We left Chiang Mai with mixed impressions: On the one hand, the night bazaar was beautiful, even though really, really touristic. And the McDonald’s was the cheapest we had ever been to. 3US$ for a full meal – that’s not too bad.
On the other hand – the town was ugly. Loads of unimpressive temples, no Asia-feeling at all, could have been almost any other city in the world.
We took a bus up north, destination: Mae Sai. Mae Sai is a part of the Golden Triangle, a triangle, where Burma (Myanmar), Laos and Thailand come together. In earlier years it was the dope-capital of Thailand. And maybe, it still is…
Anyway, we found a really cheap guesthouse and a huge market, which made us stay another day. We soon discovered our favourite restaurant, some food stall with three tables and a menu written in sanscript – Thai letters. We pointed onto something on that menu and ordered another meal, which our neighbours were just about to enjoy, and ate really delicious – for a price, which hadn’t bought us a single meal in any of those tourist-places.
When we came back the next day, the lovely family recognized us and made us the same two meals again – without communicating in any way. It was the first place we ever tipped in Asia. (It was only 20cents, but the lady was more than happy, and some bloody neighbour stared at us as if he wanted to express: These bloody tourists, they always have to show how damn rich they are!) Tipping is not usual in Asia.
After some nice hours of shopping (well, we have to commit that we have been shopping for 1½ days…) we tried to cross the border to Laos. Only problem: There was none in Mae Sai. No official one. So it took another 4 hours to get to Huay Xai, and it took us thousands of Baht to get into Laos. You can’t say, the visa is cheap, it cost us more than a usual one-days-budget!
Laos is a pretty small country with only 6 million inhabitants. An army doesn’t really exist. Well, it does, but how could you expect such a poor country to fight? Some Laos blokes are seriously concerned, that China could conquer their country sooner or later, after another load of Chinese soldiers has been brought to the boarder. We’ll see.
From now on, our journey was pretty much planned by Isabels parents and somee friends of theirs. A boat would bring us down to Luang Prabang, where Chris & Micha, Isabels parents, are currently residing.
The one and only serious Backpacker-problem is always money – once again this time. Some tourguide told, that we would have to charter a boat down to Luang Praband, which might cost us 160US$. After he had revived us with mouth-to-mouth, we heard that there was also a cheaper option: By bus.
The road from Huay Xai to Luang NamTha, our first stop on the way to Luang Prabang, is said to be the worst I whole Laos, if you ask Lonely Planet. And if you look at the roads here, you know, you would never want to discover if they are right or wrong. But: If you have a tight budget, you still do. So did we.
11 persons were squeezed into a 9-seater, and everyoe was thankful for those 2 emergency seats the minivan had. And the journey began. In the beginning, the road was pretty well sealed, and after a while, it was even better sealed. I consulted Lonely Planet, if we were on the right road. Yes, we were. The “highway” was supposed to be upgraded within 2007 – and once in a lifetime the Laos dudes seem to have done something properly and within the given schedule. We were happy. Our driver was so happy, that he never slowed down in these well-sealed, damn tight bendings, and seldomly took his eyes from the girl next to him, while he was chatting on the cell-phone, drinking his energy drinks and speeding on the left-hand-side of the road (the wrong one) into another bend or over some dangerous crest. We were even more happy, that yet nobody seems to know, this road is sealed. It’s hard to describe, how happy we were, when we finally reached Luang NamTha. Alive.
Luang NamTha is a pretty and relaxed city, the second-biggest in Laos, if you refer to Lonely Planet. Well, it has almost 30.000 inhabitants.
I liked it from the start. The houses here look like you would imagine a good, old Asian-style house, plenty of palm-trees grow along the dirt-roads, and, even though there are aroud 20 guesthouses, it does not make a touristic impression. Except for some 50m along the main road, not at all.
We decided to go trekking the next day, and tried to find some dudes joining in. We found two: A Czech tourguide and an Ozzie-bloke, two guys who had met a few days earlier and both turned out to be really easy-going and funny. They were so easy-going and funny, that we talked until 9pm in the restaurant we had found them, and then found the tour bureau closed. Bad luck? Well… read on.
So we played Snooker istead of booking a tour, which was much cheaper. And much shorter. After an hour or so, I had finally understood the rules, our mates headed back, their guesthouse had announced to close the doors at 10pm. Isabel and I went to bed.
The next morning, we got up early, to find a last-minute-tour. Better to say: We planned to get up early. As the alarm clock rang at 7am, Isabel told me, she wouldn’t feel well at all. The stomach aches and stuff. We both went back to bed. Lucky, we hadn’t booked (& paid) a tour the day before.
I spent almost the whole day sitting next to her, writing diary and stuff, in case, she would need me, but she didn’t. In the evening, she felt healthy enough to get some dinner at a bakery, before we joined our mates at the Snooker table again. In fact – I joined, Isabel just got the address from that Ozzie bloke, cause he pretended to live in Melbourne, where she’s planning to head after Asia. It’s always good to have phone numbers, mail addresses, connections. You never know.
Time was running out, we had to move on the next day. A minivan brought us to Nong Khiaw, a beautiful little town nestled oto the banks of the Mekong river between some hills. After we had found our private bungalow right next to the river, we went to the local cinema, a living room of some family, equipped with a flat screen TV and a DVD-player, before we enjoyed some Beer Lao with a Lao dude and a French guy, who we had met on the bus trip.
A boat brought us up to Muang Noi, a little village which is said to be romantic, remote, some decades back in time. The only way to reach Muang Noi is by boat, no road leads there, that’s why you won’t find any car, motorcycle or tuk-tuk on its main-dirtroad.
As Isabel and I had a short look-around, we soon discovered that we were told wrong: Guesthouse besides guesthouse, that’s what the village exists of. Okay, power is cut at 9pm, and there is no sound of any motorized vehicle whatsoever, but I bet there are more tourists than in Nong Khiaw, which is right on the main road. Sad, but true.
We found a brilliant bungalow with a broken hammock on tis veranda, but the best view in town, for the cheapest price we had ever spent for a night on a bed before – 1US$ per person. Incredible. Just, because the shower & toilet was 10m behind the bungalow itself. A “problem” we could handle.
Trekking was nothing to seriously think about, as Isabel wasn’t 100% fine. We talked to some American guy about American politics and how to earn 200US$ / day while on holiday (he was some sort of a lucky guy, I’d say), before we had dinner and forced the polite unvoluntarily to leave the lights on until 9.30pm. Isabel went horizontal while I was still eating, and she didn’t sleep to well that night. Another reason, why we decided the next morning to reach Luang Prabang as soon as possible.
Bye, bye, Muang Noi – the boat went back to Nong Khiaw, ad from there on we hopped on the next boat down the Mekong river – to Luang Prabang. 10$ for an eight hours ride through a absolutely scenic ladscape… we were amazed! Along the river, we saw a few, small villages, all with a watergenerator to get at least some electricity, and all with unbelievably kind kids, adults and grandparents around. Everyone was waving, screaming (“Sabadiiieee” – “Good day”) and cheering… it was simply great.
The wooden chair became a little uncomfy after four hours or so, but somehow we managed to stand up after we had finally arrived.
A damn nice tuk-tuk-driver brought us to Runges apartment next to the Mekong. And what happened there? Well.. next post ist coming soon.