The hinterland

Lao roads are not great. Travelling takes an inordinate amount of time, potholes are frequent and the average speed is rather slow. It needs to be said so that when gauging distances there is the understanding that it’s not going to be like driving along the motorway. Much of the country is mountainous so bends and corners are frequent. On the plus side those with a fear of heights needn’t generally worry about precipitous drops a few feet away, they are comfortable enough from that perspective.

It does however mean that a lot of driving is going to be on the agenda. The route round to Phonsavanh will take around 12 hours in the car and so such itineraries are usually for four or five days. It is quiet and undeveloped with outstanding opportunities for trekking, travelling along the rivers, seeing wildlife (including tigers) and perhaps most of all taking in the often stunning views.

Most of the country is mountainous, and with a low population density even in the more built up areas the unspoilt nature of the terrain is a key attraction.

In truth the first part of the journey from Luang Prabang to Nong Khiao is the least eventful of the coming days, although almost instantly you can see the hills beginning to rise up ahead, and the road takes on a distinctly upward trajectory.

There’s a definite sense of heading into the wilderness, as the number cars and bikes on the road declines and the surroundings become more natural and quieter. The Laos climate means that it’s exceptionally green of course and that also means lots of rivers too. That’s abundantly clear at the first stop, Nong Khiao. It’s only a small place, two streets in reality, but the views are spectacular as it overlooks the Nam Ou river and nestles beneath mountains. It’s a hiking paradise and there are also various river activities as well.

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Morning is a particular time to take in the surrounds, the often misty outlook providing an arresting way to start the day.

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As an added bonus I made a new friend in the hotel at breakfast time.

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It’s typical to spend a couple of days here, it’s very much a retreat from the normal busy world. However, in my case it was already time to move on…