Just a quick note to let you know that I’ve arrived in Luang Namtha, where Internet connectivity is both insanely slow and extremely expensive. Also, I suspect this keyboard of being a leftover Soviet secret plot to sabotage American productivity–it misses about half the keys, and occasionally does totally random things. (It does not, however, spontaneously switch to Swedish, or Chinese, which is a good thing. I have decided that most Lao keyboards are possessed, it’s just a question of which demon. 😉 )
So I’m now in the rural outback of Laos, which is to say anywhere outside the two major cities (Vietiane, pop. 300,000 and Luang Prabang, pop 30,000). I arrived at 6am, after a long and tedious set of misadventures involving a bus. (the best I can say for it is that it was better than my seatmate’s bus experiences in Vietnam; he went seven hours with a pig’s nose stuck in his left ear–the pig was in a pig-transport basket (a roughly bullet-shaped open wicker basket barely larger than a pig) which had been stuck between the seats. After several hours up close and personal with the (live) pig he sacrificed his towel to drape over the basket, figuring washing his towel was better than a pig in the ear. But he said the worst part was in Indonesia where the woman in the seat in front of him threw up out of the window; the breeze blew it straight back into his window and onto him (he was asleep at the time), and they still had several hours on the bus. I have decided to stick with tourist buses. 😉 )
Anyway, I’ll tell the full bus story some other day but let’s just say the bus was (a) packed with people (they put kiddie stool all the way down the aisle, jammed together, and had twenty odd people sitting on those; people in seats were climbing in and out the windows to get to/from their seats) and (b) amazingly dusty. I emerged after nine hours (including one spectacularly blown-out tire) *covered* in dust. Fortunately, my guesthouse *did* have a hot shower. 🙂
I have also now had the Authentic Outback Experience. Went out this morning to try to find my guide’s friend; I had his name and village written in Lao on a slip of paper, so I hired a tuktuk (pickup-taxi) to take me to the village, where the driver showed the paper to a couple of locals, they conferred with a bunch of passing people, and agreed that they didn’t hav the slightest idea who he was or where he lived, but pointed me up a dirt path into the village. I thanked them and walked off, where I stopped in at a house which (very tantalizingly) looked like they were scouring silk and dyeing some silk pink (with lac?), and showed someone my piece of paper. I’m immediately surrounded by a bunch of curious villagers, who don’t speak a word of English (and I don’t speak more than two words of Lao–“Hello” and “Thank you”), and wind up communicating with gestures and the patented “I’m a clueless foreigner and hopelessly lost, but I’m harmless and look kind of cute so will you please take me in and feed me, or at least get me where I’m going?” sheepish grin.
Anyway, the net of it is that they’ve never heard of this guy either–they ask a bunch of questions in Lao (I think about my nationality) and I try to explain that I’m American, but my parents are Chinese (this always confuses people, because Americans are supposed to be Pasty White People).
At this point it dawns on me that I am (a) in the middle of nowhere, a village four miles out from Luang Namtha, and furthermore have no real idea where I am; (b) that I can’t communicate with anyone, and (c) I’m just not going to find this guy. In short, I have absolutely no idea what’s going on; I’m on a dirt road surrounded by bamboo thatched wooden houses, I can’t comunicate with anyone and I have no idea how to get back to town.
I start grinning. It’s just so gloriously absurd.
The next house I come to has a woman reeling silk in the yard, and a man brewing moonshine rice whisky. (At least, I assume he’s brewing moonshine; he’s got a 30-gallon drum over a low fire, and there’s some kind of clear liquid pouring out through a bamboo stick stuck in the top part of the drum, into a funnel and into a bottle. What the hell else would that be but a distillery?) I show him my paper (since he’s staring at me anyway), and around then a girl comes running down the road and says “Hi how are you doing?” in English. Eventually we work out that they know everyone in the village, nd he doesn’t live there.
(Everyone finds it very amusing, btw, that this pretty young Asian foreigner is trying to find this guy without having the slightest clue where he lives; I have no idea if they’ll figure out who he is, but if they do, his reputation is probably permanently ruined. Or made, depending on your point of view. 😉 )
anyway, that’s it for now…I’m hiring a guide tomorrow to take me around the weaving villages, and may run up to Muang Sing for the morning market tomorrow, but I’m also tempted to rent a bike and just go out on my own. Being gloriously lost is just so much fun. 🙂
(I may hire a guide today, though, if only to get him to show me how to ride a motorbike. Whee!)
For photos of Luang Namtha Province and its minority tribal villages, go to