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(updated: april 2018)


catching the bus in muang khua

     The following morning in Oudomxay, I got up early to make sure I didn't miss any busses going to Muang Khua. Arriving in the early afternoon, after a 4 hour bus, I found myself in a guesthouse*(details below) run by a funny little homely man that demanded to be called "Father" and spoke in a broken, caveman-like English. As I sat on the common "balcony" of the place, overlooking the river, I spied the outline of the Greek man that I'd been continuously running into in Laos crossing the bamboo bridge. He had left Luang Prabang a day before me, and took the more weathered route through Nong Khiaw, reporting that it was fantastic. I definitely regretted not having done that instead of going through Oudomxay.
I had bartered the price of a room down to 35000 kip, and Father put me in one on the side of the house, not facing the river. But hey, it was "ensuite." What I didn't realize, though, was that the neighbours (much like the rest of the town's residents, and South-East Asians in general) were avid karaoke-singers, so much so that my bed rattled from their singing. Thankfully there was a power outage that evening, marking the beginning of the rainy season with a night-long monsoon. Unable to sleep regardless, I found the remaining guests in a common room, eating and talking, with Father continuously coming around to offer laolao whiskey and deep-fried cockroaches (that one of the other guests had seen him catching earlier that day). 
Catching the bus to Vietnam: There was little to no available information online or anywhere about the bus that passes Muang Khua and makes its way to Dien Bien Phu, so I figured I'd be luckier and find out once I actually got to Muang Khua - no dice. Some locals told me it passed by Muang Khua at 7AM, others assured me that it was between 11AM and noon, and a handful were adamant about the bus only coming 3 times a week (and, of course, nobody knew when it would pass next). 

     In the end, I trusted Father's assurances (which mostly consisted of me asking: so the bus comes at 6?? him replying yes, yes, then my paranoid self going or does it come at 11??? and he would just wave me off with some more convincing yes yesses whatever I asked) and left the guesthouse 45 minutes early, just in case. It had been monsooning all night, and the rain was only just beginning to cease. Tired and wet (but thankfully I'd bought a poncho the other day - although it cost me a whole 4USD!), I bid a cheery Father goodbye and made my way up to the road. Just as I was about to leave the guesthouse's gates, Father called out brightly, "If no bus, come back!" ...great. I sat and waited near the road, eating from a bag of sticky rice (1 000 kip) watching the morning laotian life unravel at 5:30AM. I watched as students separated into the elementary and high schools groups, each walking off in the opposite direction. Women began to set up at the market, selling provisions as well as snacks for the kids on their way: noodle meals in plastic bags, little deserts wrapped in banana leaf... Some sat with coolers full of sticky rice or coffee drinks, which they would scoop out and sell in little plastic bags (and people would drink out of straws, their beverages held in these little plastic bags). I witnessed an early morning monks procession right at my feet (unlike in Luang Prabang, where many travelers would get their big ass Kodaks and Canons all up in my face - and the monks' faces, so disrespectfully - during the daily processions): the monks passed from person the person, who kneeled and put a handful of sticky rice in each monk's pot, careful not to look him in the eye. Some of the monks were old, others so young I would've guessed they were only about 8 years old. After the collection, they stood in a line before us and recited something incomprehensible to me in unison. The people who had given up offerings to the monks had at some point put a little bit of rice on the ground, and they then proceeded to pour some kind of liquid around it, but not touching the little mound.
     And so I sat, and I watched, and I definitely did not get on a bus. After an hour and a half, I decided to head back to Manotham, where Father greeted me expectingly and insisted that I "sleep, sleep!" until I had to run off again at 11 in case the bus came then (and if it didn't, I guess I'd have had to repeat until it finally did). Fortunately, it came. At noon, but nonetheless, it came. Read more about my journey from Luang Prabang to Sapa here.
*Where to stay in Muang Khua: I stayed in Manotham Guesthouse, south of the small river and across the bamboo bridge. Advertises rooms for 50 000 kip, overlooking the stream, mosquito nets included. Father , who speaks mediocre English, offers homecooked dinner for 25 000 kip - there's nowhere else to eat except for getting some lunchtime pho at the market or grabbing a bite at another guesthouse. I ate a dinner of stir fried veggies and sticky rice for 15 000 kip at Nam Ou Guesthouse. Although rooms there are at 30 000 kip, it's dark, dirty, and bug-infested. For a little over a dollar more, you're definitely better off sleeping at Manotham.

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