udomxai

We were walking to a handicraft store and got sidetracked by some guys drinking in an autoshop. We had a few drinks with them and then they invited us to their friends wedding that night. We say yes of course then had one more drink.There were other things we wanted to see in town that day. Before we left they made sure we knew when and where to meet them. “OLD BUS STATION, 7PM. You WILL BE THERE! Don’t forget! ” Why would we forget about our one and only chance to see a Laos wedding!? We were on time. Guess who never showed up? We sulked in the form of sugar; cake, snacks and Russian vodka. In hindsight we should have just stayed and drank with them. That way we probably would have went. Who knows, they may have been too drunk to go to the wedding in the first place. So many questions unanswered. It leaves us with strike three. Strikes one and two were bus rides. The last one was personal. We are getting over it.

Around hour three, we noticed our hands were cramping up from constantly gripping the ‘oh shit’ handles for dear life. Around hour five, our asses were beyond sore from flying up and slamming down with each pothole. Between the potholes and the mudslides, I honestly don’t know how our old bus made this trip, or how it makes this trip day after day after day. Eventually we pulled into Udomxai’s bus station, bringing the heavy rains with us.

We ran around the main strip of Udomxai looking for a decent guesthouse in the pouring rain. Eventually, we gave up on finding a nice guesthouse and checked into the first one that had hot water. Catering mainly to gross Chinese truck drivers, we did not choose well – but a bed is a bed, and the hot water shower was a life changing experience. The bus to Luang Nam Tha was scheduled to leave at 8:00 in the morning, and we would be the first in line to buy tickets.

On the unexpectedly tolerable bus ride from Udomxai to Luang Namtha the scenery was varied. From bamboo houses, modern homes and to newly built concrete structures. We saw kids playing or walking home from school. The landscape was the most interesting. Forests were being slashed and burned to make way for crops. In this picture you can see newly planted rubber trees in the upper left and bottom and mature rubber trees in the upper middle.
#Laos #udomxai #oudomxay #muangxay

Tomatoes, eggplant and small birds for sale. We saw a squirrel, a pigs head, bee larve and honeycombs too. There may not be a lot to do here but there’s a lot to see. A mix of hilltribe, Laos and Chinese culture makes things interesting.
#Laos #udomxai #oudomxay #muangxay #food #market #Laosfood (at Ban Thin)

Luang Prabang to Udomxai

Let me preface this and say that we’re pretty sure Laos has it out for us. At least the bus system. Our first ride from South Laos, Don Det to Vientiane was also terrible and terribly hot. We sat on the second floor in the back of the bus. This wouldn’t have been so bad if the air conditioning had been working. Instead it leaked water on us. That bus was a sauna. Constant body sweat. The bus henchmen knew it didn’t work and passively went to fix it but it ended up being just for show. They were working on the wrong thing anyway. It was useless to complain. We’d have to forfeit our ticket for that bus and maybe get another one would be better or money we didn’t want to spend. Towards the end of the ride maybe hour 6 of 10 it finally got cool. When other people started to complain that it was too cold! Imagine that, too cold! Lesson learned was if there is writing on the wall, literally, that says “warning can’t breathe, a/c doesn’t work, mold…” you pay attention.

Now, yesterday we settled in for an easy ride. We thought 5-6 hours wasn’t bad. The bus was not ideal, too small, neither were our seats, lacked leg room for our long legs. It would have to do.

Busses in Laos, specifically local ones fill the bus partially at the station and take on more down the road. So we went from 18 to 31 passengers. It was cramped but it could have been worse. I’ve read of people sitting on bags of rice and chickens in cages.

The first 3 hours went smoothly. Then we got going up the mountain….

The first hiccup was when the new paved road turned into a dirt road. Our bus didn’t get stuck in mud (red clay mud) from the recent rain but someone else’s vehicle did. When this happens the bus driver shuts off the bus, gets out, finds a rock to place behind the wheel and then ventures to see what’s happening. Anyway the first time only lasted about ten minutes.

The second time it was about 15-25 minutes. Other passengers took that time to get off the bus to do their dirty business on the side of the road, in and out of view. This was quite the group though. There were several older women, a few men, a hilltribe couple, a woman with a mickey mouse voice and a chain-smoking monk. One woman got up to tell a story about how a person was falling asleep while standing and holding the top handrail inside the bus (she acted it out). That ended with an eruption of giggles. Those ladies giggled like it didn’t even matter that we had been waiting(seems like a common problem). Finally we got out of that one and breathed a sigh of relief.

The 10 hour wait. Our third and final setback. Upon arriving at this one Seth and I hoped that would be as easy as the other two. Gradually half and hour grew and grew. The sun was setting and we were still stuck. Our busride procedures are to drink little water (less chance of bathroom frequency, will the bus even stop and for how long?) and eat little (possible motion sickness? Safe not sorry. Plenty of natives get sick and need puke bags. Vietnam, Cambodia and Laos all have motion sickness). It’s basically a forced fast. I had bought two mangoes, water and some (nasty) Laotian molasses rice snack to take along. That’s it. Needless to say after I ate that mango three hours earlier I was getting hungry. I always get hungry first. After a few hours we were passed a loaf of French bread. A holy sight indeed. It got a bit chilly on that mountain pass. I had a wool coat and Seth ended up wearing my rain jacket. The stars were the best part of being stuck.

Nothing moved until 8pm. Cars took the chance to squeeze in front of our bus and took off. The bus driver hesitated and that’s when we waited another four hours or something. We didn’t just see cars pass. There were wide loads with tractors, loaders, semis etc etc. Everyone, even the ladies wanted to just get going! Cellphones were going off and conversations of “nope, not yet” were taking place. Once we were able to pull through it was still stop and go. It looked or sounded as if the Chinese who were redoing the road were giving the orders. The bus driver was just obeying them. He did what he had to do albeit very slowly.

Around a few bends and then we were flying down the bumpiest road ever. I was so tired I somehow managed to sleep. It was 5am when we finally reached the bus station. We should have arrived at 6pm the previous day.

You know what we did when we got off the bus? We walked 6 kilometers to town. You have to when you’ve been sitting so long. Then we ate Chinese noodle soup and slept for hours.

Made it to Udomxai after one of the worst bus rides yet. I’ll have pictures and words about that later.

Because of that ride we’ve changed plans and are not going to Phongsali. Not sure where we’re heading next…

This is what a bus-terminal breakfast looks like. Waking at the crack of dawn we watched the only english program – ‘Gone With the Wind’ – before leaving our gross hotel. It was still raining. At the bus terminal, we saw our companions from the day before eating these coconut sticky rice concoctions, and we decided to join them. The broken piece of bamboo tube functions as a spoon - which you’ll need because this rice is oh-so-sticky-sweet.

To our surprise, after the worst bus ride to date, the next leg of our journey north was smooth sailing. The road was a dream, and Amanda even caught some shuteye. As we climbed further into the mountains, we caught our first glimpse of someone in traditional ethnic garb. We watched a Tai Dam woman buy bagged snakes or lungfish or something from a Tai Lu woman at a roadside market. 

Western health standards aren’t really a thing here. You just have to trust the cook to buy fresh ingredients and to wash everything down occasionally. Still, most of these restaurants would fail any health inspection back home. Near our guesthouse, Minority Restaurant was really worth a visit, despite the number of critters running around. We had a fried young bamboo and noodle dish that knocked our socks off.