We heard that David Bowie died. Sad, he was one of my favorite musicians. I wish that I would have seen him in concert during his Ziggy Stardust phase.
We arrived at Luang Namtha bus station at around 0910 for the 0930 bus to Muang Sing and bought a ticket for what we thought was the 0930 bus. At around 0930 the ticket guy informed me that the bus had left because it was full; apparently it left before we got to the bus station. The next bus was at 1100.
We left on the 1100 minivan. We were switched from a bus to the minivan at the last minute, presumably because there were only a few passengers. The minivan was pretty comfortable, it even had seat belts, though we were the only ones who wore them. Loud Laotian pop music played throughout the 65 km, 2 hour trip through rough, winding, potholed mountain roads.
We saw a road repair section where stones were piled along one lane of the road. Repairs must happen slowly here; there was a sapling tree growing from the pile.
We found out that Muang Sing is basically a dead town as far as tourism is concerned. The town is full of Chinese business people checking on their Laotian holdings (mostly import/export and banana and rubber plantations), but few tourists. There is one tourist hotel (Phou Iu 2), two restaurants (Phou Iu 2 and Phunnar), three tour companies (Phou Iu 2, Tigerman, and the local tourist office), and one tuk-tuk driver. It seems that a few years ago tourism dried up, and many restaurants and tour companies went out of business. No one seems to be sure why that happened, but the accessibility of Luang Namtha, which is closer to Vientiane and has an airport, and the opportunity to do treks there may be a factor. We heard from Mr. Tong at Tigerman that a road across the nearby Laos-Burma border is planned, and he is hoping that will lead to increased tourism in Muang Sing.
In the evening and early morning there is the sound of government news and music blasting from loudspeakers all over town. Like the other northern Laos towns we have stayed in the mornings were cold and foggy, and warmer in the late morning/afternoon after the fog burns off.
We stayed at Phou Iu 2 Guesthouse (about $30/night including breakfast). This guesthouse is perfectly adequate, and also has a decent restaurant. Good thing, since the only other restaurant in town is about a kilometer away.
We did a one day trek with Mr. Tong (Tigerman) through the forest and several ethnic villages. As we have seen elsewhere the village people are very poor. Mr. Tong mentioned to us that the villagers cannot understand why we pay him to take us to walk through the forest and their villages. We obviously have money, so why don’t we use a tuk-tuk or a motorbike? It’s tough to explain to people operating on survival mode that we travel all this way and spend what is a fortune to them just for the chance to experience some of their life and culture.
We taught English for one evening at Mr. Tong’s school and had a nice dinner with him and his family afterward. Mr. Tong’s business (Tigerman) is one of only three tour companies in town, and he also rents bicycles and motorbikes. For any travelers headed to Muang Sing, please consider supporting his business.
We woke up early one morning to see the morning market. It is basically an open-air supermarket with all kinds of vegetables, meat, and fish as well as handicrafts.
We also saw an interesting wat in a village populated by Tai Lu people. We were not able to find out much about their religion, but the little we were able to find out is that it is a mix of Buddhism and animism. The murals on the wat were unlike anything that we have ever seen anywhere in southeast Asia. Scenes of what look like judgement and punishment are themes that we have never seen associated with Buddhism.
We left on the 1100 bus to Luang Namtha. There were 17 seats, at one point we had 22 passengers plus assorted cargo on board (no livestock, though).