The long journey from Vang Vieng to Muang Sing

I got up early this morning (even before the staff at my guesthouse were awake so i had to leave my key and $6 under the front desk!) with the intention of catching the first bus of the day up to Luang Prabang, as i know how difficult James said it was to find accommodation when he first arrived. I should have realised, as the bus companies seem to have done, that i was in the party capital of Laos, as the first bus didn’t leave until 9am. So i had an hour and a half to kill, which i chose to spend at the Organic Mulberry Cafe grabbing a spot of breakfast and reading an interseting article on anarchy, which was handed to me by a traveller sat at the only other occupied table in the establishment.

The bus journey was by mini bus (as it appears that public buses do not run the Vang Vieng – Luang Prabang route) so $8 and 7 hours later i was back in Lunag Prabang – for the third time! I was not really in the mood for socialising this evening but the Japanese guy, Endi, who i was talking to when we stopped for lunch, decided to jump into the same tuk tuk as me, check into the same guesthouse and then ask me out to dinner. As i was only in Luang Prabang for one night, it seemed rude to refuse. So we ate at a restaurant right opposite the bakery on Sisavangvong Road, with the bubbliest, dizziest, and most enthusiastic waitress i’ve had the pleasure of encountering.

Luang Prabang – Udomaxi – Luang Nam Tha

I shared my breakfast table this morning with the tiniest little kitten. He hopped up on to my lap, paws on the table, peered over my bowl of noodle soup and stayed there until the cafe owner spotted him, picked him up by the scruff of his neck and deposited him rather carelessly into a back room.

When i got to the bus station, it soon became apparent that there was no bus directly to Luang Nam Tha from Luang Prabang : it involved a change at Udomaxi. Due to getting off the bus at the 1st toilet stop, i lost my seat and had the pleasure of being stuck on a small plastic stool in the aisle for the remainder of the 5 hour journey.

This was followed by a 2 hour wait at Udomaxi and another 4 hour bus journey to Luang Nam Tha (total cost 63,000KIP), which meant arriving at our destination at 8pm. Luang Nam Tha is not very well lit at night so i chaecked into the first guesthouse i spotted, The Bus Station Guesthouse ($3.50 for bamboo hut with private bathroom). I managed to find somewhere to eat (The Panda Restaurant) but the only internet cafe i’d seen on my way in had shut down by 9pm – as had most of the town.

Luang Nam Tha – Muang Sing

Had a bit of a wander around Luang Nam Tha’s Morning Market before catching the Songthaew (17,000KIP, 1.5hrs) to Muang Sing. I checked into the Thi-Lu Guesthouse for $2 per night (not quite as cheap as sharing with James in Muang Ngoi but for the equivalent of 1.12 i have my own private bathroom, albeit with a very cold shower!) and then sampled their restaurant food for lunch. I had Mak Kaew, which is a local peppery chilli paste with vegetables for dipping and sticky rice. It’s the only restaurant in Muang Sing that serves this dish (apparently) and i shall be asking whether i can buy some to take with me!

Muang Sing

Muang Sing sits on the river plains of the Mam La, 10km from the Chinese border. Muang Sing is a traditional Thai Lu and Thai Neua cultural nexus as well as a trade centre for Thai Dam, Akha, Hmong, Mien, Lolo and Yunnanese. The town itself is dominated by Thai-Lu (30% of total) and the surrounding hills by Akha (45% of total).

This afternoon i did a walking tour of the town, a town which i expected to be over-run with tourists due to the fact that it seems to be earning a reputation among travelers as THE place to go trekking in Laos. However once you leave the main street, Muang Sing is incredibly rural : little bamboo huts with thatched roofs, women washing their hair in the street with a huge wooden bucket of water, little children staring at you like they’ve never seen another foreigner before, and the older ones approaching you to practice their English and wanting to know everything about you. There wasn’t another tourist in sight until i reached the Muang Sing Tourist Information & Trekking Guide Service Centre.

I had planned to do a 2 day trek here but the agency, in a bid to protect the environment and control the impact of toursim on the local villages, will not run treks AT ALL unless the appropriate number of people show an interest. Even then, they will only run treks to certain areas on certain days. No-one had shown an interest in a 2 day trek for tomorrow and in keeping with the eco-tourism bid, there was only one 1 day trek on offer.

Whilst enquiring about the trek, i got chatting to an Australian lady, Joy (who i’d imagine was a bit of a hippy in her day) who was also interested in the same trek. For $10 we both decided to go ahead and book it, went for coffee together afterwards (oh how i love Lao coffee!) and i joined her for dinner later at the Viengxay Restaurant.

Photo is of a typical street scene in Muang Sing.

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