Adventures in Northern Laos

Jul 17, 2010 by glennji

Relaxing at Le Leela Hotel in Vientiane, Laos, and it’s time for a long overdue update. Wifi here is fast! Probably because we’re the only guests.

We’ve had a bit of an adventure in Laos so far, largely due to “travellers’ belly” that hit us in Jinghong, near the border on the Chinese side. I think it started in Chengdu, however: one of the staff there was sneezing and coughing, and shortly after rolling out of town I did the same. (It was NOT bird ‘flu, as I may have suggested — or if it was, I recovered remarkably!)

The trip from China to Laos was a long, bumpy day with a whole lot of unnecessary stops — it became apparent early on that the whole purpose of the bus was to transport Chinese goods (tax-free?) into Laos, with humans as a secondary consideration at best. We sat on hard seats crammed between carrots and cabbages, sacks of potatoes and soggy-cardboard boxes filled with I-don’t-even-wanna-know, flying ’round corners and over dirt roads. There were a couple of breaks, of course: the passengers duly disembarked, clambering over the drygoods to disappear for a squat or pee into the trees at the side of the road.

After getting through border control,  over the border, and mostly over the head-cold, we stayed at a small Laos village called Luang Nam Tha — “area near Nam Tha (river)”. We had two nights here, and didn’t really do a lot — just spent the time recuperating from the first hit of “travellers’ belly” either of us had experienced. Something about the water, perhaps?

We checked into the biggest, most fancy-looking hotel we could find, the Royal. Showered, shaved, cleaned and relaxed, we headed out for dinner. There’s not much to see in LNT, but the food at Panda Restaurant was good. We filled our boots and retired for an early night — I couldn’t even finish half of the bottle of Beerlao that we were to find ubiquitous throughout the countryside.

From Nam Tha we took a short 5 hour bus to Oudomxay, a little town with not a whole lot going for it, but halfway between Luang Nam Tha and Luang Prabang. Our one night there was spent at a karaoke bar down the road (our guest house was plain, but right near the bus station).

Once we got to Luang Prabang we were old pros: negotiating with the tuk-tuk drivers, pointing out our chosen guest house on the (often wrong) Lonely Planet map, even attempting to pronounce the streets and temples nearby. Tuk-tuks are ubiquitous here, even more so than the infamous “Beerlao” beer, and for a small fee (we were happy to overpay at £4 for a few dusty miles) they’ll take you right to your door. In our case, it was the Lane Xang Villa, directly across from a “Wat”: we watched young monks in orange robes play football in the rain; wandered around wooden buildings, elaboratively carved; and looked at ancient stone stupas and archways.

All in all a relaxing time, although the nights were sometimes too hot to sleep!

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