After two days travel – well, one and a half, but still – we deserved some time off. Having found a simple but comfortable guesthouse, with good food, with a new discovery on the drinks front - Lao Lemon, which is a shot of the undrinkable local whisky made drinkable by mixing it with fresh lemon juice and ice, the gin tonic alternative in remoter Laos where gin and/or tonic are not available -, and with Wifi and all, we didn’t move much anymore after arriving in Luang Nam Tha. We took a leisurely walk, across the river and then through a few local villages: not fantastically exciting. The villages we have seen so far appeared much more authentic than what one finds around Luang Nam Tha, a place clearly benefitting from the tourist industry and the economic boost that come with it. An afternoon on the bicycle was more entertaining, although like the busses, these have been designed for Lao people, considerably shorter than we are. Observing village life, people’s activities in the fields - and the ever present wedding party, it is the season -, but once again, things are relatively developed here. Even if there are minority people around, they have long switched to Western dress. Strikingly, some of the children here have learned some English words, like ‘pen’: sad to see that the influx of western tourists here has created a begging culture otherwise absent in this country (with the exception of monks asking their food alms, of course, but that is something else).
(1) the start of our walk.
(2, 3) a local village
(4, 5) local people going about their business
(6) the rice paddies
One of my favourite places in town is always the market, and in that respect we were not disappointed. An early morning stroll in between the stalls filled with every conceivable food stuff is a very enjoyable activity, and Laos markets add the smell: not of rotting foods in the back, as so many other places I remember, but of fresh mint and fresh coriander, and all the other herbs that are being used in Lao food. There is a brisk trade in chicken and geese, the sales woman stuffing the fluttering bird into a plastic bag so as to ensure the utmost freshness. On the other side of the market buffalo ears, tails and feet are sharing the table with everything else from the animal, nothing is being wasted.
(7, 8) The market, just imagine the smell of mint and coriander
(and imagine the chilies, we’ll talk about food later…)
(9) and after the shopping, on the way back home again
(10) Also in the market, the local basket seller – this time we could not withstand the temptation
Luang Nam Tha is in fact two towns, the old one having been so badly damaged in the war in the 70s that it was decided to built a new town, 7 km further. The new town is where everything happens, and where the tourist industry is based. A multitude of guesthouses, restaurants, laundry services and trekking agencies that also rent bikes, plus all the foreigners to justify this infrastructure. The main street is totally given over to tourism, normal Lao people not associated with the business don’t come here. There is a night market with food stalls, for foreigners, the back-packing variety mainly. Can be a little overwhelming! But then, we are also chilling out here. Did I, in a previous life, comment on the laptop tribe? Well, here they are, once again, mostly with humble netbooks, lined up in the restaurant, at each and every table. And we are part of that, too, of course, otherwise you wouldn’t be reading this.
(11) well, OK then, there are still some minority people left in Luang Nam Tha