Yesterday's route in green, & today's route in blue:
HWY 3 & HWY 17A fragment Nam Ha NBCA (National Biodiversity Conservation Area), which can be explored with the Gibbon Experience.
With two green tea muffins from the tiny Chinese bakery next to Cha Rueh Sin Guesthouse (trust the cat to sniff out anything matcha-flavoured =P), the cat walked past a group of drivers playing cards & whistling & calling out 'ARIGATO! ARIGATO!' & got on the 11:30AM songthaew to Muang Sing.
Luang Namtha bus station is so organised, the songthaews will park in front of blue signs with white wording (below, upper right) indicating their destinations in Lao & English. Songthaews that leave earlier are usually packed to the gills with people returning from the town market to their villages, & but close to lunchtime they are rather empty:
The lady second from right has a deformed right hand, & was one of the very few beggars the cat encountered in North Lao. Only when reviewing its photos back in Singapore did the cat realise it had captured her in the above photo of the songthaews:
She is a Lanten (Lao Huay), an ethnic group related to the Yao. Their religion is influenced by Taoism & they write using Chinese characters. Shirts for ladies are buttoned on the upper right, similar to the 旗袍 qi2 pao2 & shirts for Lisu & Lahu (is this characteristic of many ethnic groups that originated from China? The Manchus had such a far-reaching & powerful influence?). Two bunches of long threads hang from the collar at the front - for this lady they are white in colour, but this source (page 52) says that they start off dyed red, before fading to pink & eventually white. Lanten women also wear white leggings that remind the cat of bandages & Chinese Mahayana monks (think Shaolin temple =P), cover their hair with black cloth like the Yao, & shave their eyebrows.
Two Japanese backpackers hopped on, & we were off to Muang Sing along a pretty good sealed road (here you may choose not to trust the cat's opinion, for any road other than HWY 3 seemed pretty good by comparison =P). Passed by several villages & the occasional tourist exploring the valley on bike, the beautiful lush greenery of the Nam Ha NBCA, & finally the fork in the road that leads to Muang Long & Xieng Kok.
Plain forgot about asking the driver to drop the cat off along the main street where most of the guesthouses are, & ended up at the new bus station a long walk away from the central part of Muang Sing. The cat is shy about walking alone into a strange town with a big fat backpack, attracting many stares from locals who are not used to girls travelling alone, especially 'farang-style'...& even more so when the girl looks more like one of their own daughters rather than a Caucasian farang, who are well-known for doing 'strange' things. Some of the Lao the cat met even assumed that the cat had a white farang husband, a 'plausible' explanation for having adopted 'farang ways'!
But at least the cat knew where it was. Mr Saitama & Mr Kyoto had a Japanese travel guidebook that didn't indicate the new location of the bus station. & so they were only too happy to follow the cat along the dusty dirt roads past wooden houses & ducks happily splashing in puddles into town, while the cat was only too happy to have company to walk with =) All ended up at Muang Sing Guesthouse:
The guys opted for a twin room with shared bathroom for USD4, while speaking Thai to the lady owner got the cat a small double with private shower for USD3 =P
Surprise - there was hot water & electricity even in the daytime. The cat had been expecting lotsa candles, post-sunset chugging sounds of generators & cold showers...guess it is time to update many guidebooks.