Wednesday, February 1, 2012

a day in northern laos

objective: rent scooters, ride 40 miles through green mountains across the nam ha national protected area to muang sing on the chinese border with two germans. note: germans optional.

we opted for germans.

luang nam tha, laos

luang nam tha sits in the northern part of laos near the myanmar and chinese borders. it sits smack in the middle of one of the largest protected nature preserves in southeast asia, the nam ha npa. arriving by night, we had no idea what it looked like. all we saw was the main road in town lined with guesthouses and street stalls. in the morning, however, we saw green hills all around, especially to the north where a small road led to muang sing about 40 miles away, right through that beautiful nature preserve.

lina and flo from heidelburg, germany and us at
phagneung waterfall, laos.
lucky for us, two germans we met on the bus over asked us to come along. why yes, yes we'd love to. having already spent a day in luang nam tha we exhausted its, um, "charms." we wanted to head to the hills.

right out of town, the road headed upward. past hmong, akha and khmu and black tai villages built up the hillsides. we spent two and half hours gawking at the greenery, being chased by children yelling "sabaidee, sabaidee, sabaideeeee...", closed in by the mountains, the jungle, and darting around dogs and crazy-ass chickens.

although, we wouldn't have minded taking out a rooster or two as payback for all of the sleep we've been deprived of since arriving in this part of the world.

deep in the hills above luang nam tha, laos.

as we crested the mountains an hour up the road the sun started to shine and the entire world was green. like, REALLY green. and a few miles on we came across the phagneung waterfalls lured in by the "welcome to visit" sign. perfect timing to rest the butt, enjoy the sun and stretch the legs for a short hike. but first, there's the obligatory, confused conversation with the guy at the pay booth. it's always a small victory to survive one of those. and on we went up one of the more beautiful trails we've ever seen. and not another soul to be seen.

laundry and "broom grass" harvest outside muang sing, laos.
seriously, they make brooms. and somewhere over there is china.

another hour later, we made it to muang sing. a mere five miles from the border with china. borders are arbitrary but it seemed so cool to have come so far overland and be that close to yet another country, deep inside the republic of laos. anyway, muang sing was a hole! a flat, dusty grid of a village surrounded by beautiful rice paddies and broom grass harvests leading to a range of hills separating laos from china.

stop for gas, somewhere in the villages above luang nam tha, laos.
one liter for $1.20 purchased from a shack on the side of the road.
that lady there holding the bottle? she's the, um, "attendant."

noodles were eaten, fruit was purchased and two and a half hours of riding back to luang nam tha needed to be covered before nightfall. we filled up our tank in luang nam tha in the morning and used about half a tank to get over the mountains. perfect, we thought, another half tank back. well, apparently, gas meters on scooters in southeast asia don't act so even minded. suddenly our gas meter plunged to empty as we crested the hills. we had another hour and a half ride to get back home. we found a small village with suspicious looking bottles of liquid. "is that liquor or is that gas?" i turned around, gestured toward the bottles, then gestured toward our scooter and understanding was had. we found gas! we found gas in the middle of the hills, in the middle of nowhere, in a very small village at a hut that also sold lays potato chips, of all things, and cigarettes. sweet... we're gonna make it!

back home with sore butts and windblown faces, over a "beer laos," pretty much the only beer one can find in laos, we dug into a local dish called "jeow." essentially different ingredients boiled, smoked and smashed into a paste and eaten by hand with sticky rice. this was no ordinary jeow, it was rattan jeow. the marrow of a palm stem cut out, boiled and mixed with spices. it tasted like wood. ok, so maybe not a huge success around the table but it certainly put an exclamation mark on a day in northern laos. 

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