I am now in Luang Nam Tha Northern Laos. The overnight bus was interesting - we were supposed to be arriving at the Thai border sometime between 3 and 4 in the morning but the driver seemed to be in some kind of urgency and we got there before 1! We tore along the road and at times it felt as though we were speeding over several cattle grids in a row, Then at one point he screeched to a halt, got out of the bus and inspected the wheels. Most of the passengers (French, Dutch, New Zealander, Chilean and me the only Brit) were half asleep and wondering what was going on then he got back on and announced "Cat!". After a few short hours in the extremely basic Boom Guesthouse we were up and ready to cross the border which involved a 5 minute river crossing. On arrival on the Laos side our temperatures were taken (?!) before being allowed through immigration. Everyone else I had been on the bus with was going on to Luang Prabang by boat and I had to wait for my next bus with another set of united nations. Once the bus was full we were on our way through spectacular scenery and along mountain roads. Unfortunately I found it hard to keep my eyes open due to lack of sleep!
About three hours later we pulled into Luang Nam Tha bus station which is really not all that near to Luang Nam Tha. So onto a tuk tuk we all pile. They call them tuk tuks but they are more like share taxis with bench seating. I got talking to a Thai lady who was visiting a friend who owns a guesthouse so that is where I have been staying the last few nights. I have a lovely bungalow room with an amazing view of the countyside.
A couple of days ago I set out on a fantastic two day trek into the Nam Ha NPA. There were 6 of us in the group - 3 Swiss girls, a Canadian couple and myself. And of course the guide. And someone to carry the lunch. We trekked through green forests and hills and past paddy fields. We stopped for lunch in a tiny hut where the staff laid out palm leaves for a tablecloth and the food was placed in small piles along this. We ate this with sticky rice with our fingers - very like an Indian thali! Our trek continued towards a couple of hilltribe villages. At the first we tried our hand at grinding the rice to separate I from the husks. The second village was where we were to stay for the night, in the guest hut. It was the home off the Lenten people and was alive with children (clothed and naked) pigs, dogs, chickens, calves, cats and mosquitoes. Some of the children loved to show off and pose for photos. The babies just cried when they saw us! First thing we did was to go for a bathe in the river which was very welcome if rather cold. One of our group managed to cath a fresh water puffer fish (rare apparently). After exploring the village we ate a wonderful meal by the bonfire. The accommodation was mats,sleeping bags and mosquito nets on a wooden platform but I did manage to get some sleep.
Next morning we said goodbye to the villagers, took a lot pictures of piglets, and watched the guide fry some frogs up for his breakfast before heading off into the leech infested jungle. I only had a couple of leeches on me although one did manage to latch itself on to my foot and draw blood. We had to cross the river in a bamboo raft at one point but most of the trek was through rainforest - lot of interesting noises and a lot of spiders as well as numerous butterflies and damselflies. It was extremely humid and hard to climb the steep ascents. We finished the trek in open countryside where we could see people working hard in the paddy fields.
Back at the guesthouse I found my bed covered in ants (dead and slightly alive) so they moved me to the room next door. Eager for a shower I moved all my stuff in, turned on the bathroom light and the bulb blew. They could find another one so guess what - they moved me to yet another room. I gave them my stinky washing in return for all the palaver.
I met up with the trek group for a meal last night and to say goodbye and have spent today cycling around the area. It is so cheap to hire a bike for the day - less than a pound! I have booked my onward journey to Nong Khiaw for tomorrow. It's the local bus so it should be interesting!