The Road to Phongsali
Posted Date: 7/12/20139:56 AM
Jun 13, 2005
Well, the trek from Muang Ngoi Neua up to Phongsali in northern Lao has to be the most adventurous part of my trip so far. I joined up with 2 Canadians (Joanne and Kyle), an American (Mark) and a Brit (Dan) and we set off.
Day One: The first leg of our journey involved chartering a long-tail boat north up the Nam Ou (about 5 hrs). Along the way, we stopped in a lovely little village, a smaller and much quieter version of Muang Ngoi Neua. The locals were very surprised to see foreigners. I suspect that most people that do head up this way don’t bother to stop. It actually felt a bit uncomfortable, intrusive – almost like we shouldn’t be there.
We reached the first town we had to pass through where we ate at the worst restaurant I have been to yet. Along with my iced lemon juice I received a bonus – ants swimming at the bottom of my glass. Yuck! But the day got much worse. We very stupidly decided to continue on to the next town, instead of staying the night where we were. Turns out that we landed in a tiny little junction town that only had one guesthouse.
To say that it wasn’t nice is a huge understatement. We didn’t initially realize that there was only one so we said we would look around and then possibly come back. Well, we had no choice but to go back and when we did, the owner upped the price that he had originally quoted us. Needless to say, this ticked us off so after weighing all of our alternatives (there weren’t that many – we were in the middle of nowhere), we decided to camp out for the night in the bus station. This perplexed some of the locals (those who ran the bus station) who then proceeded to try to decide what to do with us. They ended up setting up an impromptu guesthouse for us in the bus station for which we paid the original price quoted by the owner of the guesthouse. Turns out, this was actually a much cleaner option and the money went to some very friendly locals.
Day Two: we hopped on a sawngthaew to Phongsali. A journey that we were told would take 4 hours ended up taking us 8. But, it was certainly an interesting ride. Highlights were:
1. Very long, very bumpy and incredibly dusty ride. It was so bad at times that you couldn’t even breathe and everything was coated with a layer of dust. It was so awful that I took out my face mask from Cambodia (which I had not used since then) and wore it for much of the way.
2. A very large, black spider with white and orange markings (Jo and I swore it had to be poisonous) climbing directly above our heads.
3. A guy sitting across from us who was carrying a dead chicken in his backpack. The feet sticking out of the top weren’t really all that exciting. What did shock us was the fact that the guy proceeded to break off one of the claws so that he could use it as a knife to cut apart a vegetable which he then ate. Yum!
4. We broke down three times. At one point, our driver/mechanic dressed in a golf shirt and very short white shorts (a la John McEnroe) was using his mouth and a hose to siphon some sort of fluid (I assume oil) out of the vehicle to execute our repairs.
Finally, we arrive in Phongsali. Thinking that it is the big city of northern Lao we were looking forward to at least a few small luxuries. Nope – no internet; international phone calls only available from 9am-3pm, Monday to Friday. Not quite what we expected. But it was definitely a quiet place to hang out for a couple of days. Our original plan was to go trekking but Jo, Mark and I backed out. With the rainy season in full force we were a bit worried – the paths would be muddy, slippery and treacherous, there would be loads of leeches, and I didn’t have a lot of confidence in the guide. Turns out this was a good decision (the guide actually got lost) but the trip there was still a blast!
Source: From Canukctravel’s blog – A solo women travel blog