Luang Namtha – LAOS

Way up North in Laos!

We knew we were in for a long drive, but didn’t realize it would take ten-to-twelve hours!  We found out later that we should have started at 8:00 but we had been told the night before to met our new guide at 9:00 am.  Then we had to stop at 4 ATM’s on our way outta’ town before we found one that worked, which put our start even later.  The ride was 308 Km (191 miles), and 85 km (52 miles) of the worst road we have EVER travelled; it took us 3 hours just on this one stretch of non-pavement.

We knew it would be mountainous and curvy roads, but this road was washed out most of the way with only a small semblance of paved stretches, then just rocks and dips and potholes and ruts.  We thought we would be at the Boat Landing before dark, but as it was, we drove a couple of hours into the night before arriving chilled and hungry.  It was hard enough traveling in the daylight.  The roads are narrow and there seemed to be a hair-pin bend at virtually every corner.  No wonder it took us over 10 hours to drive 191 miles.  That’s about an average of 15 to 19 mph for those of you counting!

Luckily, the last 80 Km was a brand new road built by the Chinese (see my comments on the Chinese impact here in my previous post), from Oudomxai to Luang Namtha.  It was full of trucks that transported food products back to China, along with the occasional manufactured goods from new Chinese factories here.  We were trying to be positive and hoping the long bumpy trip would be worth it.  It was an experience passing through various tribal mountain villages, where we saw people taking showers on the roadside under a water pipe and children running after pigs in every direction. The villages are built right on the road.  A tradition in the SE Asia countries, but not were I would want to live now, with ever more trucks, automobiles, and motorcycle traffic moving up and down these mountains.  There are children playing right in or alongside the road at every turn.  Scary.

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Lunch stop

Lunch stop where the two main highways meet, near Pak Mong (the start of the “miserable miles”!)

A variety of meats

A variety of meats. Can you guess?  OK: some fish from the local stream, sausages of mystery-meat, small chickens, whole frog meat, fermented pork, dog meat, and we think, some fried rat . . .

Village along the road

We stopped at this village high up in the mountains, along the road to Oudomxai.

He had to walk up a very steep hill

She had to walk up a very steep hill from where she collected her load of bamboo, back to the village

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After a good dinner and night’s sleep at “The Boat Landing” , we started our trek in the Namha Valley.

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Boating Landing

The Boat Landing cottage

River

Nam Tha River in front of our  bungalow

Boat Landing on the river

Resting after a long day of trekking.  Nothing like a cold Beer-Lao!

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We hiked to the Ban Sida village through lush jungle, groves of rubber trees, banana trees and rice fields. We saw so many fascinating plants — some edible and some not. The route we took would not have been passable for us during the wet season, but at this time of year, it gave us beautiful views of the valleys below.  We had to cross a number of streams — taking off our shoes and wading through the cold water just added to the experience.  Our guide packed a delicious lunch that we ate in a clearing on the top of the mountain in a lush forest.  He picked some banana leaves along the way and made us an ‘elegant’ tablecloth as well as containers to hold the rice. We had sticky rice, a green pumpkin dish, vegetables, and an eggplant dip.  It was all delicious. Laotians tend to eat most things with their fingers, with sticky rice as an implement to pick food up.  What a concept 😊.

There are only two villages in Laos whose ethnic roots derive from a Tibeto-Burman group.  This Sida village is one of them.  As we climbed into the village we came upon a group of  young boys riding a worn-out Chinese-wheeled toy down a very steep hill, laughing all the way down. We marveled at how simple the toy, and how great the joy…  When we arrived at the top of this hill we were next to a very small school, and all the kids were playing in the dirt yard.  We asked some of the kids if we could take pictures and they were quite shy and looked away.  I was able to take a picture of a few shy but willing children and then showed them the digital picture. After that most of the kids wanted to see the pictures and began hamming it up for the camera.  Children are the same everywhere; loving to see themselves and make faces for pictures.  They were so enthusiastic that at one point I was so mobbed I could hardly stand up, as they gathered around to see all of the images.

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Starting our trek

Starting our trek

Rubber Trees

Rubber Trees, planted and owned by local villagers

Beautiful views

Beautiful views and without trails, difficult to traverse

Jungle

Jungle!  no other word for this. The habitat is an upper montane forested ridges with great bio-diversity.  This dense forest covers more than 90% of the area here.

Lots of banana trees

Lots of banana trees, and their flowers are magnificent!  Lao people use the flower in many dishes, including salads where they cut it in small strips;  very delicious.

Lunch served Laotian style

Lunch served Laotian style

Delicious!

Delicious!

Along the way

There are wild pig in these mountains (BIG tuskers we were told) but this little guy was an escapee from the next village.

Approaching the village -- these are the rice storage huts

Approaching the village — these are the rice storage huts used to keep the new grain away from the moisture and predators.

Local School

Local School.  Kids a bit shy, but only at first.

Children loved seeing the digital photos of themselves

Children loved seeing the digital images of themselves!

Then they hammed it up

Then they hammed it up

cute kids

cute!

One of their wheeled toys

innovative use of an old moto-wheel rim.  3 sticks, someone to push, and off you go down the hill.

The adults don't want to be photographed.  But she said we could take the picture

The adults don’t want to be photographed, but she gave Gary permission to take this picture.  We hoped to capture her smoking her pipe, but think she was a bit embarrassed.

The pre-schoolers looking at us -- the strangers walking through the village

Pre-schoolers watching us strangers walking through their village.  They don’t see many farang up here in these valleys.

their homes

their typical home.  No electrify but note the pole with a small solar cell on it.

and pets

Dogs are revered here, as pets, playthings for kids and guards of their property.

The annalist signs to keep away strangers

Animist signs to keep away strangers (the dog probably helps too!)

Collecting bamboo shoots

Collecting wood; they teach them very young the necessities of life in their village

drying

drying mushrooms

village

village dwellings

interested in meeting us

A kind villager who was very interested in meeting us, though we communicated only with gestures.

This young man is carrying a very heavy pole

This young man is carrying a very heavy pole he had just used his machete to cut down in a near-by forest. Gary had him stand it on end to see if he could lift it, but decided it was at least 200 lbs!  Passed on this one.

One of several streams we had to cross

One of several streams we had to cross

on the way out

Trekking on the way out.  Quiet, a few bird songs, but peaceful

Back where we started the loop

Back where we started our loop up and over the mountain.  A good 15 km hike!

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We returned from the village and walked to the Ban Nam Dee waterfall, where we relaxed before heading back to Luang Namtha and our cottage.

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Luang Namtha Valley Bike Tour

The next morning after a hasty breakfast we started on a 30 km bicycle trip through several villages around the Luang Namtha Valley.  We had a fantastic local guide on this enjoyable outing.  As we stopped to climb to a golden  stupa high up on a hill in the countryside, he told us that an American bomb had destroyed it back in 1975  at the end of the war.  The villagers have since built a new one next to it. 

We talked about the war and he said (very much like the Vietnamese), the Laotian people have moved on, and they look to the future not the past.  But it was an uncomfortable moment when he told us that his cousin had been killed from a land mine explosion as he was working to plow a new field.  

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That Phoum Pouk Stupa

That Phoum Pouk Stupa

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We then cycled to the villages of the Ahka minority, Black Tai minority, and the Tai Leu minority.   These were all very interesting communities.

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Mobbed by children selling brackets in the Ahka village

Mobbed by children once again; these selling brackets in the Ahka village

They followed up through the village

They followed us around all through their village

Many women weavers

Many women weavers in the village

This man demonstrated how he was making these stools -- fascinating

This man demonstrated how he was making these stools from bamboo — fascinating.

We watched her weave for a bit

We watched her weave for a bit

And then proceeded to buy some handwoven scarves from these two young women

And then proceeded to buy some handwoven scarves from these two young weavers

Boys cock fighting

Don’t need to describe this activity.  But combatant on the right decided this wasn’t his time, and moved away.

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On New Years Eve we drove another 60 km north to the town of Muang Sing ,which was another long drive.  Muang Sing doesn’t have much to offer in the way of tourist delights,  except for a morning market which is quite large and is attended by literally dozens of different ethnic groups gathered to sell their produce and wares. It was unusual, and we didn’t see any other caucasians attending.   Definitely a market for tribes and villages to come and sell and buy what they need.

The Lotus Villa Hotel where we stayed was nice, but it was New Year’s Eve and the party gathering for the entire town happened to be right next door! . . .  so we heard loud music and singing (OMG, Karaoke!!) until well into the wee hours.  Then up early the next day to attend the market and gear ourselves for the long long ride back to Luang Prabang:  YES, the same *&#@&* stretch of road we had just travelled to get up here, all 300+ km of it!!

While we had some great experiences in and around Luang Namtha, I don’t think we would have spent two long days of traveling such rough roads to get here had we know.  Give us the quiet, laid-back comfort of Luang Prabang and time!

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Morning market just getting set up

Morning market just getting set up; its about 6:30AM

lovely produce

lovely produce, and we are already missing the great quality.

Chilies everywhere

Chilies everywhere.  and these are HOT buggers!

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Banana blossoms, ginger, onions

Sweets

‘Sweets’.  This is the morning market equivalent of the candy store.  All made fromm rice!

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We loved being back in Luang Prabang, and spent several more days exploring, sightseeing, just relaxing.  We took an excursion to the waterfall outside of Luang Prabang (see our previous post).  It was delightful.  If it had been warmer we might have gone into the beautiful pools.

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Next stop?  Northern Thailand, with a start in Chiang Mai.

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