This post will be a brief account of our two down days in Luang Namtha – Friday 18th and Saturday 19th December. In my rough plan for Laos Saturday had been earmarked for the short 60km ride through the Nam Tha National Park to Muang Sing, but it was raining quite consistently on Friday into Saturday morning and Aad had a bad headache from Friday morning that he couldn’t shake, so we opted to have a second off-bike day.
Friday morning – our first morning in Laos – started with a simple pre-breakfast of tea and Nutella on Digestive biscuits at our chalets, before I led the four of us to the local markets so we could have a look around. The markets were fascinating – a photographers delight, and it was great to see Aad, Mike and Karen take such interest in the local produce for sale. Karen and I bought some mandarins and mangoes whilst Aad and Mike bought some grapes. The range of vegetables and fruits available was astounding – both in colour and variety – and everything looked so fresh as if it had just been plucked or dug up that morning. We saw large fungi the size of dinner plates, chillies, basil, tiny apples. Aad and Mike were the first to see frogs for sale, sitting patiently in plastic basins, and also a dead cat being sold by some people selling some roots.
The largely covered markets were organised into different sections – vegetables and fruits, rices, live animals (fish, eels, chickens), meats, clothing, etc. A large dining area consisting of trestle tables and chairs was surrounded by women who displayed banana leaves piled high with noodles and greens ready for reheating and serving.
We watched one man carefully examine a big rooster from every conceivable angle as he decided whether or not to purchase it, and a lady gave us a small disc – maybe 6cm in diameter – of pressed curry paste (perhaps ???) that had a very strong after taste to it !!! Nearby I saw a woman selling some vegetables – on her table she also had a headless snake coiled up, and a blue kingfisher for sale.
Some of the sights in the market were a bit confronting for us all, but it was a special experience for us as well. We walked on a few blocks past the local motorcycle markets and a very noisy electronics store that was blasting out music from giant speakers so loud it felt like it would make your ears bleed, and out onto the main road and in the direction of the main part of town.
I was looking out for a cafe I’d been in on my last trip but couldn’t see it down the side streets so we stopped at the Bamboo Lounge Restaurant – set up as a training venue for local people to help them learn both hospitality skills and English, with profits directed towards buying books for the local school. We enjoyed a late breakfast and I savoured my Lao coffee – coffee with sweetened condensed milk, whilst the others had a hot chocolate each.
After our meal we strolled up the main street, taking in the sights and sounds. We heard a collision between two small motorcycles – a local rider and a foreigner had collided. Neither of them were seriously injured, so after checking on them we continued on our way. Skid marks on the road showed that the local rider had dropped his bike and slid across the centreline into the path of the oncoming rider.
I took our merry band up to the Luang Namtha Museum – this had been closed on my last visit. Aad headed back to the chalets whilst the rest of us went into the small musuem. Initially it was locked up but a young lady opened the door for us, charged us our small entrance fee and then watched us as we spent an hour or so walking around the single room that was the Musuem. Items on display included old brass drums recovered from temples in the area, traditional clothing of the various local tribes (both male and female variations), wooden implements such as fish and eel traps, crossbows, baskets – all the way up to ox ploughs, as well as rifles and other weapons used by the French and other colonising forces, and local militia weapons and home-made rifles used in the fight for independence. One display board showed photographs of local industries – rice growing, fishing etc, and another board showed photos from significant municipal events such as meetings with foreign dignitaries.
We walked back to our chalets, where Karen and I spent the afternoon catching up on a few chores – in the evening the two of us returned to the Bamboo Lounge for a dinner of wood-fired Hawaiian pizza and a bacon carbonara, whilst Aad and Mike tracked down a couple of hamburgers a bit further down the road.
Saturday morning we weren’t in a rush as we had already decided to not ride to Muang Sing today and instead we’d booked a third night’s stay at Taidam Guesthouse in Luang Namtha. Mike boiled some water and we had a cup of tea, and then we headed down to the Bamboo Lounge for breakfast. All of Luang Namtha was without electricity this morning – we were told that power would be off til 1:00pm. We had a pleasant breakfast of crispy bacon, bread (as the electric toaster wouldn’t work) and eggs, and sat on the comfy lounge chairs watching daily life go by outside and chatting about nothing and everything.
Late in the morning we headed back to our chalets for an afternoon of Big Bang Theory episodes from Season Nine and then blogging (Vince) and sorting photos (Karen). We had thought about having an afternoon ride out to Muang Sing today but it was still drizzling and Karen’s broken arm is giving her a lot of pain this afternoon so it was decided that it would be better for her to rest today as tomorrow we need to push eastwards on to Oudom Xay. It’s about 4:00pm now, Karen is still working hard on her photos and I’m starting to chill to a bit of Pink Floyd on the iPad. It’s been a quiet but pleasant day – a chance to rest and relax. Tomorrow is Oudom Xay and Souphallin’s Restaurant – the best chef in northern Laos and the best chicken curry and Laos Whisky – I can’t wait 🙂