A bus called Wanda

Trip Start Oct 30, 2012
Trip End Feb 06, 2013

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Flag of Lao Peoples Dem Rep  , Changwat Chiang Rai,
Wednesday, December 26, 2012

So we are off again! This time we are really going to Laos (pronounce Lao). After a free breakfast with great caffe latte (a present! and so are the green curry noodle soup and the bag of tangerines) and an almost tearful goodbye from the lovely sisters at The River House (you are going to make me cry!) we get into a tuk tuk together with Bob the builder from The Hague (he is a carpenter actually). We pick up two other people on the way, a Swedish/Israeli couple as it turns out who have been travelling the world together since they met in India 18 months ago.
At the customs house there is a long line of tourists, waiting to cross the border = Mekong and to get to Laos. It all goes very smoothly and efficient which cannot be said about the Laos customs, a confusing and time consuming affair, but then we are in Houaxai, in Laos for real. At first is doesn't feel very different from Thailand but when we get on the road in our comfortable minivan, this changes.

It is very clear that Laos is more rural and poorer and when we get further and enter the Nam Ha reserve the landscape is so beautiful. We seem to go ever higher into the mountains, green, foresty, high mountains. Unfortunately I get a little car sick, so have to stare at the road ahead all the time to anticipate every curve. And there are soooo many curves going up. The road to Luang Namtha is the best in Laos we have been told and it really is a beautiful paved road, although not very wide, so passing the slow driving heavy trucks is sometimes an adventure.

When we stop halfway we get the first glimps of the hilltribes, which seems to be the main attraction of northern Laos. A woman smoking a pipe in colourful dress with a small child on her arms is staring at us from across the road. This happens a lot as we will learn during the next days, that you feel that you are the attraction, that we go to the hllltribe villages to be stared at instead of the other way around. Which is totally fine, it makes it more equal.

We have decided not to stay in Luang Namtha but continue to Muang Sing, a smaller, more remote village on the other side of the reserve. And our travel companions, Matt and Anita, the couple have the same idea. So we say goodbye to Bob (who told us he is traveling to get away from winter depression) and continue in a tuk tuk to the local busstation. And there we meet Wanda, our bus to Muang Sing. Wanda coach is actually a carbrand but during our trip we establish some kind of emotional bond with this specific bus. First of all Wanda takes us through the most amazing scenery and second of all she has a tendency to break down regularly. Then the bus stops in the middle of the street, the driver and his lady assistant get out and while he disappears under the bus, she looks for rocks to put behind the wheels. This happens three times in a row, within 5 km. Every time more passengers, the men, start meddling with the situation and one guy seems to know what he is talking about and tries to help. It is a funny sithation, but we aren't even halfway, driving 15-20 km an hour and the total stretch is 54 km. So we start fantasizing about staying the night somewhere in a village along the road. And we keep reminding eachother how many hours we would need to walk with the luggage if it comes to that (20 km left means only 4 hours walk uphill with luggage, maybe 5). But we finally get there just before dark. Just enough time to find a place to sleep before you don't see where you are going.

So there we are on this dusty road in the middle of this sleepy village. Matt and Anita are going to stay somewhere out of town, because she wants nature, not village life. So we head the other way towards the guesthouses that are in our Rough Guide. The first has nice bungalows, but way to expensive for our taste and we don't feel really welcome there. Take it or no? Well, no, if you ask it that way. That is something we get used to here in Laos that the people are not really eager, it seems, to sell you there business, you sometimes even think they don't care at all. But then if you get to 'know' them a little better they are nice, smiling, trying to communicate in spite of their poor English most of the time.

Frank checks out another place while I wait with the luggage. This is a really basic hotel, but the rooms are clean, the bed is OK, they have hot showers and.... a killer view from the terrace on the rice paddies and mountains surrounding Muang Sing. The price we pay here, is the lowest of the whole trip. Up to now at least, there will be even cheaper ones later.

Supposedly the best restaurant in the village is on our doorstep so we decide to check it out. It looks nice enough, with an elevated open platform viewing the rice paddies. But it is pitch dark, so no views, it feels like we step into a familiy sitting room, where the family is quite annoyed that we disturb their TV viewing (although the continue to lie in front of it and ignore us) and the beer, our first of the famous Beer Lao, is warm. 'Fridge not working' the girls says. So we are not eating here, that's for sure! Too many bad experiences for the stomach will teach you this. Our mood is not very good and Frank has no intention of staying in this town for a couple of days.

Luckily Frank talked to a woman staying at our hotel who recommended a restaurant on the main road. This Thai Lu restaurant will be our steady place for the next days, because it is simply lovely! The owner is a grandma woman who runs this with her family and she is very much our kind of girl. The first Laotian we meet who is interested to make you feel welcome and sell you her goods. Sit down, Beer Lao? You eat tempura, yes, very nice! Eh, tempura? Here? Well, whatever, if she recommends us this way, we will certainly try it!
And with a cold Beer Lao and some really, really nice food (our first Larp and up to now still the best) we start to warm up to this little village near the border with China, surrounded by hilltribes.
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