Long, hot, fabulous days on the road from Northern Thailand; through Laos and now in China…. and I’m playing catch up with my Journal broadcasts and it’s late after another big day so I will try and do a brief round-up to give you an idea of how we’ve been going and what things I’ve seen along our Journey.
What and full week it’s been. After leaving Chiang Rai we headed north-east to Luang Namtha. The rice fields became more prevalent and regardless of the increasing poverty, colours were everywhere. Buildings. Clothing. Motor-bike tyres were wrapped in metallic packaging to protect them from perishing in the sun. Umbrellas in all shapes, sizes and colours created shade in the oppressive heat.
From Luang Namtha we then went to Luang Prabang…. 313kms each way so I could participate in a traditional weaving class with The Weaving Sisters. We had planned to return to Luang Namtha after a one-night stay in Luang Prabang, so that we could be relatively close to the border in preparation for our China entry on Tuesday 17th September.
It took us 9 hours for those 313kms to Luang Prabang across incredibly treacherous bumpy road for many sections, and after an hour we realized we needed to make alternate plans for our night before our China entry.
A huge dam project is being constructed by Power China in Laos on a tributary of the Mekong, and this road and the construction that is happening is on a behemoth scale. Dust and trucks fill the humid and hot conditions of the lives of those living along that road and river.
Along this route there is also a huge joint rail project between Laos and China being constructed from China to Vientiane. This rail is to be for both passengers and freight and will be 440km long with over 200kms of tunnels. Manufacturing of the concrete pylons was in Nateuy, the place we decided to stay closer to the Chinese border.
I spied a spinning wheel out of the corner of my eye and stopped and had the most wonderful time watching a lady and her mum spinning cotton. I was truly moved by her generosity and gracious spirit as she gifted me some of her hand spun cotton. I will treasure it and make something to remind me of the kindness of those who have so little.
Luang Prabang is a tourist destination mainly for backpackers I think… but seeing the Mekong there was quite lovely. It was flowing rapidly due to the recent rains that were downstream of the ever-increasing number of Chinese constructed dams along the river.
My weaving class was just fabulous. Mone and Keo are master weavers and learned from their mother and I was fortunate to spend the afternoon and evening with them. I’ve always loved working with my hands and in no time I felt comfortable weaving and talking at the same time! I learned so much about Laos life and had such a fabulous time with the sisters.
We’ve driven for days past tens of thousands of people who have never had a shower in a bathroom. Most bathe in a trickle of water into a concrete container from the side of the mountain. Water seems to be delivered in large plastic containers to each village; but wood must be collected each day for cooking in pots on fires in the dirt under or beside their homes.
People rise with sun and in sleep soon after the sun sets, as many have no power in their homes. Every available piece of land is cultivated and used to grow food.
Rubber plantations cover both the steep slopes and undulating mountainsides in Laos. The workers in the plantations work in the fields at night and cut into the bark of the rubber trees and collect it when the sap is most viscous and flowing.
Toddlers and young children walk the streets in small groups unaccompanied by older children or adults. Pushbikes pedaled by far too small legs amble along the main road, the children oblivious to the huge trucks also navigating that same road.
Seeing the delight on the children’s faces as they see Penny pass through their town; was so joyful. Children would squeal with wonder and their faces would light up and we would wave and smile and laugh to each other as we passed. For me, one of the loveliest things about driving in Penny is sharing those moments of spontaneous wonder and joy from those who see us passing by. I have such gratitude for this opportunity to connect with others in this way.
There is so much more to share about Laos… but another time. Our exit from Laos was at 7.30am on Tuesday 17th, when the border opened early and then on to the process of entering China. At around 4.00pm we had all our paperwork sorted and we were free to drive Penny in China; always accompanied by our Guide.
So… stay tuned for an update on our first days in China.