One could fly out of Phongsaly. Twice a week there is a flight, leaving from an airport 1.5 hours drive outside town. We elected to take the bus, ultimately probably quicker given our travel plans, and most definitely more interesting. I like bus travel, even though it may not always be very comfortable. There is a certain charm in seeing the world pass by, pulling into the occasional bus station with all its activities, and observing local people, seeing then getting in and out of the bus, with all their belongings – you cannot imagine what they so all carry.
There is a direct bus to Luang Nam Tha, but this goes part across Chinese territory, and is thus only accessible for Lao people, no foreigners allowed. Which is a pity, because now we are forced to take the detour via Udomxai. Yet, the trip is interesting, down the mountains, past many authentic villages – no tourism here, for sure – with a wide variety of minority people. Only problem is that taking photos from the bus doesn’t work very well.
From Phongsaly, the bus is half empty, but this changes quickly. At the next bus station the bus fills up rapidly, and out of nowhere comes a stack of plastic stools, adding extra seating. Most luggage is hauled onto the roof, including a motorbike, but plenty of stuff also goes inside. We have reasonably comfortable seats, with the proviso that Lao people are generally considerable shorter than westerners. We all receive a small plastic bag, which initially we thought was for collecting rubbish. So we put a banana peel in our bag, some used tissues, a plastic cover from the biscuits. Silly! Everything, bottles, cans, wrappings, goes through the window, outside, and if not, it goes on the floor. The bags are for car sickness, are generously used by quite a few of the passengers, and after having been filled, so to speak, also go through the window.
In Udomxai we book ourselves into a brand new hotel, the Charming Lao Hotel, which opened only two weeks ago. They still have much to learn. The town has little else to offer, apart from a number of Chinese restaurants, where we eat well. This is a modern trading town, on the intersection of various euphemistically called highways, amongst others the one to China and the one to Vietnam (right, across the ferry in Muang Khua, remember?), and it shows. Shops are full of Chinese goods, and Chinese is the dominant foreign language, once again.
Next morning’s bus to Luang Nam Tha is a small Chinese bus, with plenty of leg room – wish we had this one for the long distance, today’s trip is only 3.5 hours, and not particularly exciting. We arrive in time for lunch, in a sunny and, for once, warm Luang Nam Tha.
No photos this time…. promise to make up for this next time.