So, I think I mentioned that I booked a bus ticket to Boten. Well, that ended up being the literal border crossing point of Laos and China. So I had to beg my way back onto the minivan bus and for $3 USD be carried to an actual town by the obliging conductor. We rolled into Luang Namtha about 6PM, and I was instantly accosted upon exiting by a large, beaded woman. She directed me first to a guesthouse, then to the ATM. She was dripping in embroidery and beading, and selling small bracelets that she had presumably hand-beaded. The ATM charged me a royal 20,000 kip for a transaction, but I was once again penurious and had to do it.
Then I wandered over to the guesthouse she had suggested, and checked in at 40,000 kip per night, which seemed steep to me, in this dinky town (8,000 kip to $1), but it was much cheaper than any other place in town. I guess as the first stop across the border, the city–I use the word loosely–attracted a clientele that needed a place to stay, and fast. The room was pretty ghetto–I do not use the word loosely–but it had a giant row of windows and a huge bed. The WIFI was nonexistent, but it didn’t matter too much at that point. I accepted!
I lurked around the hotel/guesthouse, noting the standalone bathroom on each floor (mine was ensuite) that claimed to have hot water, not that it was necessary, Laos is very warm. On the third floor, where I was located, there was a large public area filled with rattan couches, a table, and an ersatz water heater/cooler. It seemed as though there was no one else staying in the place. Every time I left, the owners unplugged the WIFI, which didn’t work for the first 3 days anyhow. I had to come to the bottom floor for hot water from the water dispenser, which also had to be turned on prior, as it was generally left off.
There was a selection of children to be found in the house, and to this day I’m not sure which, if any, lived there. There was a small, peppy girl, a young, shy girl, and a very young, downtrodden little boy. There were also a couple different babes in arms floating around. Peppy kept strict hold over Junior and Shybo, and even whilst they were digging through all my stuff (the next morning), required them to say “Thank You” after each gifting of stale snack foods. She only spoke Lao, but was very compelling and confident. She took us all to the free mango trees (I’m pretty sure someone did own them, they appeared to be in a fenced yard), and we made a joint effort to knock green mangoes down for everyones’ enjoyment.
There’s not much to do in Luang Namtha unless you like trekking (blech). There’s a Night Market in the center of town each night, which is a great place to go to for dinner until you find out about the local market a few kilometers away. Sticky rice is a constant 5,000 kip no matter what or where, though, so that’s a safe bet. The hamlet seems to consist of travel agencies and guest houses, with a couple off-kilter restaurants and cafes thrown in. For example, the Laotian pizza place on the corner that also sold fried chicken. Or the cafe advertising WIFI it emphatically didn’t have. Or the Bamboo Lounge, which actually looked Probably Slightly Less Boring Than Working but I only ever read the menu and looked at the other gringos sitting out front.
The day after I arrived, I set out to see what there was to see in the town, and after looping up around a small hill, and through streets that actually had small shops (minimart-style: snacks and noodle soups) and stores (all hardware) I stumbled upon the market! There was the usual produce and meat, but there was also an assortment of precooked noodles, soups, and treats. Lao-style khanom krok. Lao borbor lot with a sour soup. Lao bags of deep-fried garlic…yeeah!
I opted for the “choose your noodle” and sour soup. This means you approach a bench filled with bowls filled with different noodles. Normal noodles (read: vermicelli), fat noodles (read: Chow Fun), noodle cubes (I don’t know, but Probably Slightly Less Boring Than Working), noodle triangles, the aforementioned borbor lot, and much, much more! The soup was terrible, and a bizarre light pink–I added both sugar and soy sauce, but to no avail. In the end, it was something like 3,000 kip, and I still had room for snacks. I also haggled a sweet dress(definitely meant to be a t-shirt) out of a lady for $6 with a picture of a My Li’l Pony embroidered on the front.
The place was pennies compared to the already cheap Night Market, and I resolved to eat there every day. But, it was a trek, and we just talked about how much I love trekking, so…suffice it to say that I didn’t go there every day. But waiting for my sticky rice and grilled pork dinner at the Night Market instead of trolling sour soup stalls was a bittt more rewarding.
The day after I arrived, I vowed to go buy a bracelet from the friendly jewelry lady. She and her comrades lounge in the far corner of the Night Market area during the day. I approached and started to look at her wares, at which point she sneakily pulled a bag of weed out of her bag. I was surprised and declined, buying some overpriced bracelets instead, but later I found that these ladies are a common ornament at Luang Namtha and hail from one of the aboriginal tribes surrounding the area.
And that’s what I did for a few days. Play with children, try to scam internet, drink tea, read, look at the scenery, hear chickens all day every day, wander around, drink Kelly juices (just like giant melted Otter Pops)…