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Meditations around the world My 8-month Trip to Southeast Asia.

Feb 17-20: Disappointment in Laos

LAOS | Tuesday, 20 February 2007 | Views [2091] | Comments [1]

February 17-20, 2007.

Disappointment in Laos

After our twelfth night in our bungalow we rode the longboat back to Nong Kiaw. From here we got a bumpy bus ride to the city of Ouxay, four hours away. From Ouxay we bought tickets to our destination of Luang Nam Tha.

The bus ride was overbooked and, being some of the last to buy tickets, we were stuck on plastic chairs in the bus' isle. The road was mostly unpaved and winded down and up mountain passes. The plastic chair kept shifting underneath me and scooting so that my knees were pinched by the chair in front of me. In my weakened condition I tried to sleep. Jammed knees. Boxes falling on me from overhead. Plastic chair buckling on curves. A dog tied inside a grain sack under the seat, moved to the roof for more leg room. No air. Babies crying. I was really beginning to hate bus rides.

It was completely dark by the time we reached the town of Luang Nam Tha. We had no map and the bus station was in a dark area of town, so we hefted our packs and made our way through the unlit town in search of lodging. After walking quite a few blocks with nothing to see, we finally made a turn to a street with a few restaurants and guesthouses. We looked at one, frowned at the price but chose it anyhow, plopped our bags down and went for a meal.

Luang Nam Tha is listed as a National Protected Area. We had been excited about coming here since we had read about it in the guidebook. We pictured more looming mountains and rivers, streams and hiking paths to places even more exotic. We woke up in the morning, walked outside, looked around. Where are the mountains? we asked. We were on a flat dirty street claiming very little to no charm. Over the next few days we found the internet, but it wasn't working, tried to hire mopeds but they only had manual shift and neither of us had ridden before, tried to find the market and got lost before a helpful but a bit annoying young hilltribe man who wanted to practice his English leached onto us, and we were dissuaded by the guided trekking prices at the local tourist center. Given our bent for loving to go off and get lost by ourselves, we ultimately wanted follow that course. Somewhere between Nong Kiaw and here we had run out of mountains, So we would have to settle for hills and villages. There were a few waterfalls to hike to as well. All would have been good for our independent adventuring except for a recent story we had heard.

A few months previous a young man travelled here on his own. He had hiked solo into the hills. He didn't carry much with him for his journey and the guesthouse owners expected he would return that evening. He never returned. His body had recently been found in the river with rocks tied to his ankles. It was speculated that this young man had come across some illegal drug crops, been suspected of or caught taking some, and murdered. We asked the travel guide about this story but he pretended to know nothing about it, even though the flyer was posted right outside of his door. Murders like that can be bad for business I suspect, although it may increase guided trips as it discourages independent trekking. For us it just made the area even less appealing and we decided to head back to Thailand. There was, however, one redeeming find in this disappointing town. We found a nice little coffee house restaurant and were immediately struck by how wonderfully pleasant and amiable the owner was. This was a quality in severe depletion in this town. After talking to her we discovered she was from Thailand. We took this as an omen and, after our meal, went to pack our bags.

The next morning we were bound and determined to have seating that was not on plastic chairs on the 8 hour bus ride to the border. We got up early and were at the ticket counter by seven-thirty. Well, Leslie was anyway. I stopped at the coffee shop to have a double cappuccino. So yummy. When I got to the bus station, Leslie was waiting with bad news. The bus was full and we were in the isle.

"Not plastic chairs again" I groaned.

"Nope, not plastic chairs" she replied, her voice suggesting worse.

I looked at her with doomed interest.

"Plastic stools."

Leave it to say that this ride was doubly worse than the last and the misery was heightened by the overcrowdedness and lack of air. Nothing puts me in a crabbier mood than long, uncomfortable, hot, dirty, stuffy bus rides with impolite people. Leslie as always was wonderful about it. With long-suffering, we arrived in the border town of Huay Xai and decided to spend one more night in Laos before heading across the Mekong river back into Thailand.

Tags: Misadventures



Ryan simply dissappeared. His body was never found. Where did you get the information that his body was found with rocks tied to his ankles. He disappeared around 8 PM in the evening after leaving his guest house.

  Bill Apr 25, 2007 11:45 AM

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