Today has been my first full day in Laos! Whilst Alex has stayed in Huay Xai to do the Gibbon experience, I have whisked myself off to the beautiful Luang Namtha to do a 3 day trek and kayak. I know, I can’t believe it either.
I was dreading the long bus journey from Pai to the boarder town of Chiang Khong. But, as per usual, I slept pretty much the whole way. I think this is a combination of too many dodgy Thai anti-nausea pills mixed with doxycycline and an iPod with far too much Bon Iver on it, but I’m not complaining. We were told the bus would get us to Chiang Khong at ‘9 or 10pm’ and we would be in a room with a fan. We got to the boarder at nearly 1am and there was no sign of a fan. But we did have a lizard, although he did little to perk up the horror that was our room.
So, that was a ‘sleep-in-your-sleeping-bag-liner-and-don’t-touch-the-sheets’ kind of night but we made it through, and hey, we all need a night or two like that to remind us how great home is.
The next morning, we somehow made it into Laos, drama free and actually without much queuing so that an unexpected little bonus. Once through immigration in Huay Xai, I casually mentioned to the lady organising the slow boat that I was going to head to Luang Namtha, and within 10 minutes she loaded me into a minibus and whisked me off to the bus station, a journey which apparently I didn’t have to pay for.
Trying not to panic in the busiest yet most basic bus station in Asia, I bought my ticket for Luang Namtha. The buses were the kind where you just throw your luggage on the top and then squeeze yourself in, praying that you’re close to a window but knowing that if you’re not it doesn’t really matter anyway because there is almost no chance the bus will ever pick up enough speed for anyone to appreciate the breeze.
Despite the chaos of the bus it was actually a great experience. There was only me and two other backpackers, and everyone else on the bus was local. I somehow managed to get a seat by the window and sat down with my iPod, two bags of crisps and a packet of biscuit, ready to appreciate the amazing views I had read of and dreamed about for days.
Of course, I fell asleep. Whilst I know, this is probably my fault for popping so many anti nausea tablets, it’s safe to say I was both annoyed and embarrassed, as I’m sure I dribbled at some point. I woke up about 3 hours in when the chicken escaped (did I mention there were boxes of chickens on our bus?), then desperately tried to keep my eyes open for the remaining 2. At one point in the journey, I honestly didn’t think the bus was going to make it up the hill, it was literally groaning with all our weight. I half expected people to start throwing their belongings out the wide open windows.
So I made it to Luang Namtha, with a surprisingly little stress, as usually I’m a vision of blunders left, right and centre. I was bundled in a tuk tuk and dropped on the main road apparently outside my hotel which I walked past roughly 4 times before finally asking someone who pointed to the building right in front of me. Thinking I deserved some luxury before my trek, I treated myself to a private hotel room with a giant double bed (for roughly £7 a night), although the novelty of being in such luxury wore off pretty quickly, as within minutes of being there my stuff was everywhere, 90% the bed was taken up by my clothes and I had drunk all the free coffee. Backpacker life.
The next day I had made approximately zero friends, so, ever positive, I decided it was a good day to be alone. I rented a ‘city’ bike, which obviously was shit, and set off, trying to remember that in Laos they drive on the right. Noticing that I had to cross a roundabout to get out of town I had a mild panic attack, before swiftly remembering that panicking is the worst thing to do and if you can survive the roundabout in Fareham, you can survive anything (N.B. I have driven the Fareham roundabout once in my life, in a driving lesson, with a driving teacher. Since this experience, I refuse to drive in Fareham or its immediate vicinity).
By some miracle I managed to navigate my way around the roundabout and get out of town. I planned to cycle to the waterfall about 6km away, but I was extremely conscious of my lack of water and shops became more and more sparse as I cycled through villages. Knowing that I was possibly cycling to my death, I bailed, which will haunt me to this day.
Just as I was turning to cycle back through the village, one of the families called me over. Sweat seeping from my pores, I probably looked an absolute state but I sat down and chatted with them for a while, only mildly embarrassed because they were very friendly. They wanted to know where I was from, how old I was and why I wasn’t with my boyfriend. My advice to single people travelling to South East Asia is to make sure you are really really OK with being single before you set off, because the questions are endless,.
On my way back into Luang Namtha, I ended up on a extremely busy main road which wasn’t ideal for a sunburnt, dehydrated foreigner, but I pulled over (safely of course) and got out my trusty map. The map simply said ROAD TO CHINA, with an arrow pointing upwards. Whilst it would make a great adventure I thought it was probably quite a bad idea to cycle to China, so I headed back the way I came and eventually ended up back in Luang Namtha, where for some unknown reason I decided to eat potatoes and only potatoes for dinner.