Northern Laos is two things: Mountains and jungle – as far as the eye can see. Occational huts, more mountains, and more jungle. And bad roads. I mean, REALLY bad roads. We’re talking «potholes with a random piece of road in between»-bad. But let me start from where we left off.
From the picturesque Luang Namtha, from which we saw very little due to our hospital experience, we drove to Nong Khiaw further east. Sometimes there are direct buses from Luang Namtha to Nong Khiaw, sometimes not. Buses in Laos tend to be very crowded Minibuses, where your luggage goes on the roof, bags of food or other random items will be stored in between and/or under seats and if you show up too late at the bus station, you’ll have to deal with a jumpseat in the narrow aisle. The road conditions are bad and the roads very curvy. Some passengers (mostly locals) aren’t very accustomed to this and will start to puke as soon as the bus is moving. Happy travels!
With that in mind and since we didn’t know what we would get and with Oliver’s pneumonia still in full swing, we decided to book a private transfer, which was rather expensive and turned out to be a minibus as well, but just for the two of us. But oh well, Oliver was able to sleep and I was able to stretch my legs over 3 seats and didn’t have a month’s load of rice stored under my butt, so no complaints.
Sidenote: If there are no direct buses, you will need to take a bus from Luang Namtha to Oudomxai and from there to Nong Khiaw. The bus system works fairly reliable and you can arrange tickets with your hotel or guesthouse the day before departure.
We reached Nong Khiaw after a 6 hour drive. It’s only roughly 230km from Luang Namtha, but remember what I said about the roads? It’s THAT bad. But anyway, Nong Khiaw is a popular tourist destination because of the walking and cycling routes near the village and the mountain-climbing opportunities. The only good way to get there apparently used to be by boat from Luang Prabang or Muang Khua, near the Vietnamese border. This is not the case anymore due to the (Chinese) construction of dams on the Nam Ou river. You’ll have to make it work with the bad roads now. Since Oliver was still in recovery with his lungs not properly working, we stayed around town. There are 2 viewpoints close to town, from where you’ll have a fantastic view. The climb is pretty steep and you’ll need to be in reasonable shape to make it to the top. We managed to go up Pha NangNone in a very slow pace and were rewarded with a spectacular view!
If hiking is not your thing, you can either book a kayak tour through one of the agencies in town, or just rent a kayak and take it up the Nam Ou river for a bit. I needed to paddle for two, but found it very relaxing and the current was not bad at all.
Where to stay: Nong Khiaw offers something that fits every budget. There are guesthouses, hostels or nice little bungalows right next to the river. We opted for the latter as a Christmas present to ourselves.
The Hotel even gave us a present, too. What I initially thought were mean, little mosqito bites, turned out to be bedbug bites. My legs were COVERED in bites! Up until then, I have never been attacked by bedbugs, so I had absolutely no clue about them. If you were on the lucky side and also never made the aquantance of bed bugs, let me share my recently gained knowledge and wisdom about bedbugs with you. I’ll spare you the pictures of the bugs and the bites. If you’re interested, google them. They look exactly like that.
Bedbugs, also known as asshole animals (pardon my French, but I can’t think of a more flattering name for them): are small, oval, brownish insects that live on the blood of animals or humans. Adult bedbugs have flat bodies about the size of an apple seed. Bedbugs don’t fly, but they can move quickly over floors, walls, and ceilings. Female bedbugs may lay hundreds of eggs, each of which is about the size of a speck of dust, over a lifetime. And bedbugs love to travel. They are active at night and usually bite people while they are sleeping. They feed by piercing the skin and withdrawing blood. Most bedbug bites are painless at first, but later turn into incredibly itchy welts.
How can you tell if there are bedbugs? Examine the sheets. From personal experience I can tell you that it’s hard to almost impossible to detect bedbugs in Hotels before they bite you. There might be blood stains or dark/rusty spots on your sheets and mattress. But this is not likely the case in a hotel. What should have given it away in Nong Khiaw was a musty smell. I remember I made a remark about it the first night, but thought it was because we stayed close to a river. It’s important to note that this can happen at every Hotel, even the most expensive ones. They basically reproduce at the speed of light and as mentioned, love to travel. Once you’ve got them in the room, you have to work very, very hard to get them out.
How to get rid fo bedbugs while traveling? Burn everything you have. No, just kidding. But that was my first impulse and I would have loved to do just that. Instead: Stay calm. Bedbugs can hide in the clothes you wore to bed and they hate extreme temperatures. So it’s either the freezer or the dryer that’s going to be your best friend. You can also buy black plastic bags, put all your clothes in there and put the bags into the sunlight for a day to kill the buggers. In Northern Laos, the temperatures aren’t as high in December. So I had to put the clothes I wore in that hotel room in a plastic bag and gave everything to wash and dry. I took my whole bag apart and cleaned everything as thoroughly as possible.
How to treat bedbug bites? Bedbugs don’t carry any diseases. That’s the good news. The bad news is, it’s going to itch like crazy and the bright red bites are going to make you feel stigmatized for about a week! I’m allergic to all kinds of bites, so I brought antihistamines and cortisol creme with me. Turnes out, this is exactly what will help with the bedbug bites. Hurray! If you scratch the bites open, make sure to disinfect the wounds, as it can get very nasty very quickly.
So those were my two cents of wisdom about bedbugs. Until I realized that I was actually biten by bedbugs, we had moved on and I thought this topic was over for me. Little did I know, I was going to see more of those nasty creatures very soon…