My first stop in Lao was Luang Prabang, but given that I returned there multiple times during my journey, I’m bundling the shots into one subsequent post.
Three nights after landing in Lao, I took a night bus to Phongsali (a.k.a. Phongsaly), the capital of Phongsali Province. This city is essentially the northernmost major city in Lao, “major” being a fairly relative term. This is the first city I’ve encountered where it is actually impossible to pre-book your hotels online, it’s that remote in terms of western tourism.
I didn’t quite appreciate how far Phongsali is from Luang Prabang. The night bus took 16 hours, which would have been fine but for them stopping and turning on the lights every two hours. Worse yet, for the last two hours of the journey they stopped every 30 minutes and turned on the lights, making it impossible to sleep. To get a sense of how remote this bus ride was, at one point I noticed that something was moving near my feet on the bus and nearly had a heart attack. Turns out, woman in front of me brought a live chicken onto the bus. Eat fresh.
The main attraction here is the hiking. You can book trips that take you into remote villages with companies that try to be environmentally and culturally responsible. In terms of accommodation, I actually ended up paying quite a bit of cash ($17 CDN) for a room that smelled of fish but which had clean beds. I arrived in town at 7:00 am. Add an unexpected 3 km walk into town carrying 23 kg of gear and I was ecstatic just to have a bed. I napped for three hours before venturing out to check out the town.
Once again I needed to rent a motorbike to properly explore the surrounding areas since I only had one full day in town. And, I did end up liking that Phongsali is remote– I saw other tourists around in town, but when I was checking out the areas around the city I only saw locals which was great.
My first destination was the tea plantation village of Ban Komaen. It was a bit of a rough road there but pleasant, with stunning views along the mountain road. Ban Komaen is said to be the oldest tea plantation in the world, with the most enormous tea plants I have ever seen, dating back 400 years.
A picture from the ride up:
The tea plantation:
After that, I went back down the long path, went back into the town and headed north about 5 km down a rough country road to see the Lao-Lao (whisky) producing village of Ban Kounsouk Noi:
After the village I headed back into town and went east a bit to go up to the pagoda at Phufa Mountain. The climb is brutal, some 420+ steps to make it up to the pagoda, but it has some great views. Fun fact I learned later: you can ride your moped all the way to the top.
Note, on the way up they have a super sketchy electricity line situation. At multiple spots you need to limbo under wires of electrical cables (active but shielded) which doesn’t seem all that safe:
I ended my day by going into the old town of Phongsali right around sunset. I’ll leave you with shots from the old town: