back to the township after a lovely time squished up on the longtail boat, drinking more Lao Lao and telling stories. It was a really enjoyable afternoon.

Pro tip: bring something non-alcoholic to drink. Perhaps a 2 litre bottle of water. It is a long afternoon in the sun with nothing but beer and Lao Lao to drink.

Dinner was at an Indian Restaurant – Deen Restaurant in Nong Khiaw. We dined on Green Pea Marsala, Butter Chicken, Butter Naan, Banana Shake and Water – 53,000 Kip in total. Along with the food, we connected our powerboard up in the restaurant and charged our phone and camera. Used their free wifi and got our last fix of the Internet for awhile.

Total Expenditure For The Day:
Donation for Soccer Balls – 20,000 Kip (this is all that was suggested. In hindsight we should have volunteered more)
Fishing Trip (2 x 150k) – 300,000 Kip
Beer Lao (2 x 9k) – 18000 Kip
Indian Feast For Dinner – 53,000 Kip
Total Expenditure For The Day = 391,000 Kip

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