Luang Namtha to Huay Xai, Part One

Our southerly direction repetitive and our uneven tans ridiculous, we decided to mix things up a bit and head west. Huay Xai is as far west as you can go without falling in the Mekong and trespassing into Thailand, and it was our next destination. Asking how to get there was easier once we figured out its surprising pronunciation (Way Sigh), but actually it seems anywhere in Laos is pretty easy to get to, as there are so few roads. No confusing unmarked crossroads here. As yet, no crossroads. If it’s paved, or mostly paved, or looks like maybe it was once paved, it’s probably the right road.

We wanted to get an early start in the cool of the morning, but an enjoyable breakfast and hopeless inefficiency meant that, as usual, we utterly failed to get on the road before the sun had broken through the mist and begun to scorch us. Which of course meant stopping to apply sun cream, find sunglasses and similar delays. After a month of doing this every day, you would expect us to be better at all this.

The 213 in China wound laboriously up mountains through cool, shady forests; most days we had at least some cover. In Laos, the road tackles mountains like a country with a tarmac shortage – mostly just going straight up and down. Trees on either side have been felled, and there is virtually no protection from the sun. These factors combine to make some pretty tough riding conditions, and make starting early and having long lunch break an absolute necessity.

Getting hold of food and water between towns has also become much more difficult. The poverty of the general population was not very visible in comfortable Luang Namtha, but in some of the villages at higher elevations along our route you can see that this really is one of the poorest countries in the world. Even the cows are skinny. As most of these people are subsistence farmers, and the traffic on the roads is virtually non-existent, there are very few places to buy snacks, bottled water and other (for us) essentials. Instead of stopping at roadside restaurants to eat lunch as we were able to do in China, we are now buying a picnic lunch in the morning. We already carry about 5 litres of water, but with the extended sun exposure and steep ascents, there are days when we are close to running dry.

Places to stay are also rarer, which forces us to stop when there is a place to stay rather than when we are tired (or, more frequently, forces us to continue on when we would rather stop). So, on first day or our three leg trip to Huay Xai, we made it about 60 km to Vieng Phoukay, a small place still definitely more town than village. The riding wasn’t particularly difficult, and the roads were good. Our guesthouse consisted of small wood and thatch ‘bungalows’, with en suite squat toilet and bucket of water for washing/flushing. This style of guesthouse seems to be very standard for Laos.

~ by Elephants on November 15, 2010.

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