Tuesday 11 November an older Swiss couple, myself, our guide and our ranger left Luang Nam Tha for a 2-day trekking in the Nam Tha NPA (National Protected Area). We stopped on the brand new Chinese-built road to Huay Xai and wandered off into the forest. Jungle would be a better word, as our ranger made good use of his machete to cut a path for us. It certainly was the least used trail I ever walked on and it was very slippery at times. I wore clean beige trekking pants, but after a few hours they were muddier than ever (seriously, childhood included). We had our lunch of sticky rice with vegetables (I passed on the fish) in the forest on a makeshift table of large palm leaves. After crossing the river (only knee-deep) we arrived at the village where we would spend the night. It was really back-to-basic: no electricity and no running water (except the river and one pump). They did have the new sealed road running through the village though, and a few houses had a small solar panel to power a light in the evening. And there was mobile phone coverage (as pretty much everywhere in South-East Asia), but that is of little use to the villagers when there is no electricity to charge the phones. Since our hosts were still working, I took a refreshing swim in the river. Afterwards I got acquainted to the duck we would have for dinner (it was resting in its fate), and we walked around the village. A few villagers were eager to show their homes as potential sleeping places, thus making some extra money. It seemed it was one of the first times tourists went to this village, because our guide talked to the village chief and wrote down the important figures (about 400 men and 200 women living there). The villagers were very friendly and open, even though oral communication was basically impossible (and our guide was not always around to translate). But the kids are always a lot of fun, especially showing them digital photos of themselves, which results in enthousiastic yelling. I went to bed early that evening, tired from the trekking and swimming.
Roosters, always those darned roosters. Almost everywhere in Laos roosters are roaming around the house, waking everyone around 05:00. I guess that is why Lao go to bed so early, because they know they are woken up early as well. At least I had been warm that night in my clothes, silk sleeping bag and under two blankets on the thin mattrass on the floor of the house. Breakfast was once again sticky rice, but this time with scrambled eggs. With that in our stomachs we set off on another 6 hours of trekking in the jungle. For the first half of that a villager with a shovel came along, who could create some steps at places where the trail was too steep or narrow. Along the way we passed some large old trees and primitive animal traps. Lunch was (not surprisingly) sticky rice with vegetables. We got back to Luang Nam Tha late afternoon, and I enjoyed a nice hot shower in the guesthouse and fries instead of sticky rice for dinner.
Thursday morning, right when I was about to get a tuk-tuk to the bus station, a minibus driver came up to me and offered the drive to Huay Xai for the same price as the bus + tuk-tuk. Since I knew the minibus would be much faster, it was a no-brainer. I just wish they would not have taken the Lao standing at the roadside, because he obviously could not handle the fast driving on the winding road and threw up constantly. With his head out of the window, luckily. But he also was our saviour at a customs checkpoint, where the driver could not find the requested document. After 10 minutes the young customs official could no longer bear the smell and released us. So after only 3 hours I was in Huay Xai, exited Laos, got the boat across the river to Thailand, and entered Thailand. I was not quite sure if I should go to Chiang Rai first or directly to Chiang Mai, but the decision was made for me, as I just missed the virtually last minibus to Chiang Mai. So I got to Chiang Rai, found a nice guesthouse, and went to see a temple and the hilltribe museum. In the evening there was a large parade, ending at a field filled with shopping and food stalls. For a moment I thought the stars had turned yellow/orange in Chiang Rai, before I realised they were not stars, but large lampions with a fire burning underneath.
Friday I could not resist the temptation to tick off another country on my list. From Chiang Rai it was only 1,5 hours to Mae Sai, where I could cross the bridge into Myanmar (aka Burma). I hired a tuk-tuk driver and went to some temples and the large golden stupa, where an old lady showed me how to perform the prayer for good luck. It involved knowing the day I was born (Friday), flowers, incense sticks, ringing bells, and obviously many Buddhas. After spending 1,5 hours in Myanmar, I retrieved my stamped passport at the border, re-entered Thailand and got a bus to Chiang Mai. In the last guesthouse the lady had already said it would be very difficult to get a sleeper train to Bangkok on Saturday night, so my first stop was the train station. The lady there said the trains were full, but I noticed a one between all the zeros on her screen, and then she said there was still one bed in first class. I booked it and realised the advantage of travelling by myself.
Saturday morning I took things slowly and just as I was about to walk into the city, I met Emmy and we decided to visit some temples together. On the way to Wat Doi Suthep we met Julie, and we spent the rest of the afternoon together, until I had to get to the train station for the night train to Bangkok.