According to the laminated brochure which rests on the wicker tables at KNT, I have seen the majority of Luang Nam Tha’s attractions already. I contemplated visiting the sacred forests near the Black Tai villages, which are basically the village cemeteries. The Black Tai bury the dead under small houses stocked with items they will need in the afterlife. However, I decided that wandering around a forest full of dead people was not really on my list of priorities when I came to Laos!
Instead I wandered to the Black Tai village of Tong Ja Tai, which is situated on the banks of the Nam Tha. I found a pleasant spot of grass by the river, soaked up the sun for a while, wrote this journal and watched the Black Tai children playing in the water.
I had a late lunch at Heuan Lao Restaurant before completing the only other task on KNT’s list that I’d not yet accomplished. I climbed the naga staircase on the hill behind the Hongthaxay Hotel, to the north of Luang Nam Tha. I was a little early for sunset but from the top of the hill there’s a good view of Luang Nam tha town and the surrounding valleys.
Luang Nam Tha – Huay Xai (60,000KIP)
I dropped by the bus station yesterday to check the times of the buses down to Huay Xai today. There was a whiteboard with Lao script on it but next to the words “Huay Xai” was written “07:00” and “09:30”, which I assumed to be the departure times. However, when I arrived at the bus station at 6:30 this morning to buy my ticket, I was informed that 7am is the time you have to show up to be guaranteed a seat on the bus; the bus doesn’t actually leave until 9:30!!
When I returned from the market (where I bought some bananas and strange coconut/rice sweets for the journey) at 7:15, the only remaining seats were plastic chairs in the aisle, and sure enough all of these were taken by 7:30! The bus ended up departing half an hour early, at 9am, although I’m not even sure why it had to wait around for an hour and a half when we couldn’t physically fit any more passengers inside the vehicle.
The journey was a tough one : when I’d read that the road was in the process of being improved, I didn’t realize the work was being carried out along the entire stretch from Luang Nam Tha to Huay Xai. The roads were very uneven and very much unfinished, so much so that there was so much dust around we had to keep the windows shut. With the absence of fans inside the bus and a seriously overcrowded vehicle, you can imagine how unbearable the heat was.
On the plus side, the road to Huay Xai weaves it’s way through some picturesque mountains so there’s some beautiful scenery along the way, if you can see it through the dust being thrown off the stony surface beneath!
After hearing stories from other travelers about how gruelling this journey is and that it takes at least 10 hours, I was pleasantly surprised when we arrived at Keo Champa bus station (2km from Huay Xai) after just 8 and a half. At 5:30, we’d arrived at just the right time to watch the sun setting over the Mekong from our tuk tuk, as it transported us to our final destination of Huay Xai.
I checked into the Huay Xai Guesthouse and went for a bite to eat at Nutpop. I’d been tempted to try this place due to it having a “long Lao menu” according to Lonely Planet. Indeed it has but unfortunately not much of it is in English!
Photo to follow.