Ban Khoun Souk and Ban Chantan @ Phong Sa Ly

In the mountains around Phong Sa Ly are various minority villages which attract people to endure the long bus ride from civilization to get here. To get to the best ones you'll need to hire a local guide for about 30-60 USD and make a trekking day trip out of it, but if you end up here and just want to explore the area alone there is still some stuff to see.

On the north side of town right next to the Phoufa Hotel, lies a dirt road heading northeast out of town toward the village of Ban Khoun Souk. The walk is pretty much flat and dry with the exception of a couple of puddles here and there and you won't see much along the way other than a couple villagers going back and forth between Phong Sa Ly on a motorbike. You'll know you're in the right place when on your right-hand side you see a bunch of people showering in plain sight on the side of the road. I guess one of the local traditions which still survives here is that each village has one communal shower where everyone baths together. Walking around here everyone is pretty much exuberantly excited to see a visitor, one lady actually called her kids to come out of the house so they could wave hello to me. The economy here appears to be driven by tea, outside of most huts were little areas designated for drying tea leaves and a couple families were all out together performing some sort of processing of the tea leaves in what looked like large cooking walks. There aren't any designated shops here, however, if you get thirsty just keep saying "Beer Lao" to people and they will eventually direct you to a lady at the main road with a fridge full of beer.

The beginning of the path

Phong Sa Ly

Sitting at the bus station at Dien Bien Phu at 7am after my day of exploration, I had a little decision to make. Only two more busses would leave on this day, and both in the next thirty minutes, one to Phong Sa Ly and the other Luang Prabang. Without too much thought about it, and very little information to go on I decided I would get the ticket to Phong Sa Ly.

After the border crossing at Tay Tang, there were about fifteen hours of windy mountain roads through northern Laos, including stopping for an hour behind a crash on the road and unloading cement bricks for an hour at a random town along the way. By the time I was dropped off at the bus station it was dark, foggy and there wasn't another person in sight, I walked with my backpack along the road for about thirty minutes before finding a restaurant that was open for business. I was able to order noodles by pointing, but my cell phone was not working in Laos and nobody understood a word of English, I decided to try my luck with Chinese, and before I knew it the people next to me were helping to describe exactly where I could find a hotel and offering their help to get me there.

Tay Tang border crossing
View out the bus window in Laos

Dien Bien Phu

Dien Bien Phu is located about thirty kilometers from the Tay Tang boarder passing and is basically the last stop going west before crossing into Laos, on my way over to Laos I decided to spend one day here in order to break up the twenty hours of bus rides involved.

My exploration here started on the south side of town where the jungle is dotted with several French Military relics from the first Indochina War. There aren't really any signs describing where to go around here so you can kind of just wander around the jungle until you bump into something important. One of the pieces of artillery which I found was surrounded by piles of mud and getting up to it to take a picture was a bit of a challenge, I'm not sure if it was even meant to be on display however it added a bit of adventure to the morning.


French tank

Xin Chai @ Sapa

Cat Cat is a village right down the hill from Sapa which is a bit fake and pretty much inundated with tourists, however, if you continue on the same road another couple kilometers you arrive at a much more interesting place called Xin Chai. In between a couple of rainy days, I had one day of sun, so I took advantage of the opportunity and had a taxi drop me off here for some exploration.

Xin Chai
Hmong dude playing music

Tavan and Lau Chai @ Sapa

Located about seven kilometers to the east of Sapa, you can find the villages of Tavan and Lau Chai coupled next to each other at the bottom of the Muong Hoa valley. My effort to visit these villages started on foot until after about two kilometers when I gave in and decided to ask a motorbiker for help, minutes later I was zigzagging down the hillside into Tavan. Entering from the north there is a bit of a hip newer area dotted with upper-class cafes and homestays, not far past this begins the path into the more scenic area. The first hundred meters or so of this path has been taken over by local Black Hmong minority group who have set up a long row of trinket shops, until I made it past this stretch I was basically fighting off hawkers left and right.

Looking into the Muang Hoa Valley

Yuanyang

In the deep south of the Yunnan province near the border with Vietnam, lies one of the more remote and intriguing attractions in China, the Yuanyang scenic area. This area is home to the Hani minority, who believe that the larger mountains in the area actually manage the smaller mountains, and to this day they still sacrifice animals to them. They also maintain one of the largest networks of rice terraces in the world, which was named a Unesco World Heritage site a couple years ago. Recently while on my path toward Vietnam, I stopped and spent two days here at Duoyishu.

The first day I followed a path down the from Shengcun to Laojingzai, and eventually onto Bada, which is the popular spot to watch the sunset over the terraces. It was a pleasant walk at the beginning through some jungly looking landscape with a couple terraces mixed in here and there, but then after an hour, I reached a rock outcropping where I could see ten to fifteen other hikers stopped all taking photos over the edge. It was a bit difficult to understand what could draw all of their attention until I got up to the top myself and took a look around, the other side of this outcropping was a 100-meter drop-off, from which you have a birdseye view of several miles of terraces. The distance is just about right that the haze doesn't get in between, allowing you to actually perceive the color and texture differences between each patch of terrace below.

Walking down from Shengcun