Muang Sing, Laos: January 13-15, 2016

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.

Truck loaded with sugar cane headed to the Laos-China border.

Truck loaded with sugar cane headed to the Laos-China border.

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.

Electrical hazard in our room in Muang Sing. Note the semi-exposed live terminal screw on the circuit breaker.

Electrical hazard in our room in Muang Sing. Note the semi-exposed live terminal screw on the circuit breaker.

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.

Local village transport.

Local village transport.  The tractor is also used to work the rice fields.

 

Cutting firewood near the village.

Cutting firewood near the village.

 

Banana plantation in the hills above Mung Sing. These will likely be exported to China.

Banana plantation in the hills above Muang Sing. These will likely be exported to China.  The blue plastic bags cover the bananas to keep insects off of them.  Imagine the labor it takes to do this to hectares of banana plants.

 

Entry gate to an Akha village. The symbols on the gate, that include carved wooden rifles and crossbows, are meant to keep in good spirits and keep out bad ones. If someone touches the gate

Entry gate to an Akha village. The symbols on the gate, that include carved wooden rifles and crossbows, are meant to keep in good spirits and keep out bad ones. If someone touches the gate they must pay a fine to the village, and the villagers must then build a new gate.

 

A close up of the gate that guards the city.

A close up of the gate that guards the village.

 

Some curious boys in the village. They ended up following us while we taught them the ABC's.

Some curious boys in the village. They ended up following us while we taught them the ABC’s.

 

Denise walking down the tail surrounded by village children. We have similar pictures from Nepal, taken 25 years ago.

Denise walking down the road surrounded by village children. We have similar pictures from Nepal, taken 25 years ago.

 

Scenes of sugar cane dancing in our heads. This is a sugarcane field.

Scenes of sugar cane dancing in our heads. This is a sugarcane field.

 

A woman doing her needlework dressed in her traditional tribe's dress. She insisted upon taking off her glasses for this photo!

A woman doing her needlework dressed in her traditional tribe’s dress. She insisted upon taking off her glasses for this photo!

 

Denise buying some local weaving from the ladies.

Denise buying some local weaving from the ladies.

 

A woman taking her sweet potatoes to market.

A woman taking her sweet potatoes to market.

 

Fields go on forever and ever!

Fields go on forever and ever!

 

A little boy plays on the back of a truck.

A little boy plays on the back of a truck.

 

Our dear guide and English teacher Tung.

Our dear guide and English teacher Mr. Tong.

 

Pete and our guide walk on.

Pete and our guide walk on.

 

Rice paddies in the dry season with sugarcane planted behind it.

Rice paddies in the dry season with banana trees in the background.

 

A typical bridge on the road. We walked gingerly across it, while the locals zoomed across on their motorbikes.

A typical bridge on the road. We walked gingerly across it, while the locals zoomed across on their motorbikes.

 

A buffalo came to greet us. Our guide said the buffalo wanted to know if we wanted to ride him. We politely refused.

A water buffalo came to greet us. Our guide said the buffalo wanted to know if we wanted to ride him. We politely refused.

 

A sweet face to the folks around here. The buffalo is a treasured helper on the rice farm.

A sweet face to the folks around here. The water buffalo is a treasured helper on the rice farm. He is used to plow the field and he eats the stubble and fertilizes the field after the harvest. However, buffalo are being replaced by tractors.

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.

Denise teaching Mr. Tong's students the "ABC" song.

Denise teaching Mr. Tong’s students the “ABC” song.

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.

The morning market in Muang Sing. There is also a very large market behind it!

The morning market in Muang Sing. There is also a very large market behind it!  Scenes like this play out every morning all over Laos.

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.

Mural on a wat we saw in a Thai Lu village.

Mural on a wat we saw in a Thai Lu village.

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).

 

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