Monks With Guns/Jungle Trekking
Posted Date: 11/15/20139:43 AM


Saturday, Nov 15, 2008
The trip from Pai Thailand to Luang Namtha, Laos was anything but “Easy, easy.” The minibus to the border left from the tourist agency in Pai at around 8:30 pm. A few minutes prior, I was sitting in the office waiting for the bus when I was approached by a man who might be described as the lost Thai cowboy from The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly. As luck would have it, this was the minibus driver. After an extended episode of Thai vs. English communication failure, he pronounced “I already love you and I will take care of you.” I was terrified. Terrified, that is, until he made it clear that his love came with a big perk: the coveted front seat on a Thai minibus. I happily accepted.

Even with the front seat, the 7+ hour drive from Pai to the border was probably the worst transportation experience of my life. The trip took us through windy mountain roads and the temperature inside the car was subzero – Celsius and Fahrenheit. At 4 AM we arrived at a guest house in an undisclosed location (I forget the name of the town) where we were to stay until the border opened at 8 AM. I was assigned to share a double bed with a total stranger. The next morning we crossed the Mekong by boat. I was the only person in the group traveling on to Luang Namtha and by the time I received my visa, I was informed that my minibus had already left and I would need to take a local bus. I think it was the word “local” that pushed me over the edge. I refused to accept anything other than a minibus and eventually one materialized. After another 3 hours I finally arrived in Luang Namtha. It took me more than 48 hours to recover from the carsickness.

Anyhow, enough cavetching. I LOVE Laos. The people here are incredibly laid back and they hold a profoundly strong connection with their natural environment. Luang Namtha is technically a city, but a walk several kilometers in any direction will bring you to acres of farmland bordering mountainous jungle.
My plan upon arriving in Luang Namtha was to immediately embark on several days of trekking. When I tried to make arrangements for the trek, however, the agent informed me that it was my touristic duty to forego the trekking for one day and attend the Muang Sing Full Moon Stupa Festival instead. So that’s what I did.

The people of Muang Sing celebrate the Stupa Festival once a year to commemorate the building of the town’s stupa, which houses a neck bone of Buddha (Buddha seems to have even more remains than Jesus Christ). I was expecting some sort of spiritual experience. Instead I found the festival to be equal parts Fried Chicken Feet Expo and Toy Gun Show. No child was left unarmed.  Even the monks held guns. Laos is famous for being the most bombed country on earth and it was heartbreaking to see the history of violence passed on to the next generation.
The next day (Thursday?) I embarked on a 3 day jungle trek from which I have just returned. This entry is getting a bit long. Basically the trek was wonderful and involved bamboo, all sorts of palms, leeches, dramatic river crossings, and all the other Tarzan-type stuff that you might expect on a jungle trek. Everything except wildlife. Apparently the Laotians have eaten all of the wildlife and I can’t say I blame them. Tomorrow I leave for Luang Prabang with two Israelis that I met on the trek.

Source: Beckysan’s blog – TravelPod
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