Sunday, 15 March 2009

Bus Journey from Hell

My bus journey to the far North of Laos has been a disheartening experience. It was not the atrocious conditions of the bus journey itself, but the smoke, forest fires and level of environmental degradation I saw during our slow progress. I had booked an express ticket, but I can assure you that there was nothing express about it.

My not so express bus...

As we drove North and away from Louang Prabang the roads got worse and the noise in the bus every time we hit a pothole more deafening. I was convinced the bus was going to fall apart before I reached my destination. Further proof of this was when we hit a slightly deeper pothole and my seat collapsed backwards.

As with every bus journey though you always get an insight into the local psyche. I'm not sure there are many other places where people will happily wait when the driver decides to make an unscheduled stop to watch a swine being loaded into a pick up truck!!! Not only were people happy with the stop but more and more people got off and joined in the discussion of how to transport the animal safely.

Nuclear winter over North Laos and food available in the market...

As we travelled North I was hoping for the skies to clear up and the smoke to weaken. Sadly, it was the opposite.

Fires were raging across the mountains, either burning areas that had just been logged or land being opened up for agriculture. The Chinese are munching through forest at an unbelievable speed - it's the price this country is having to pay for the help they're getting in building roads and other infrastructure projects. The most depressing thing is that these people are desperately poor, 75% live in less than $2 a day.

Their natural resources, namely timber and hydro power, are being squandered by its aging elite. As children sit naked and dirty by the road, the Communist Party prepares itself for organizing the Asian Games of 2009, its officials easy to spot in large black Audis or similar.

I have met a French couple, Melanie and Arnod, and a very young Canadian, Sage, so I'm travelling with them for the next few days. I'm sharing my bedroom with Sage to keep costs low, although I can't believe someone can sleep on so late, it must be a question of age.

We spent our first day here in Luang Nam Tha cycling around the valley, visiting some of the villages, some locals weaving, some just whiling away their days, and some old lady smoking opium on her pipe while she carried bamboo.

Arnod is a profesional photogropher so I am determined to learn as much as I can from him while I can. Tomorrow we are off to Muang Sing for a three day trek in the National Forest of Mah Han near the Chinese border.

1 comment:

  1. Great shots of the locals, so photo tips are working! x