The road to Luang Namtha is long and winding. By car or bus, it is six hours of non-stop weaving and turning through mountains. To get there from Nong Khiaw, we had to stop in Pak Bang to buy, and then bribe, our way onto another van. During the second leg of our journey the driving became a bit extreme. Luckily, Sean, our friend from Nong Khiew just gave us motion sickness meds and we were okay. This is a message we sent him once we got to our hostel:
” …Anyway, I wanted to message you and thank you SO MUCH for the motion sickness pills. I decided to try one out today and it saved my stomach […] After screaming down the windy road and a third of the way through our drive, the passenger in the front seat started hurling out of the van. After that, every time we wanted to look at a view we had to look past the barf painted window. It was pretty gross to see but my stomach felt fine. Then about half way through the drive, the passenger behind us woke himself up by throwing up all over the van floor. It only took a couple of minutes for the vomit to trickle under everyone's feet because of the twists and turns. I did a mental check on my stomach and I STILL DIDN'T FEEL NAUSEOUS! It was incredible. I hope you never have to experience this, but if you do, know that those pills are magical.”
I wish I had a picture of the van, but we forgot to take one.
Needless to say, we were happy to stop in Luang Namtha. After getting off the van, the city immediately took us in. In the night market, across the street from the hostel, they served full rotisserie chicken with sticky rice and papaya salad (for two) for $5. We were happy. That night we played cards and searched for a guided overnight trek / homestay.
The next morning we left for the trek in a big group of twelve. We were a little disappointed, since we expected to go with a group of four, but since we got a big discount, we didn't mind. The hikes were short and easy with stellar views, but lunch on a banana leaf table was the best part of the day. Despite the easy hikes, we were accompanied by three Israeli princesses that complained with every uphill and moved at a snail's pace. Danielle and I are convinced that it was because they spent most of their energy talking to each other.
The homestay was in a local village tucked away in the jungle. Before we left, Danielle and I bought a bag of balloons and the kids could not have been more happy to play with them. After we tried showing them how to share and play games with the inflated balloons we gave them, most of them just took them and untied them so they could make noises and launch them around themselves. That night, we watched the kids play with the fire as we drank Lao Lao out of bamboo shot glasses and listened to Mumford and Sons. Eventually, the chill drove us inside for a very cold night's sleep.
The next morning was Chinese New Year (Tet) and we were greeted to the sounds of gun shots, or that's what I thought. Instead we found the children heating up fresh bamboo section in the fire, creating a pressure chamber, and then whacking them so they exploded. I have no idea how safe this is, but I would have adviserd all of them to wear safety glasses if they had them.
As we hiked out, one of the princesses (who I'm still surprised made it through the night) were pulled up the hills with a stick by the very patient guide (see picture below for proof). Since we weren't going anywhere quickly, Danielle and I hung back and helped the other guide with his English.
Again, lunch was the coolest part. We hacked down banana trees for a few layers of the outer stalk (it looked like and had the consistancy of pasta), the core of its stalk, and for the huge flower. With this, we made soup using big sections of bamboo as a pot. Lunch was served in two half sections of bamboo, repurposed as serving trays. We ate everything with sticky rice and spoons made with hand-folded leaves.
We got back to the city that night, and the next day was spent lazily waiting for laundry, reading, and posting to quarterlifeexcursion.com. We also got the worst massage I've ever paid for $5 for and spent a bit of time in a local sauna that could be decribed as a clamy concrete box. Ha.
Grant and Danielle