• 28 . 02 . 11
  • Another full day’s bus travel takes us from Luang Namtha to Nong Khiaw, passing through lots of local villages. We manage to retain all our fillings, just.

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Bussed A Move

Being a passenger in Laos is a full-contact sport. Most of that contact is with your neighbours of course, but you become fairly intimately acquainted with the seat in front too, and the ceiling. Today’s dirt track made yesterday’s seem like the M1 in comparison, so bumpy and twisty that it was a full body workout just trying to stay in the seat. Eventually we just capitulated and rolled with the punches.

We were hunched on the back row of seats. Though we’d arrived first, we stood around chatting while some Germans took the prime seats next to the windows that opened. They left their backpacks to mark their territory. Their towels must have been packed. I’m glad we didn’t crash – the head of the passenger in front would have been the world’s worst airbag.

We did 145km today. It took 5 hours and 45 minutes, excluding breaks. Even that felt too fast at times, as we careered around roads even more precarious than yesterday’s. Our driver helpfully stopped to show us a bus that had gone over a precipice. It lay broken and 2 dimensional, like an envelope torn in half and discarded carelessly. I wonder how many people were in it.

The journey to Pak Mong divided neatly into four parts, each accompanied by a pervading smell. Rice at first, as we passed through yet more verdant fields, shining even through polarised lenses. Next, something hard to define, like nettles and sugar. Sweet, but with a sting. The smell of rain on tarmac third, though we didn’t see any showers. Then, at and after Udomxai, dust. For a long time, dry dust, earthy and raw as workers laboured to extend the road.

We passed countless villages, all similar. Huts on stilts, a communal washing area, some chickens pecking in the dirt. Sometimes a cow or two. Once a goat. Kids playing in the street, bowling tyres with sticks or drawing on the ground. It was nice to see some universal expressions of communion and companionship. Girls walking in a group of three, linked arms and whispering in ears. A boy with an arm around another’s shoulder. Lots of laughter. The same humanity suffuses even the remotest settlement.

From Pak Mong, a 45 minute journey by pickup truck to Nong Khiaw. As we approached, a string was drawn up across the road between 2 chairs. We expected some sort of toll. Instead, a group of girls, spiritual descendants of Dick Turpin, tried to pin flowers on us and charge for the privilege. We graciously declined and they laughed. It was worth a try. They waved us on and smiled.

The mountains appear from nowhere to welcome us to the town nestled beneath, straddling the magnificent green Nam Ou.

Now under a mosquito net, the night draws in and the crickets are chirping.