Crossing into Laos - Same Same but Different!
Louang Namtha Travel Blog› entry 11 of 34 › view all entries
Well we went through Thai immigration this morning and paid our huge exit tax of five Baht (about 13 cents) and then hopped aboard the "ferry" which is really just a long, wooden canoe like boat with a noisy, smelly outboard engine for the five minute crossing to Huay Xai in
We figured we needed to change some money and had heard that there was only one ATM in
Well it ended up that an English couple on the ferry was heading to Luang Nam Tha as well, so after the mandatory bargaining for a tuk-tuk, we all headed off to the local bus station where we luckily found out that there would be a "bus" at 9:30. Cool!
Well "bus" in Lao is commonly called "pickup truck with two incredibly uncomfortable bench seats in the back of the bed" in English.
Well it appeared that we drew the short stick and ended up on the local bus, constantly stopping to pick up more people (and their 50 pound bags of rice, gigantic gourds, chickens, etc.). New! this should launch in a separate window but if it doesn't hit back after viewing the video Our Luxury Sedan on the way to Luang Nam Tha
Unfortunately, no one seemed to be getting off and we soon found ourselves crammed in the bed of the truck with a total of 14 people in the pickup! Ten of us were smushed in the back, including six 50 pound bags of rice, various bags of vegetables, some car parts, a large cooler and a pissed off chicken in a bamboo basket.
So we had read somewhere that
Of the nine dusty, bumpy, muddy, bone rattling hours spent in that truck, I would estimate that only 15% was even paved. I have been on many bad roads in my time including Sumatra in the rainy season, the harrowing road between Kashmir and Laddakh, the dirt paths between villages in Cinqueterre and, most recently, the road between
We were the only foreigners on the truck and apparently quite the oddity since everyone was staring at us like we were from outer space. No one spoke as we bounced our way down one of the world’s bumpiest roads. I tried to take a video but you might get car sick watching it.
At our first stop I realized that, even though we were in the crappier, local bus, Christian and Anna may have really drawn the short straws since they were both quite tall and their truck was completely packed.
Well the road continued to get worse as the scenery got more and more beautiful. The countryside is pretty desolate, mostly covered with never ending brilliant emerald green rice paddies and the occasional bamboo and thatch hut.
We passed through many very small villages of wooden or bamboo huts teaming with smiling children. In one, we saw several young boys, all naked, playing in the muddy stream. Every few hours we would get a break and clamber out of the back of the truck where all the men would pee on the side of the road. The few women would delicately squat right on the road with their sarongs covering them - Anna and Cindy chose to wait it out. The road got so bumpy that you basically had to have at least one hand (if not both) on the bar running down the ceiling of the truck bed. Kind of like holding on in the subway...for nine or ten hours.
The two guys next to Cindy and I (we were sitting across from each other) that were closest to the truck cab (probably the best seats because you could hold on and there was less dust) were quite hilarious.
Suddenly it was lunch time and everyone broke out their food, huge bags of sticky rice and small bits of grilled chicken. They all wanted to share as eating here is a very communal thing and they are truly extremely friendly. Each of them seemed to have a unique and precise method of rolling up their sticky rice into a ball, grabbing a small piece of meat, vegetable or chili paste and devouring it.
Along the way there was actually quite a lot of work going on with regular delays for backhoes, dump trucks and steamrollers. These stops were much more tolerable than having to repeatedly tow a two wheel drive passenger vehicle out of mud above its axles. What those three rocket scientists were thinking driving on a road like that in a passenger car escapes me.
Anyway, nine hours later we finally arrived in Luang Nam Tha with very sore backsides and looking extremely forward to several cold, frosty Beer Lao's. Unfortunately for us, unlike in
After a shower to wash away the road grime, we ended up having dinner with a couple in their 50’s from
The long day, excellent meal and Beer Lao led to a great night's sleep.
After talking about renting overpriced mountain bikes this morning, we decided to rent a scooter instead so took a tuk-tuk into town and ended up renting a purple Suzuki (yes Mom we rented helmets - unfortunately the pink one didn't fit Cindy...)
We started out down a dirt path that gradually got wetter and muddier. Cindy got off the scooter in an effort to navigate through the increasingly gooshy mud while I forged on ahead trying not to get stuck.
We made it through and crossed the wood bridge over the
It was a large, wooden one room house on stilts with a covered balcony and outdoor "kitchen". He lived there with his two younger brothers, his mom and dad and his grandma who he said was 102 (she didn’t look a day over 90 to us and we found it hard to believe that she had his father, who is only 45, at the ripe old age of 57).
We had some tea and fruit with them and then his mom came home and showed us her silk weavings including a lesson in the lifecycle of the silkworm and the process of turning cocoons into raw silk. Cindy did end up buying a scarf from her.
Sotha's cell phone rang (even the ethnic hill tribe people seem to have technology now, many even have satellite TV!) and he spoke briefly, and then told us that it was his wife on the phone. He just got married last week but his parents don’t like his wife so refused to go to the wedding. She is now studying at university in Luang Prabang.
We had given him a postcard of
Suddenly it started pouring rain and so he put on a CD of some bad, pop Thai music and Cindy suggested that I share some of my decidedly alternative musical selections with him. We listened to some acoustic Alice in Chains some Stone Temple Pilots some Audioslave and some Nickleback all of whom he knew and liked. Pretty bizarre! It wasn’t until later that Cindy mentioned that he was wearing a
In the meantime, Cindy joined Sotha's mom in prepping bamboo shoots by pounding them with the flat side of a machete, not an easy task.
Once the rain stopped, we made our farewells and went the back way to Luang Nam Tha, a very pretty scooter ride mostly on a paved road, for a tasty lunch.
Following lunch, we visited the local market which was filled with interesting stuff including frogs, lizards, some kind of dried and eviscerated rodent (reminiscent of Peruvian Guinea Pig), live crickets, huge black water bugs (which two women had crawling in their hands as they chatted and cut their legs off) and little tiny eels. To bad we had just eaten!
We braved more pot hole ridden dirt roads to visit the local Stupa on a small hill well out of town in the rice paddies. When we parked the scooter at the base of the steep stairs flanked with Nagas (mythical dragons that often protect temples In Asia) on each side, a man with what looked like something he printed on an old printer at home charged us 2000 Kip each (20 cents).
Another great dinner at the Boat Landing Guesthouse of spicy raw papaya salad, a traditional stew with chicken, eggplant, peppers and herbs and the hottest herbal chili paste yet had us quaffing Beer Lao. We ended up talking with two couples who had just returned from a hill tribe trek, two Aussies, Sean and Elise, and two English kids, Rob and Kate, who now work and live in
Well, it's been raining all night and all morning and we can't figure out whether to venture north for the three hour scooter ride to Muang Sing or hang here at the Boat Landing Guest house another day.
Well, guess we decided to hang here and avoid the rain. We just had an interesting lunch of mostly bamboo. Cindy had fried bamboo stuffed with pork and I had a very spicy chili crab paste that was served with two huge pieces of steamed bamboo washed down with a palm beer (kind of ale-Ish) and a tasty mint and lemongrass fruit shake. So far we have been too wimpy to try any of the local delicacies like stir-fried Borer moths, silkworm larvae or Water Beetle chili paste. Perhaps later (after many beer Lao's)
Just scootered into town to try to email and update the travel blog, however all the electricity is down. Apparently they get all their power from