Road to Luang Namtha

We woke up in Ban Namai and knew it was going to rain. We’d been lucky with the weather up to that point – it had only rained during the night or late in the day – but that was clearly going to change. By the time we left the village, it had started coming down.

Unfortunately, that was also the day we were driving west to Luang Namtha province, some six hours away on a bad road. I’d read horror stories about bus trips in good weather that became vomit-fests because the roads were so bad, but we weren’t that worried – I figured that in our spiffy Toyota minivan, we’d all be A-okay. We left Ban Namai hoping for the best.

Well, I’d never experienced a road like that. It’s likely there are worse roads in other remote areas of the world, but I’ve never driven on them and hope I never have to. (At least, not in a van in the pouring rain.) I wouldn’t even call the Lao road potholed – it was more like, eroded. It had probably been nicely paved at one time, but with the frequent truck traffic from China and Vietnam breaking it down, it was in terrible shape. And in the rain the whole thing turned into a muddy, sloshy mess – very hard to negotiate. Did I also mention it was only two lanes and very wind-y?

Our plan was to try to sleep through as much of the drive as we could, which might have worked (we’re really good traveling sleepers, even in turbulence) except that we had Silasak’s aunt in the car for the first part of the trip, and she got really, really car sick. We put her in the front seat and rolled the window halfway down so she’d have fresh air, but as soon as the road started bucking and winding, she was a wreck – a tiny old lady hurling onto the side of the car. FOR HOURS. Needless to say, this made sleeping a little difficult.

Poor auntie.

By lunchtime, we’d dropped off Silasak’s relatives (his uncle had also been in the car) and stopped to eat near Udomxai, a truck-stop town where the roads from Vietnam and China converge. It was still pouring. But as we got closer to Luang Namtha province, the sky cleared briefly and gave us time to visit a Lanten minority village.

Lanten women can be identified by their embroidered, indigo-dyed clothing, silver jewelry and bandage-like leg coverings, as well as their hairstyle: center-parted and pulled down in front with the rest pulled back and tied up. We met a young, pretty mother with two children who was cheerfully sewing some indigo-dyed cloth. She was far more groomed than I was. She was also very friendly and her children were very excited to see themselves on Mel’s digital camera.

The boy had an Ultraman outfit on.

We got back on the road and admired the rice fields under the overcast sky.

(click to view larger)

And finally, 10 hours after we’d left Ban Namai, we reached the Boat Landing Guesthouse, an eco-lodge known for its excellent restaurant and bungalow verandas overlooking the Nam Tha River. Man, was I glad to be there.

nice veranda, check

excellent restaurant, check

And once again, I ate the meal before I could photograph it.

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