February 18, 2010 – Day 420 – Muang Sing, Laos
Travel within Laos is an interesting experience. From the border town, we took a speedy but surprisingly cautious mini bus to Luang Nam Tha, about 4 hours north into the mountains. The road started off surprisingly good. It was paved and almost entirely free of pot holes or random missing sections. The farther we drove the worse the road became.
It went from paved (good) to randomly paved and more pot holed than paved (not good) to dirt and large protruding rocks (really not good) to a series of all three kinds of roads but it was a complete surprise as to how long and when each section would pop up. (Hurray for surprises!)
At any rate, we did finally arrive to Nam Tha albeit with a few bleeding internal organs and a possibly a concussion, but hey we made it alive! Ok, ok maybe we’re exaggerating a bit here but the road really was terrible. What was even more interesting than the traveling part was that, during the 4 hours we drove, not once did we encounter a city or even a town of any sort. The only evidence of life we passed were several very small villages that could not have housed more than 50-100 people. There were not even any road side restaurants or stands aside from the one we stopped at that looked merely like another palm hut instead of the restaurant it was purported to be. We were the only foreigners in the mini bus. The other 9 people were all Lao guys so it was a pretty quiet ride when the driver was not singing along to slow-mo Lao music on his CD mixes.
In Luang Nam Tha, we hopped into a local bus packed to the gills (can buses really have gills?) with locals heading to Muang Sing or somewhere along the way. Lucky for us, someone had saved the front seat and a little space on top of the engine block (covered with a big square wood box) for the two of us. We tip toed and hopped over the already boarded and unmoving locals inside to get to our seat and box. Poor Saben was the unlucky fellow today for the box seat and even more unlucky because the bus had to stop 3 times along the 60 km ride because the engine was overheating. It took us 2 hours to get to Muang Sing and with one burned bum in the process, we were very very happy to have finally arrived somewhere.
Muang Sing is a tiny town that appears to have about 300 people in residence. It’s a quiet (nay, practically silent) dusty little town that puts one to the mind of an old American western town with tumble weeds a blowin’ in the wind. Incidentally, there are no tumble weeds, just massive amounts of dust and grit blown into your eyes whenever you go outside. There are maybe 3 restaurants and maybe 10 guesthouses. Besides that there are 3-4 tour offices and a handful of shops with construction materials, hair dye, and some random unappetizing snacks imported from China collecting copious amounts of dust in the open front shops. There are more chickens, dogs, and pigs wandering around than locals and certainly even fewer foreigners. A welcome change indeed but really kind of strange to be a place so obviously inhabited but with so few people around and such a pervading silence that makes it a bit eerie. That’s not to say that it is a weird place. No, not at all, but it is very different from the majority of places we are used to going.
With literally nothing to do, we ate breakfast-lunch-dinner in one meal since we hadn’t been able to eat anything yet today and retired to our room, apparently for the night even though it was only 5:30pm.