tracing footstep - Xiengkok, Muanglong, Muangsing, Namtha

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January 14th 2013
Published: January 19th 2013
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Gentle, smile, friendliness....of course...the Sabaidee!That was the memories I had for Laos. And came back after 5 years and it is still there, widely available!As I got a month time before Chinese newyear with no destination, so I decided to head over the border into Laos, for something friendlier, something nicer, somewhere warmer. And perhaps I can retrace some of my footsteps from 5 years ago...a rerun!
Xiengkok is stood right by the Mekhong, Burma is only a stone throw away on the other bank. not much had been change...the same street, same guesthouses. came here for the monthly market, actually now they has one more on day 27 beside the usual day 14 of the month. the market although not busy and small, but it still brought live and action into this quiet village. You mostly see Lao,Thai and Akha, they came to trade off their staffs like eggs, dried fish and alcohol. shopping in farm tools, clothing and fruits etc. 5 years ago there used to be a big business for petrol smuggling on the riverbank, but now I saw a big gas station there provided 365 days service, no wonder there was no crowd by the river nowaday!The costume scene was a bit slim here, beside the usual salong dress of the Lao and Thai, the Akha took the salong skirt as well, only the jacket and headgear still can dictated their identity, not much different from the Aini on the China side though. but some women still had their plaited skirt and legging, and they still decorated their headdress with flower. but you wouldn't see any young girl wearing their costume in the area, so....guess this generation of costume will be the last, will it?
Chinese influence are immense, once inside Laos, you are able to see banner, roadsign in Chinese. In Xiengkok I met a Chinese driver with his truck all the way from Beijing. “I came here everyweek for banana” he told me. but I couldn't made the sense out of it as he said only the transportation fee will be 20000 yuan. was banana that expensive in Beijing?would it cost less to buy it in Banna China?less travel distant and less tax(I maybe wrong?)but if they did it everyweek...there must be some hidden agenda in within I guess. I also met chinese came to do logging, “we got about 120 yuan for each cube of wood” they also added that there are still many trees up there in the mountain. They used to logged in Burma before. perhaps there was no more left so they switch into the innocence land of Laos!in return to the local they claimed road had been build!but infact it was only a dirt track for them to shipped out wood!and it made my walking a hell! but gave kids one more would run into the cloud of dust once a truck ran past. you only hear laughter coming out from the blurred jumping shade. of Laos!what more could I say....they are so beautiful, so happy!nowaday many got to play with bicycle or even electrical bike. but throwing flip-flog, tuoluo, shooting fish are still their main entertainment. nothing had changed perhaps....only the surrounding!
exchange rate RMB to Kip at the border 1:1270
visa at the border USD 32 and one photo
bus Jinghong to Namtha 70 yuan
bus Namtha to Muangsing 25000 kip
bus Muangsing to Muanglong 25000 kip
bus Muanglong to Xiengkok 20000 kip

Said there should be bus leave every morning from Xiengkok to Muanglong, but if you want to depart during the need luck!you need enough passenger to made the journey just like in China. and I seem like the only tourist there(as most tourists had their own transportation) wanted to get out. anyways....find an open truck by midday, the same way as I came in with standard Lao's attire...a mask!nowaday more villages along the roadside, mostly are Ahka village, about 10km before Muanglong you could see Yao villages as well.
Muanglong had expanded a little but pretty much the same as I could remember. the market had been rebuilt but at the same site, the temple still stood by the river side at my sunset retreat, there even a bank and ATM in town. A stupa had been erected on a small hilltop over looking the vast valley of Muanglong, that was filled mainly with pepper, water melon and banana,but the reed harvasting is underway at the moment, the field was covered with greenish grass and created a lovely contrast in colour. again....all the products are belong to Chinese investors, but it did provided job for the local. at least Muanglong seem richer than 5 years ago, just look at the street scene during the day. motor bike dominated the space, seem like every kids drive one for going to school. with most families having their own vehicle, it actually crippled the local public transport system, less people need bus service, I didn't remember having trouble to get bus out of town few years ago. but this time....I waited from 9am until 2pm then the driver finally willing to pullout from the station with 4 passengers to Muangsing!There are 5 guesthouses in Muanglong and it is more than enough for this touristless town. really....there wasn't and particular thing to do there. but being within the friendly and peaceful atmosphere was enough for me. beside the dusty main road(if you can overcome the choking dust, within 10km along the main road to Muangsing direction, you will find couple of Miao village). there are also possibility to walk inside the field with couple of trails linked further inland. you might came across many dangerous looking hanging bridge on river crossing. You might also find Ahka village with their unique gate that protect the village in spiritual way. and sometimes you might see special offering left by the roadside. superstitious still played heavy part here in the tribal world like they did in China.

I was a bit disappointed about Muangsing. of course...people are supposed came here to did organised trekking tour, not to see the town itself. but for cheap cheap me... not able to accessed to trail easy, or not able to find street food easy, or not able to lodging in a place of my preferable price, style , environment etc. then it might stop me from staying a bit longer in that place.The new Muangsing expand itself in a boring crossroad straight street design, and of course...with dust!10 years ago I walked the same road out of town in pleasure as there was far less car on the road. but today I gave up after a km walk and return. guess Muangsing can be cross out from my list!still...I searching for walk on concrete path. I got to a village that mainly produced brown sugar. they mould the hot syrup into long rectangular bar after boiled and constant stirring, then cut it into chocolate bar size. “it all will send to sell in China ” villager told me while splitted a piece of brownish cake for me to try. well...tasty and actually with a touch of salty in within the sweetness. Like many other economic in Laos nowaday, all are belong to Chinese investor. Northern Laos became the backyard of China. I once seen a message in a Chinese forum said “Laos is a virgin shiney pearl on the southern edge of China....”!see...if one wasn't really clear about oreination, you might actually think this LAOS are part of China if you read straight from the message. every evening in Muangsing you will see many Chinese came to feast in the restaurant. promulgated spending and consume, a casino with gambling machine became the gathering point for the local, slowly rottening the sincerity of the village life. Muangsing really not live up to its reputation as a tourist town. even the trekking business are running rather slow there. with the bus station and the market next door attracted more action nowaday. sooner or later will be more develop and more guesthouses around there. one really wouldn't need to stay in the main center if just for transit!

The 60km between Muangsing and Namtha is a solid concrete road, so you might see more day tripper with their rented motorbike rolling back and fore. as there are many villages just right by the roadside where tourists could easily drove in. Namtha is easy going little town to hangout. it is also base to contract organised trekking trip. day in day out...backpackers came to check on the notice board outside trekking offices to sort out their best bargain and possibilty. there are always enought travelers to filled the many guesthouses in Namtha. The day start early in the morning market but mostly for the locals. and some trekking group begin here with a short market tour before heading out of town. for me...breakfast start in the market. my first choice of course is the fried rice-roll, sometimes I will go for the sandwich for a change, but the 10000 price stop me by visit it often as...for the same price I would better eat noodle soup where they actually served you with pieces of meat. this time in Laos I noticed many place spoon a whole cup of mince-meat on top of your noodle, well...looked plenty and great. but once chew on it and find out they did blendered it together with bones. was it cheating I cannot tell, but...would it be one of the by-product of the Chinese invasion?anyways...back to the market...many choice and combination could be find there. ha-pang here and ha-pang there(5000kip seem like a minimum per order nowaday), sometimes I simply fork a piece of sausage stuck into a wrap of warm sticky rice and ate it like hotdog. but most of the time after my main dishes I will go pick on the sweet on different stalls. the cube jelly cake in multi-colour are seducing. I favour would the purplish cake either jelly or rice, top with shred coconut, a small pack would last for a day!It would be quiet during the day in town as people were mosrly out trekking, and I will just walk a bit out in different direction. villages are easily accessed. mostly Thai and many of them still had a loom in their house, to created the own pattern on fabric for themself or for sale. also I saw loom in Yao village, women still made their cotton and dye it in indigo blue. most Yao women still wearing costume, even the young one and man as well. the Yao also made paper with simple tool in their village. beside village there of course temple could be seem, but it wasn't anything outstanding if you had visit Luanprabang already. made aimless walking more easiler as I didn't need to looking for destination. beside...sieta always a great call for excuse to hide from the midday heat. Night market time would see traveler show up looking for foods. my favour go for the fresh steam rice roll and vege roll, then top up with an grilled banana. filling I would say!The town of Namtha hadn't change much from what I can remember. only now the 10km distant from town to the bus station are full of villages. especailly the once deserted bus station. now is surrounded by houses.

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