When we arrive in Nong Kiaow, we realise that to see a place so beautiful, sometimes you have to suffer to be deserving of the view. Nong Kiaow is separated in two. One area for locals, the other seemingly built of guesthouses. We make our way across the bridge on foot to our designated Falang bungalow, and begin to drink in slowly, the view with a beer Lao on Laos time.
The local bus takes us to Luang Nam Tha, sans air con but boasting sliding windows that have to be pushed back open after every jolt over the dirt road. The bus guide, wearing a yellow Laos football shirt, asks me about my book and tells me he wants to watch football. I wonder if he means on t.v. or in a stadium. I share my sugary fried coconut.
For half an hour in the stifling heat. It launches over potholes and my bum leaves the seat on several occasions, returning with a jolt to my coccyx. I feel that the fresher air, with the smells of wild flowers and mint is even more welcome than usual.
At 3.30am my alarm rings in to the deep dark, reminding us to dress warmly for the early morning trek through mountain roads bordering China. In convoy we set off out of Luang Nam Tha for the two hour journey to Muang Sing. The promise there is of hidden cultures, away from any Westernisation, where there are no routes for eighteen year olds searching for a drink in a car tire. Up and up through darkness that relaxes in to mountain mist and morning dew we climb. Eventually we find our way to the market, a melting pot of Hmong, Akha and Black Thai women selling vegetables, home made clothing and eels that try to escape their plastic bowls. The freshest of fresh produce here. While visiting a beautiful waterfall, just outside of Muang Sing in the golden triangle, I am met with a scene from Stig of the Dump. As we walk to the falls a narrow trail stretches in front of us, leading us up the side of the river. Suddenly the sound of a log crashing through the trees falling behind us breaks our chatter and I look up to see forest debris tumbling after an unknown entity causing this wake of destruction. We look in unison at the river a few feet below. An enormous dark green python slithers off the rocks and in to the river. At the waterfall we are greeted by a small, and dry-season-depleted, green rocky resting point. Water splashes down in to a shallow pool creating a miniature cooling breath and the accompanying view of the golden triangle and it's mountains hold our imaginations. Until I look back to the waterfall and logs for a seat. White plastic food dishes, wrappers, torn chocolate cases and plastic bags litter and mar the scene. My heart sinks and I lose my patience at the rattan sack serving as a bin sits impotently next to the debris. These places will not last if they are not looked after and by the locals too. It doesn't take infrastructure to put rubbish in a bin. Taking matters in to my own hands I set about clearing the rubbish heap while my fellow travellers look on.