I’ve done a few Workaway volunteer stays in Europe, so I thought it would be a good time to settle in somewhere in Asia and take the opportunity to live local. Laos has only a handful of hosts registered with Workaway, so my options were quite clear – I corresponded with a host in the deep north of Laos – I would do my Workaway in Luang Namtha. The assignment was to help in a tour agency, booking treks and kayaking packages for tourists.
It was tough getting to the host’s address because he never gave me a specific location – just Luang Namtha – that could have been anywhere within a 10km radius! I chanced it by taking the direct bus from Chiang Rai and hoping for the best when I arrived in town.
The next two days proved to be a challenge.
Unlucky for me, the bus station was still another 10km from the centre of town. Arriving quite late in the evening, I had few options but to take an overpriced songthaew (local taxi truck). I remembered the photo from the Workaway host’s profile, so I went searching for the office with the kayaks piled up inside.
The office was empty so I called out Hello a few times. A woman came out and told me to come back in twenty minutes because the family was having dinner – fair enough, I thought. But I had found the office all on my own – what a mission that was!
The next two days proved to be a challenge. Firstly, it was monsoon season, which also meant low season for tourists – barely any customers came in on the first day. I sat at the desk twiddling my thumbs, while I watched the time tick away.
Day two was really no different, I think I even dozed off a few times. The host, Sinsai, pulled me aside and we both decided that it wasn’t valuable to either of us for me to stay – he would be fronting the cost of my accomodation and food, while I bring in no customers. The deal was set and by some stroke of luck his brother was in town and invited me to stay in their home village!
The next day I set off with Sangphet to his village 85km away. At first I was quite comfortable with the idea of travelling by minivan, but as soon as it turned off the main street and hit unsealed road, I knew the next three hours would prove an interesting journey.
Something on the undercarriage had separated from the vehicle.
Tightly hugging the mountainside, we weaved our way around potholes and dirt mounds covering the now very muddy road. There was a time I had nodded off and was suddenly shaken by the slip and swerve of the van across the mud – if I had have been more alert, I might have noticed how close to the edge of the mountain side we were.
I dozed off a second time and suddenly awoke to the sound of a loud metal clang and the ensuing force of inertia pulling everyone forward as the van came to a quick stop. Something on the undercarriage had separated from the vehicle and we spent nearly an hour trying to fix it. I was just praying that we would reach the village in one piece.
At the end of the road we finally reached Namae, a village district, home to probably less than 400 people, still sizeable for what I had imagined a village to be.