This is a sort of travelogue, experiences and observations combined with random contemplations,
of a trip through Laos, Cambodia and Vietnam in Jan-March 2011. This blog is now closed.

Thursday, 27 January 2011


What can I say about Phongsaly? An enchanting little town, far north in Laos. It has what is called the old town, a maze of narrow stone-covered streets, where people go about their business as they must have done for centuries. They chop fire wood, they dry their rice cakes on the roofs, and on large bamboo mats, they also dry pig fat, and the occasional rat they caught - no doubt to eat later on -, and small boys walk onto the street to pee, uninhibited by shame. This was my Sunday morning walk, and nobody seemed to take offense of me being there.

Until the late 1800s Phongsaly was linked to Xishuangbanna, a small state-let under the influence of Chinese-administred Yunnan, now still a province of China. The French wrestled if from the Chinese and added it to their Laos protectorate in 1895, and subsequently reinforced the town, which is probably the only reason it is somewhat larger than the surrounding villages. (The French had good reasons for reinforcing, as the Chinese had rampaged into Laos before, on several occasions, and ransacked the place.) On the other hand, it is Sofia's theory, and with merit, that where the Chinese come, they spurt development - something we witnessed in Tibet ten years ago, however politically incorrect an observation -, so perhaps the people of Phongsaly were screwed by the French, who knows?.
Unlike the earlier towns we have been to, tourism hasn't really arrived here yet. English is not much spoken here, in fact Sofia got further with speaking Chinese in the shops than I got speaking English. The restaurants don't have a menu, you just walk into the kitchen, point at what you want, and hope for the best (it worked, for your information). Accommodation is, well, basic.
Big brother is ominously present. The municipality turns off the power at 10 pm (in any case, the streets lights are not working at all), it has been collectively decided that this is a good time to go to sleep - in order to be bright and shiny for the 5.30 am wake-up call, with National Anthem and Che Guevara march, as well as a string of no doubt important messages, coming out of the town's sound system, loud and clear, well, mostly loud. And this goes on for two hours, to make sure you don’t fall asleep again. I would start a revolution if they would do this in Didam.
(1) The old town, including a boy peeing in the street (really!)

(2) An old lady enjoying Sunday morning sun, and (3) another chopping wood.

(4) Chillies and rice patties drying, and (5) you didn’t believe me, right,
 when I said rats drying out in the sun?

(6) The Pongsaly express post office.

(7) This is also one of the very few places where we saw horses,
any kind of pack animals, being used… and their saddles (no, we didn't...).


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