Day 17 - Tuesday 18th - Luang Prabang to Luang Namtha

Do people learn to smile and wave or does it come from innate natural instinct? Similarly with the word OK, has it transcended all languages or is it just easy for people to remember?

All along the road from Luang Prabang to Luang Namtha little kids would run out to the edge of the road, with a broad grin and wave vigorously. The amount of energy expended was inversely proportional to the size of the child.

We started out on the main road heading north and veered left at Oudomxai as the road was the main link to Ha Noi. It seemed that there was never a stretch of road that was straight for more than 100m. Fun driving in an MG and the team took too it when we had a free run. Trucks and busses proved to be challenges to be navigated around, while the Navigator looked for that security of a grab rail that was never installed to stop herself from being tossed about too much.

Google had said that the trip would take us 10 hours and we had assumed that this was because the road was in poor condition. The Chinese had fixed that problem recently. The surface was smooth, with few pot holes and the edges were marked with straight white lines. But little room for both bikes and cars to share the same lane. So it was the combination of never ending curves and climbs with the traffic that slowed us down. 

The country side was very poor. Dotted with small villages and farmers eaking out a living on the precarious hillsides. Slashing and burning evident everywhere to clear ground to plant the next crop of rice or corn. Interspersing these were small stands of teak. It seems as though the locals are being encouraged to start small plantations.

The export of hydro electricity is Laos’ biggest source of foreign revenue. Currently they have around 40 dams in the north of the country and by the early 2020s they will have over 90. China Power seems to be the driving force behind the development and financing of these. We wondered what was going to happen to those small farmers whose land was in the way of the developments we passed on our drive north. I understand the arrangements are not without controversy.

The difference between the villages in the valley floors was in stark contrast with those on the hill tops. The valley dwellings tended to be more substantial and often built of concrete blocks. The hill top villages were walled with bamboo matting and thatched roofs. The people, especially the women dressed traditionally.

On a number of occasions we passed a wizen old man or women bent double under a large and ponderous load. As I noticed each of these I wondered why they were alwaysold and traditionally dressed, but it was because all the younger generation had motor bikes and carried their loads on them.

I had never heard to anyone going to Luang Namtha previously, but apparently in the cooler months, its very popularfor mountain biking, trekking and kayaking in the nearby national park. Will have to come back and explore that option as there are a number of minority groups in the outlying areas that still dress and live in a very traditional way.

But here we are just a stone’s throw from the Chinese border and the dragon to the north is very evident, with all the signage being in Chinese as well as Lao and Chinese cars are numerous. And that is where we head tomorrow. Well prepared for a long and challenging wait negotiating the process of getting our cars across the border. There is also trepidation as we have met numerous people who have marvelled that we are even considering the option as they had explored it and found it too challenging.