The tourist roller coaster

For the last four days Claire and I have been doing our best to get off the tracks of the tourist roller coaster. We thought that it would be difficult, but in the end we found that it was actually quite easy! Our plan was to head out from Luang Prabng and take a dirt road that started 21km out of town to a town called Pak Xeng.

After enlisting the help of the locals to find the road, we started the long, 64km climb to our destination. This is when we found out that if you are not on the tourist trail, you are in the middle of nowhere! For the next 16km we climbed up a dusty dirt road with large trucks trundling by going from one impossibly small village to the next.

The villagers along this road apparently had not seen a tourist for many weeks if not months. The children would come running out of the houses yelling “Sahbadi!!!” (hello/goodbye in Lao) and their parents would rise to their feet and wave as we passed. Most were probably looking at us with our small backpacks thinking “What the hell are they doing?!?”

So, as I was saying before, the road was perpetually uphill and the traffic, although light, was of a particularly unsavory size. After a steep, 2km climb Claire and I sat down and considered our options. 1) Continue up this road to a destination that we know nothing about for another 48km, and probably have to beg a local family to take us in for the night. or 2) head back to the paved road that had light traffic, no dust and a sizable towns every 10km or so… Humm…

So back on the main road we road about 10 more kms and started looking for a guest house. As luck would have it we happened to be in Hatgna, a riverside town that had a resort which was basically abandoned! Claire and I settled in for a night in our own cottage on the river and both had nightmares about the crazy caretaker breaking into the room! Ha! We end up in one of the nicest places that we have seen in weeks and neither of us slept! Always on guard…

imgp2224.JPG dscf1802.JPG

(Hanna, yes that is your sister wearing socks with her shorts. She was horrified that I might post this photo, but I just couldn’t help myself…he he he)

The next morning we got up early. We had talked to the crazy caretaker the night before and discovered that the next guest house was 80km away! Good thing we stopped when we did. The mornings here are cool, about 10 deg C, and misty. Slowly the fog rises and reveals what would be stunning scenery. Unfortunately, the local farmers practice yearly field burning and this season is particularly hazy from it. Still, the landscape (even in the near ground) is amazing. Emerald green rice paddies as far as the eye can see rise into steep mountains with the jungle spilling into the slow rivers like green glaciers.
dscf1793.JPG dscf1796.JPG dscf1791.JPG

The towns on the main road were also small and rural. Most of the tourists bus from one destination to the next, never stopping to see the locations between. These small town are composed of bamboo huts that create an incredible sense of community. As you ride through town you can hear each villager’s music and see the families gathered around fires in front of their houses. Men, women, girls and boys all sitting and eating together – a sight you would never see in India (women and girls didn’t eat until the men and boys did, so they never really sat together).

It was along this section of the trip that Claire began to have knee problems. I know that many of you reading this have suffered joint ailments before and know how frustrating they can be. I’m not quite sure if it was a high pain threshold or stubbornness that kept her going, but she refused to even look at all the passing passenger trucks and just kept going without complaint.

We arrived in our destination town, Pak Mong, about 4pm and started looking for a guest house. To our surprise and horror the only options were VERY dirty (one of the worst we’ve seen) with a hot shower, or clean with NO running water at all! We ended up going with the clean one and, after a day of biking and no shower, were sure to leave it pretty dirty!

The last day of the trip took us down hill (thankfully – especially for Claire) for 30km. Nong Khiaw, the town at the end of our road, was a delightful find. Back on the tourist roller coaster, this town was filled with guest houses and bungalows on the river. We found one with hot showers and took a walk to watch the sunset over the river. After two trying nights we had finally arrived in a place that we could craw into bed clean and sleep soundly – for 11 hours straight.

imgp2231.JPG dscf1806.JPG dscf1809.JPG dscf1810.JPG

Today we were faced with another decision. We could take the slow boat for 7 hours down the river for US$10/each plus extra for the bikes, or take the passenger truck for 2.5hours for US$5/each including the bikes… Having already endured one slow boat ride we decided to go with the truck. When we got to the truck they proceeded to cram about 20 people into the back of a compact pickup and we sat cramped and cold for the entire ride. Three days of biking covered in only 3 hours of driving…

Back in Luang Prabang we helped ourselves to americano coffees and are looking forward to stuffing ourselves at the all you can eat buffet… Ah, the impact of tourists!

Leave a Reply

You must be logged in to post a comment.