Not far out of Udomxai, the bus zoomed by a reminder of the country's progression from the age of banana frond & teak leaf packaging & candles into the age of plastic & tetrapaks & batteries - a rubbish dump with multicoloured trash heaped unceremoniously on a piece of land right next to the highway, the blight on the landscape topped by a yellow bulldozer & partially screened off by bushes. Is that where municipal garbage ends up?
Ponds filled with deep pink waterlilies came into view as the bus entered Muang La, every bit as picturesque as travel guidebooks make it out to be, & more...a little white & gold temple atop a little hill, watching over villagers tilling brown rice paddies to ready them for the next round of planting, in a lush valley against a backdrop of green mountains & blue sky on one side & sunshine dancing off the river on the other =)
The bus made a brief stop at the tiny bus station at Pak Nam Noi, the intersection of the roads leading to Ban Boun Tai & Muang Khua. View from one of the restaurant-like setups overlooking the river:
Pak Nam Noi marks the beginning of the super winding unsealed HWY 1B heading into Phongsaly province, the northernmost corner of Lao squeezed in between China & Vietnam:
For the next couple of hours the bus rode through a self-created dust storm through several Akha villages belonging to the subgroup that has this particular type of headdress. We swung from side to side as the narrow rutted road twisted uphill & downhill & then uphill again. After a while the cat forgot what it feels like to travel in a straight line.
The cat grew up being thrown about in SBS & TIBS (now SMRT) buses for up to 3 hours per day travelling between home & school/work in Singapore, & has no problems with motion sickness. Lao however lack similar exposure to the driving habits of SBS bus drivers. Those seated by the windows vomited out of them onto the road & unlucky people & buffalo walking past. Those seated inside vomited onto one another, or into plastic bags to be flung out of the window onto the road & unlucky people & buffalo walking past.
The journey seemed to stretch on forever. Plenty of time for the cat to ponder another 'similarity' between public bus transport in Lao & Singapore. Here in an LLDC (landlocked least developed country) it takes 9 hours (without vehicle breakdowns) to travel 230+km worth of poor quality roads through the mountains. In Singapore the cat takes about an hour (without traffic jams) to travel slightly less than 20km to work on good quality paved all-weather roads on totally flat terrain. Amazing effects of circuitous bus routes & traffic lights - not much difference in speed eh? ;) So much for 'world class efficiency' from a duopoly =P