The town itself is surrounded by rice paddies and beyond them lies the horizon made bumpy by lush, forested hills. A pretty, low-key main road with a handful of guesthouses, restaurants, tour operators, an atmospheric temple and no ATM anywhere cuts through it aiming directly at China, only 6km away. While Alex checked out some of the tours, I got chatting to some of the Akha hill tribe street-sellers congregating around me. They were all women that barely reached my shoulders, the faces of most of them lined with deep wrinkles radiating around mischievous smiles. The sellers in Muang Sing know better than any others how to charm “No, thank you” into “Oh go on then”. Across the road, a small group of young Laotian girls with sleek hair, velvet skin and impossibly high cheekbones were watching with amusement from the little bamboo-constructed shop they shared. They waved and beckoned me over, but I couldn’t face any more sale negotiations that day and pleaded, “Wan jan!” They laughed. “You speak Lao!” they called back, “Okay, no problem, see you Monday, wan jan!” A reprieve.
Tuesday, 12 January 2010
We’d first seen the spectacular scenery around Muang Sing during the bus journey from Luang Namtha as it wound its way between steep hills following a river that kept switching sides from the road without me noticing, no matter how hard I tried to keep track of it. Hill peaks that seemed close to each other were separated by deep gorges meaning that a distance between peaks of maybe a few metres involved an up-and-down distance of, I don’t know, 200 metres. What we need here, I thought, preoccupied by our impending trek, is a network of bridges.