Just 50 kilometres north of Vang Vieng, on the well-travelled road to Luang Prabang, Nola Guesthouse offers guests an opportunity to relax and immerse themselves in a rural Lao village unspoilt by tourist crowds.
Nola Guesthouse is the type of place where travellers plan to stay a few days and end up staying a week or more. It is also the story of Uruguayan traveller Alex, who ended up in Pho Kham village, and a local family, whose patriarch Alex nicknamed “El Capitan”. Together they opened Nola Guesthouse in 2013. The guesthouse has eight rooms in a wooden building situated on the banks of the Nam Lik river, and you will definitely find yourself spending an untold number of hours in a hammock gazing at the river drifting by and listening to the birds.
The rooms themselves are very basic but they do have lights, an electrical outlet, a window you can slide open for fresh air, doors with locks and direct access to the shared balcony. Each room has a small, no-frills private bathroom with Western toilet, cold-water shower and light. There’s no sink or mirror. The double bed has a thin mattress, blanket and mosquito net. A towel is provided. It is rustic, relaxed and charming—the type of place where chickens roam around the front yard—so if you do not like insects or animals, or if you need Western comforts, this is not the place for you.
Tours in Laos that include homestays can often feel artificial—how much can you learn in one night? A few nights in Ban Pho Kham will have you slipping into the rhythms and experiencing the realities of Lao village life: early to bed, early to rise with the sun and roosters. Chores, errands, farm work and market shopping are done in the morning. When the heat of the day becomes too intense, it’s time for a short siesta, perhaps a hike to pick what’s ripe and in season. In June, that means papaya, pineapple and passionfruit. We also gathered limes, wild lemongrass, galangal shoots and turmeric for our dinner, and did an exchange—one of our papayas for a neighbour’s crunchy, sweet cucumbers, also in season.
We joined the locals at the river to cool off and bathed before taking a sunset stroll in the village across the river as the cows ambled on home. Don’t be surprised if you’re offered a few friendly shots of homemade lao-lao rice whiskey along the way.
For those who need more concrete things to see and do, Nola has a few tubes for tubing down the river. Or you can channel “Adventures of Huckleberry Finn” by renting a bamboo raft from the neighbour for 60,000 kip. Nola may also be able to arrange for a guided trek to a small waterfall (dry season only).
Show the map to both the ticket seller and the bus driver and let them know you want the driver to stop and let you off at “Thang Baeng Ban Chièng.” Ban Chièng village is 50 kilometres north of Vang Vieng. Note: Ban Chièng is sometimes also spelled Tiang, Thien or Jiang.
Departing from Vang Vieng or Vientiane
From Vientiane there is a local bus to Kasi at 08:30 from the northern bus station. From Vang Vieng, songthaews leave every couple of hours, the first few departures scheduled at 10:00 and 11:30. If you want a little more comfort, you can take any minivan or bus destined for Luang Prabang, but you will pay the entire fare. If you’re lucky, the station may simply put you on the next vehicle to Luang Prabang, whatever it may be, and charge you only the fare to Kasi. You will get off at the crossroads which has an IP petrol station, the first petrol station of Kasi district when you enter from the south.
Departing from Luang Prabang
Take any bus or minivan headed to Vang Vieng or Vientiane. Thang Baeng Ban Chièng is 10 kilometres south of Kasi town.
Once in Ban Chièng village, it is three kilometres to Pho Kham village (formerly named Ban Na village). Find someone to take you by motorbike for 10,000 to 15,000 kip, wait for any songthaew or minibus going in that direction, or call Nola Guesthouse to pick you up.
To make a room reservation, call (020) 2939 1738 in advance as there is no WiFi or 3G at the village.
By Cindy Fan
Last updated on 11th January, 2017.