Time-Travel: A Tale of Two Towns in the Laotian Outback…

20181017_083902
At age 64, and after 155 countries and more than forty years of travel, it’s all time-travel now, going back to see something I once saw before, and seeing all the changes that time has wrought, rather than seeing it all virgin-like for the first time, a gap-year giggly-mouthed googly-eyed greenhorn, that prototypical wide-mouth chin-dropping awe that inspires sales of toothpaste and fashion, featuring credit cards and deodorant, dreams of midnights and long flights, and carrying prophylactics, just in case…

But it’s all different now. What was once exotic is now just chaotic, and International Standard Pidgin English ensures that you’re not likely to miss a meal, unless you really want to. Hard-core travel cowboys consume geography like chocolate cake on Sunday, apps logging miles and journals logging impressions, with an index, a table of contents, and an itinerary to be followed, while professional travel bloggers merely follow the guidelines of their sponsors…

20181023_090004But once upon a time the mark of a true backpacker was his ability to get lost, and find the remotest track to the remotest border crossing in the remotest neck of the remotest woods of the remotest God-forsaken country, with a pristine people and a pristine attitude and a pristine culture, just so that we could change all that, in exchange for some sustenance in the form of a few crusty loaves and a pocket-full of tissues…

But most travelers now it seems just want to party, the more the better, vast quantities of alcohol to help ease the transition into a once-foreign culture, locals reduced to extras in their own movie, culture and language just a sideshow for evening entertainment, to hold ones interest between the main acts of daily sightseeing and nightly binge-drinking. But before all this there was cannabis, and opium, vestige of a bygone era, and that’s where Muang Sing fit right in…

This was a few years before Y2K (remember that?), as Laos re-entered the world after its aborted Communist nightmare, and travelers rushed in to enjoy cheap rooms, cheap highs and all the Lao beer one could drink. So when I stumbled in to Luang Nam Tha around ’97-’98 from China, that’s where all the travelers were heading, Muang Sing, a couple hours away, and nestled up against a Chinese border crossing that foreigners weren’t allowed to use, still aren’t…

20181016_171355There were hill-tribe peoples there galore, and revolution in the air, Laos still proudly Communist, even if dependent on a helping hand from distant cousin Vietnam, while capitalist big brother Thailand stayed far in the background. I was buying crafts, and they were making them, so plenty of reason to hang around, just to see if something might make a splash in the market…

And when I came back around 2002 it was even better, Tai Dam people coming in to the area from over-crowded Vietnam, and inviting me in to their houses, just as if I were one of them, ostensibly to look at crafts, maybe even buy, but no big deal, just chill with or without a deal. And Lao people from all over were coming in, too, just to catch the buzz, and hopefully make a few bucks…

Back then Luang Nam Tha was just a stopover on the way there, nothing much to see or do, a provincial government center, and not much else, first stopover on the way in from Yunnan province, China, or connection point up from Huay Xai and Chiang Khong, Thailand, down on the Mekong, all secondary to the main tourist business a day away in Luang Prabang, and another day to the capital Vientiane…

20181017_083246But that’s all changed. For some reason Muang Sing has dried up, while Luang Nam Tha has made steady gains, if no big deal, but still steady. All the major latter-day-hippie trade in tricks and treats has moved far south to Vang Vieng, between Luang Prabang and Vientiane, and even farther south to the 4000 Islands, near Cambodia…

There’s little or no indie travel to China, even though the road from Thailand is now good, but the travel scene in China has largely dried up, too, for indie travel foreigners, that is, not the Chinese hordes, who have largely repopulated the groovy destinations that backpackers once put on the travel map. Meanwhile the travel scene that barely existed in Cambodia in 1997 is now near saturation, between foreign indies and those same Chinese hordes…

I remain philosophical, since for me these are all just perturbations of frequencies in the larger electro-magnetic field, anyway. Energy follows the path of least resistance, but if you need heat and light, or any other form of entertainment, then you create maximum resistance for that effect. And so goes the flow of travel in Asia and the world, the flow of bodies over hill and dale, sunny beaches and vast horizons…

20181015_095903For me personally I care little for the fancy spectacles and the elegant evening wear. For me my life is much the same regardless of where I am. I read, write and study fully half the time, and whatever’s left is open game for long walks and proud sunsets. I want to see it all with few or no fellow travelers, so look for me on the road seldom taken. If that means I miss out on the sunny beaches and crusty ba*tards, then so be it. I like rice just fine, don’t need no fancy French cuisine…

And it’s impossible not to compare with another prime location some twenty years ago, already written up in these pages a few posts back, i.e. Yangshuo, China, which is now totally overrun by the aforementioned hordes, to the extent that it is eminently avoidable, and hopefully forgettable, as I struggle to erase it from my short-term memory before it writes itself into long-term. This is the extreme opposite of what has happened in Muang Sing, and honestly, I don’t know which is worse, unh-unh. The only question is why, but that would take another post. I persevere…

Advertisements