We left Kunming in the evening on an overnight bus to a town called Mengla near the Laos border. The bus was tight quarters for the male in our family, LOL, but otherwise fine. Three rows of bunk beds, one by each window and one down the middle, upper and lower bunk. You remove your shoes as you enter the bus, then you lie down as there is no other option!
We got into Mengla and took an easy minivan, a public transportation vehicle to the border. From the drop off, we walked about a mile there and went through an exit process for China, then paid for a short ride to the Laos border building. This was a very impressive building with lots of gold, especially in comparison with the stern, no-frills Chinese beaurocratic one. Sorry, no pics since I was schlepping luggage and trying to figure out how the heck to cross the border.
Once we passed into Laos (visa at border, $45 each, didn’t take long), we hired a minivan for the 4-hour drive to Huay Xai. There were no public busses in sight and we were a bit tired after the night bus. It seemed a bit pricey to me at $100 but we bargained a bit and that’s the best we could do. The drive was lovely since we started seeing the mountains that northern Laos is known for. Also, there were no tunnels as there has been in China, so we went up and down a lot of these mountains.
In the minivan and a view out the window:
We got to Huay Xia and joined the backpacker trail. All of a sudden things were in English and there were bread, dairy products, signs for short trips backpackers might like to take like kayaking and trekking in the jungle. It wasn’t a beautiful town, but there were lovely spots where people made gardens and there was a temple and a riverside area on the Mekong.
Several places had these little water gardens:
Here’s the main street with mountains in the distance:
We stayed at a guesthouse on the main street across from this temple:
Our guesthouse was very basic and we got 3 rooms for about $7 each. Our big adventure was that we went to the jungle! We went with The Gibbon Experience to the northern Laos jungle. It is an eco-friendly project where villagers who used to hunt the gibbons and other wildlife instead work as guides and zip line instructors to tourists.
There is a three day trek in which you stay in a treehouse in the Park. There are zip lines that carry you high across jungle valleys for 400 meters or more. We stayed in a treehouse accessible by a short zip line, and our meals were brought to us on the same zip line by village women. We had a tour guide who led us through hikes and zip lines around the reserve, and also joined us early in the morning to look for primates. Here is the bathroom and kitchen:
For meals we had various vegetable stews with rice, all in portable pots, very delicious!
And zip lining! And muddy boots- there was a lot of mud!
The hiking was difficult- very steep and muddy, Mr. F counted 215 steps from our treehouse to the main trail. We hiked several hours each day and we explored all 6 of the treehouses.
On our final morning, we did see primates. We don’t believe they were gibbons, but we enjoyed watching them play in the trees for about an hour. Also, we did hear the gibbons singing to each other, which was really neat. We also saw many birds, a large black squirrel, and of course many plants and bugs (giant caterpillars like we’ve seen in museums!).
We went back to the guesthouse and spent our final night at Huay Xai. Next stop was to be the fabled and mystical Luang Prabang!