during a journey to Vieng Xai
I went to Sam Nuea by bus from Phonsavan
and it took 8g to get there. The road was in good condition but be warned...there are only bends and curves and you might get "sea-sick" after a while. The reason why I came to Hua Phan province is that my guidebook advised that although not many travelers come here ("routes less traveled"), the province apparently belongs to the most beautiful part of Laos. Well, the road between Nam Noen and Sam Nuea is really quite scenic, with all those mountain ranges covered with forest (jungle) and remote hill-tribe villages you pass by. Scenery around Vieng Xai is very lovely too and I now regret I spent there only a half-day (to see Pathet Lao caves) and didn't explore its surroundings.
Anyway, the very first morning after my arrival I met Richard whom I had briefly met in Luang Prabang. His plan to visit Pathet Lao caves in Vieng Xai was the same as mine therefore we together started to walk to a bus station from where a saengthaew was departing. The bus station was actually in another village (Nathong) and it took us about 1h to get there. When we got there we were told that a saengthaew at 10am was cancelled because not enough people were interested in the same journey as ours. However, we were assured the 11:30am saengthaew would really leave. We had 90min to kill and chose to get a brunch with beer at the nearby Khanxay restaurant where we were kindly welcomed by Mr Khanxay in person, and which restaurant I highly recommend! It's not in Sam Nuea's town center but good food and service, friendly atmosphere, nice view over rice fields and pitches for petang makes this number one restaurant in the area.
heeeey, wait for us...
Now, back to our story, at 1pm we were at Vieng Xai caves where we had to pay 60.000kip (5eur) to enter the caves. It's quite a lot but we were given modern audio guides and a "human" guide who spent with us 3hours wandering around various caves...(((PS: Vieng Xai is very important for Lao modern history as Pathet Lao - a communist party plus around 20,000 people were hiding in those caves during Vietnamese war because Americans were heavily bombing Lao territory....You might ask, why Americans were bombing Laos if they were fighting Vietnam...well, during the so called "cold war" Americans were afraid that Lao, around the year 1970, might turn into a communist state as communist were gaining on popularity against the Royal Government. Also, it seems Vietnam and Pathet Lao were quite cooperative in smuggling weapons etc.
Answer’s of USA to that was: bomb, bomb, bomb, bomb, bomb, bomb....))) We finished our sightseeing after 4pm and when we asked when a bus was leaving for Sam Nuea we were told that maybe next morning....Neither Richard nor I wanted to spend the night in Vieng Xai so we decided to walk it...According to our, very optimistic as it seems now, calculation we thought we could get through a 25km hilly-terrain distance by 10pm. Hence, we bought a "survival kit" consisting of 2 Nescafe cans, a pack of biscuits and a big bottle of Coke, and set off. We both, however, were secretly hoping for getting a lift but in the first 30 min of our walking no car passed by....But then a truck was going by and we successfully flagged it down. Our journey was quite funny because when we were passing through villages, local people stopped working or anything they were doing and watched us, sitting at the back of the truck, with open jaws.
The next day I also stayed in Sam Nuea but there was nothing to do really, not even that big textile handicraft business I was counting on. I also thought about renting a motorbike and driving to nearby villages but when I saw THAT crap motorcycle on offer (also without an automatic gearbox for me, a moto-beginner) I gave up and strolled around instead. At about noon I got hungry so I went to small Dan Nao Restaurant where I had great noodle soup the same morning. They were happy to see me again and after my main dish I had ordered I got a bowl of mixed fruit for free ;-) I guess, for loyal customers only :-) Then I walked in a random direction again and found myself at a prison or maybe a re-education camp (who knows?). That walk made me thirsty, wanted to read a book and knowing that there's no better place around Sam Nuea than Khanxay restaurant I went there again.
Mr Khanxay remembered me from the previous day and offered me a cup of tea while we talked about his business activities. When he left me for a meeting I ordered a bottle of Beerlao and got a bowl of home-made fish crisps for free.....Hmmmm, a bowl of fruits there, a bowl of crisps here..., sometimes I think capitalists should learn from communists how to value loyal customers :-) Mr Khanxai returned from his meeting and asked me whether I would like to go with him to an English class he has been visiting for a year. I didn't hesitate a minute and shortly after appeared in the middle of a classroom of the first and only English language school in Sam Nuea. The teacher was very pleased with my visit and offered me his teaching position for the next hour..
.."Having surived" something similar in China two months ago I agreed and had a nice discussion and games with students. They were all of the age of around 15 except for one, Mr Khanxay, aged 45. Despite being very busy with his businesses (restaurant, construction, tree growing) he knows English is important to him and is not ashamed or afraid to have mutual lessons with teenagers (he gets my respect, besides other things, right here)....After the lesson we drove back to his restaurant for dinner and again talked about business opportunities in the town. I can say, those two guys (the teacher was also participating) have so many good business ideas that I only hope Lao government will not change its course and will keep loosing its policies...Surely, all parties concerned in this heavily underdeveloped country would benefit from it.
The first monument with red star I saw in Laos, a communist state...
I would love to come back to Sam Neua in a 5 years time and see how the town changed...When I wanted to pay for my dinner Mr Khanxai refused my money, said it was a pleasure and gave me a lift to my guesthouse...That day was not boring at all…