We’ve been in the mountains of South Yunnan, China and Laos for several days. Our border crossing between China and Laos went smoothly, but we were unable to find accommodation on the Laos side; there were several hotels in Boten and all were filled with workers building two new hotels.
The genius of central planning; in a year, all the workers will have gone elsewhere and the tourists will all be staying on the China side. Brilliant.
So, we were forced to head down the road in the afternoon sun, hoping for a place to lay our heads. As usual all the land is either too steep to camp on, or has crops growing.
A short 10 kilometers further, we started asking for accommodation, by pantomiming with two hands beside our heads for sleeping. People kept pointing back the way we came, and we feared they meant China, where we could not go, since we’d had single entry visas.
Finally a woman on a veranda nodded in the affirmative, Claire began her magic, and we soon had a nice clean room for $4.80. It was a very nice traditional Lao house. We left our shoes outside, per tradition, and entered a sanctuary of cool tile and warm wood. We were lucky we couldn’t find a Chinese style hotel in Boten; better to stay in a traditional Lao house in a small village on our first night in Laos.
We immediately headed for the wash up room: tile floor, two barrels of cool water, and a scoop to ladle water over our head and body. It sounds unpleasant, but after a day of difficulties, heat and humidity, it felt wonderful. There was a large metal basin on the floor for washing clothes, and a bar of laundry soap. I remember my mother doing a pre-wash in Fells-Naptha before throwing everything in the old ringer washer. The Lao haven’t gotten to those yet. Everything was very clean and our hostess went to the local store for a mosquito net once we found how to ask for it in the phrase book. We had noticed that the other three rooms were equipped with them.
Next on the agenda, was to find my first BeerLao, supposedly the best lager in SE Asia. It was certainly good, and cold from the closest store, 650ml, $.48. I’ll let you know if it’s the best after a few months.
We sat on the veranda of a woman who was old enough to have learned French under French rule in Laos, and Claire obliged, to the limits of her memory.
I enjoyed my BeerLao, and a fast developing sub-tropical rain storm beating the tin roof, releasing new exotic plant scents, and setting off the family rooster.
We slept well and awoke to the largest grasshopper I’ve ever seen gracing Zippy’s stem. We had a long day today, with more mountains, beautiful mountains, fecund and fragrant, so different from the Tibetan Plateau. The road turned awful; fist sized embedded rocks for kilometers at a time, or worse, a maddening 100 meter patch of bitumen every 500 meters. This was a county connector road, and we expect better very soon.
Claire has mixed emotions about leaving China. She was getting pretty good at carrying on basic conversations (I smile a lot) and now we have a new language to learn. We only have 30 days in Laos, so we won’t learn much before facing yet another language, Vietnamese.
The Internet is rumored to be slow in Laos, appropriate for a third world country, but we hope not so slow as to preclude the videos and photos we enjoy sharing with you. (So far it has taken one-half-hour to upload the grasshopper – we will hope for better in tourist towns a few days from here).
I was kind of blue at the thought of leaving China. Twice, we’ve been here now and I wonder if we’ll ever be back again. The people have been very kind to us and I hope we’ve brought them some joy, at least a giggle or a good belly laugh as they take a break from the never-ending work. I wish the best for them.
I was glad to be finished with the countless tunnels along the new highway, some of them as long as nearly four kilometers and some with no lights. Poor Bob had to just aim his light at the yellow line and try to keep his balance. The worst tunnels were the ones with bollards to keep cars from overtaking, which meant we had to stop and pull over to the right as far as we could to let trucks pass. It wasn’t a shoulder, but rather a covered drainage ditch, with some of the concrete covers broken through, so Bob had to pick the right spot to stop. The noise was deafening sometimes and the fumes were thick.
The Xishuangbanna region is definitely more Southeast Asian than it is Chinese, environmentally and culturally. It’s a good transition for us. Though we’re sweltering hot by 10:00 a.m., we expect it to start getting a little cooler over the next month.
So far, I love Laos. We’ve seen all sizes of electric blue and neon yellow butterflies; we can hear insects buzzing, frogs chorusing and birds singing; bright flowers bloom and scent the air. The children are delightful; the little ones run naked after us, scattering chickens, waving and squealing “Sabadee, sabadee!”