Huay Xai to Luang Nam Tha

I know this is my first post in something like 5 days though this is my first chance at internet access. I’m in Luang Nam Tha, in the far northwestern part of Laos, very close to the Chinese border. You know the saying that getting there is half the fun? Well, that definitely holds true and it certainly has been the adventure of a lifetime!

The boat ride from Huay Xai to Pak Beng was okay…rather relaxing and pretty but not exactly an experience I’m really in a hurry to repeat. It was very uncomfortable…the wooden seats were okay, but the worst was the fact that the sides of our particular boat sloped down under the seats, so no leg room and I sat in a very uncomfortable position for 7 hours! The boat, by the way, was no food (vendors came on once selling fruit) plus there was a cooler of water and “Beerlao” that they were selling.

Slow Boat
One of the “slow boats”

Slow Boat Filled With Backpacks!
The “slow boat” filled with backpacks

I did meet some very interesting people though. The boat was loaded with backpackers, though I was towards the back with the locals. I spent a while talking to a couple from Holland and an Irish guy , who I ended up sharing a room with in Pak Beng.

Children Playing
Children play along the Mekong River

Pak Beng was kinda nice. I didn’t see a single rat, despite what I’d heard. The only drawback was that power was only on from 6:30-10:30, which meant no hot shower and lots of flashlight handiwork. Pak Beng was a bit of a tourist zoo and as soon as we got off the boat we were almost assaulted by people advertising Guest Houses and trying to sell us marijuana and opium! The Irish guy and I shared a room, which cost me 50 bhat ($1.25!)

Pak Beng
Pak Beng, a seen from the boat

The next day I was going to take a bus from Pak Beng to Luang Nam Tha, via Udomxai (pronounced Oodomsai). According to Lonely Planet each leg of the trip was 4 hrs. Well various warning about the roads here are very true! I met some other travelers heading my way (a Japanese woman, a Swiss guy and a French guy). Let’s just say we became really close!

It had been pouring all day (this was Monday) and we set off and everything is ok. We had to change from our nice van to a songthaew…a converted pick-up truck with two benches along the sides… about 1/3 of the way to Udomxai. Then the problems began!

Boat Crossing the Road!

We get to a point and the road is totally flooded, so much so that we had to get out and get in a pretty scary boat, where if we as much as moved, it would have tipped into the river/road! We got into another songthaew and only went a short way before we got to a bridge that had collapsed due to all the water! I was sure our trip was over! It looked recent, as all the locals were crowding around, and starting to build a makeshift bamboo bridge! In 45 minutes, in pouring rain and raging water, they had made a bridge before our eyes! It was amazing.

Collapsed Bridge!
Collapsed bridge!

Bridge Construction Begins
Bridge construction begins!

Bridge Construction!
Me in front of the bridge construction!

Adding the Railing
The finished bridge!

We piled into our last songthaew (thats our 4th vehicle if your counting) and made it to Udomxai (took 6 hours, not 4) only to learn that we missed the bus to Luang Nam That, so we slept there (shared with the Swiss guy…60 bhat–$1.50) and also randomly had some beer with some Lao teens who didn’t speak a word of English, had genuine Chinese food, and got invited for some Vietnamese Green Tea at a furniture store, where they were also smoking a water pipe! My Japanese friend took them up on their offer to try it (I didn’t).

Water PIpe, Udomxai
My Japanese friend tries a water pipe

Yesterday (Tuesday) we took a bus to Luang Nam That which went fine. Upon arrival the groups paths split and we learned that the town had been without power for 2 days now (it just came back on hours ago, which is how I can write this). I got a nicer room here…$4 (40,000 kip). I did a lot of walking and today rented a bike to ride around and visit some villages, though nearly every way I tried I couldn’t get through to due to flooding! All the rain meant that the many  dirt roads were now all mud! So I got very very messy!

Flooding Between Houses!

Ducks Playing in Mud

Crushed House

Muddy Pants after Bike Ride

I rode out to a Stupa that had been knocked over by a bomb during the 2nd Indochina War, and visited a nearby village. I also met a couple guys from Spain and I rode, and ate with a couple from Switzerland, who had biked here from Tibet, and were continuing on through Cambodia to Bangkok!

Stupa Remains
A stupa that was bombed by the U.S. during the Vietnam War

Hill Tribe Village Cooks
Women cooking at a village near Luang Nam Tha

Hill Tribe Village
A village near Luang Nam Tha

Well tomorrow I head to Luang Prabang via bus. This has been such an amazing experience and I’m now convinced that backpacking is the ultimate way to travel. You meet the most interesting people!

Ooh loud thunder clap, better wrap this up before power goes again!

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