Luang Namtha, Laos

The road from Vang Vieng to Luang Namtha is long, windy, full of potholes and very slow going. So we stayed overnight in Luang Prabang even though we’d be returning there a few days later. It gave as an opportunity to organize accommodation for Laos new year which we’d be in Luang Prabang for. After our overnight stop we headed straight to the bus station early in the morning to make sure we didn’t miss the morning bus. We bought our tickets at about 8am I think, for the 10:30 bus. We walked down the road to a restaurant to burn a couple of hours then rocked up at the bus station at 10am looking for our bus, only to be advised that the bus was full and had already left without us. Bugger! Departure times aren’t really relevant in Laos. They keep selling tickets until all the seats are occupied, then the bus goes. We got our money back and booked the overnight bus, spending half a day bumming around in Luang Prabang.

The overnight bus was rough and uncomfortable. The seats were too small. Our knees touched the seat in front and we got practically no sleep. We rocked up in Luang Namtha at around 4am and the first thing we noticed was that it was pleasantly cool. Actually quite cold with the wind chill riding in the back of a tuk tuk from the bus station to town. Then we spent an hour or two wandering around trying to find accommodation that we could check into so early in the morning. We really needed a nap, we were fluffed. Nearly everywhere was still closed. We ended up finding a pretty dodgy place on the back streets. Good enough for a couple of hours power nap but not really somewhere we wanted to stay. We got some sleep, paid for a full night’s accommodation (a few dollars) then went looking for somewhere better.

We really like Luang Namtha. It’s quite far north, near China, and elevated, which provides some relief from the sweltering conditions that southern Laos experiences at this time of the year. The market had heaps of good cheap food. Stuff is around half the price of what it is in Luang Prabang. The people were super friendly. Even the old hill tribe lady trying to sell us ganga and opium was pleasant to deal with. Sharni got a rip in her pants which she got stitched up at the markets. They charged the equivalent of about 25 cents for the repair.

We did a one night / two day trekking trip through some hill villages and jungle. At the first village we arrived at we saw some children grooming their pets – picking fleas out of the fur. The trek guide did the old making cups out of bamboo trick. We passed through some beautiful jungle scenery and views of villages with their rice fields or other crop of choice. In the photo below it’s rubber saplings. At the village where we stayed overnight, Sharni bought the entire shop’s stock of lollies for a few dollars and gave them out to the very friendly children. At dinner the village elders gave us some wrist bands and wished us good luck for the new year. Then some youngsters did a traditional dance, we had some Beerlao and hit the hay.

We hired a scooter in Luang Namtha and rode to Muang Sing – a small town right near the China border. The ride was excellent – sweeping corners through villages and the Laos highlands. On the way we got a flat tyre. We stopped off at a village to get it fixed at a small shop on the side of the road. It needed a new tube. Being the back wheel, it’s a bit more labour intensive than the front so was quite expensive. The cost of supplying and installing the new tube was about AUD$4 and included a free rear brake adjustment. We had lunch at Muang Sing, visited the markets, then headed back to Luang Namtha, checking out a small water falls on the way. When we got back to Luang Namtha we got our first taste of Laos new year. New year in Laos (as well as Thailand, Burma and Cambodia) involves everyone throwing water at eachother and getting wet. New year was still a few days away but we got some early action when some kids threw water at us as we rode by on the scooter.

The bus back to Luang Prabang was made interesting by more early Laos new year celebrations. Kids would shoot / throw water at the bus. Sometimes the bus driver would slow down whilst his mate chucked water out the window at some people on the side of the road. Sharni opened the bus window to have a look and quickly became a target.

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