4.2.1: Return to Laos
Day 162: Jinghong
I went for a walk around town this morning and bumped into the French and Israeli guys who I was sharing the dorm with. They had just returned to Jinghong after trekking in the jungle. I joined them for breakfast and afterwards we went to a market and sampled some strange fruits that were on sale there. Afterwards I left them and went to walk by the Lancing River which becomes the Mekong in South East Asia.
162.1. From the walk around Jinghong.
In the afternoon I went for a walk through the botanical gardens, which were peaceful and beautiful but a little expensive at 40 RMB. The ponds were full of Koi carp and when you look in they approach as if expecting to be fed. When someone actually did feed them they went into a feeding frenzy. It was quite a sight. In the evening I went out for dinner and was surprised to meet up with Lucille and Isabelle who I last saw in Kunming. We had dinner together and discussed what we’d been doing since we last met.
162.2. From the Xishuangbanna botanical gardens
Day 163: Jinghong to Luang Namtha
Today I made the trip into Laos from China. When I looked it up on the internet yesterday all the entries came up under headers like ‘bus ride from hell’ or ‘worst journey ever’. I was understandably concerned and set off early. I got a bus at 7:30 to Meng La. I’d written out the Chinese characters and showed them to the attendant but she spoke English anyway. The bus to Meng La was fine and it took about three hours. I was a bit anxious about how I would get across Meng La to the south bus station from where I needed to get my next bus.
When I arrived a Chinese man approached me who spoke very good English and offered to take me across town. I went with him and I got into his cart which he towed with his bicycle. Along the way he was trying to marry me off to his 23 year old daughter who wanted a foreign husband. He even tried to give me his phone number in case I came back to Meng La and wanted to meet her. He was very helpful though and showed me to the minibus I needed to get to Mohan and changed some RMB to Lao kip for me. The minibus took about another hour before arriving at Mohan where I checked out of China. I was able to get a truck from here to the border at Boten on the Lao side. It took a little while to get my visa but it was all easy enough. The security at the bus station in Jinghong was tighter than it was here! All in all though, the journey went much more smoothly than I had first feared.
Once I was through I found a minibus that was going to Luang Namtha. It was hot and uncomfortable and it didn’t leave until it was full. Good old Lao transport! One woman on board had bought loads of Chinese goods for her shop in Luang Namtha. At one point we were stopped by the police and she had to bribe him before we were back on our way. Arriving in Luang Namtha felt a little like coming home. I went to the Zuela Guesthouse and the girl who works there recognized me. She gave me a room for the same price I’d paid before even though they had upped it. I took a walk around the night market, which was much quieter than it was last time I was there. Within a few hours of being in Luang Namtha I’d already been invited to a party. I went for a walk by the river where I met Soumxi, who I’d met before at Sam’s wedding, and he invited me to his friends wedding party, which was going on from 12:00 tomorrow on the road behind the Zuela. The next few are going to be heavy; Luang Namtha is much more a party town for me than Vang Vieng.
Day 164: Luang Namtha
I went to the wedding at around 13:00. I walked past two or three of the tables and one guy greeted me. I asked him if he knew Soumxi and he said to join them for a few drinks and look for my friend later. Knowing I would be on the end of a losing battle I joined them and drank a few beers with them which I had to down. The guy said that he was the owner of the Manychan Guesthouse which is on the main road in front of the Zuela. I chatted with a guy called Noy who lives and works in Udomxai. He had to leave soon to drive back to work. Before he left though, he invited me to go for a beer at a bar down the road. He told me that he was the son of the governor of Udomxai province and that he owns six guesthouses around the country. One beer soon turned into four and then he left and drove me back to the Zuela. I was feeling a little drunk and I decided against going back to the wedding party. Instead I went for a walk and visited the stupa again on the hill above town.
164.1. Noy, at the bar in Luang Namtha.
In the evening I went to the internet café to call La. We had kept in touch with by email since we last saw each other in Vientiane. When we were together in Vientiane she told me about her brothers wedding that was in February. When I found out that I was in Yunnan just before I told her that I would be able to come. It was now two days away and she said that she would be arriving in Luang Namtha tomorrow in the afternoon on the plane from Vientiane.
Day 165: Luang Namtha
Today I hired a bike from the guesthouse and cycled about 4 km out of town to a waterfall. I then cycled through some small villages along by the river and eventually rejoined the road outside of town near the airport. I stopped for lunch at a small restaurant by the road and had khao soi (noodle soup and a Luang Namtha speciality), sticky rice and beer. It was all very good and very cheap. After lunch I went to visit another stupa just outside of the town. It was on a hill and there was a nice view of the surrounding rice fields but it wasn’t as impressive as the other stupa in town. I cycled back into town and later called La again. She had just arrived in Luang Namtha and we arranged to meet tomorrow morning at 11:00.
165.1. A bike ride in the countryside outside Luang Namtha.