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Phongsali, Lao

Written on: Friday March 18th, 2011

A journal entry from: S/E ASIA March, 2011

Oh, Phongsali -the place that inspired this whole return trip to South-East Asia. we had heard about it on our 2007 trip and always regretted that we hadn't gotten there -a beautiful, remote, small city on a mountain ridge-top with surrounding ethnic villages within easy trekking distance -the "mecca" of this voyage through the northern areas of Thailand, Laos, & Viet Nam. 

On many of our travels we have had great luck with good weather and travel situations when others have not been so blessed.  Well this was where our luck ran out!!  We started the trip from Oudomxai at 6:45am to catch the rickety 7:30am bus.  Then began the 10hr.(excrutiatingly slow) ride up to Phongsali. It was slow going right from the start -took 1 1/2 hr to go about 53km. to the first major junction. However, that was the GOOD part -now the road was rough rock and red-clay mud, barely 1 lane wide, and winding, winding, climbing, descending, climbing again, averaging maybe 15km/hr for about 5 hr. during which time there was one long standoff when we met a big BeerLao truck coming the other way and we were both sliding in the mud and took about 1/2 and hour to get past each other. We finally reached another junction with a better road coming from China.   Ah-h-h -we were on pavement again, but still a narrow, winding, climbing road (saw a couple of accidents -one where a little mini-bus and a big Chinese truck had hit each other head-on, and another truck in the ditch, and now we averaged about 25km/hr taking another 2 hr. plus to get up the last 53km to Phongsaly. OH, did I mention, it was raining pretty hard all day, cold and getting colder as we get up in the mountains, and there were no working windshield wipers or defrosters on the bus. When we finally got there around 6pm the bus station was 3km. west of town, so about a dozen of us had to pile into a little sǎwngthǎew for the ride into town -then we still had to walk a couple of blocks in the dark and cold rain up to find a guesthouse where we got a room with hardly working light, barely hot shower, cold!! room, and hard-as-a-door bed and we still had to brave it to go up the dark, rainy street to look for a place to get some food.

The next morning we were awakened at 5:40am in our cold, damp room (we could see our breaths) after a restless night on the hard, hard bed, by a government propaganda loudspeaker spewing lots of speeches and patriotic music.  We dashed to the market for warm soup and bought umbrellas and dry socks, and explored around the rainy, mist-shrouded town as much as possible that day, and also moved to a better guesthouse for our second night, but decided that trekking and enjoying the spectacular scenery of this place was not going to happen for us, and we would leave the next morning for lower altitude, warmer, drier climates.  Regrettable, but an experience all the same!!


From Renee on Mar 21st, 2011

Oh - I would not have wanted to be on that bus ride!! Too bad the weather wasn't better for you! Exciting adventure anyway I'm sure.