You know your Akha hill tribe trek is authentic when your guide is struck down by black magic! Welcome to Phongsali in far northern Laos, where even experienced guides are terrified by ghosts and spirits.
Getting off the beaten track in Laos is much tougher than on my last visit in 2000. Back then, the whole country was off the banana pancake trail! Undeterred, Laura looked for the phrases ‘terrible road’ and ‘difficult to get to’ in the Laos Travelfish guide and all signs pointed to Phongsali (Phongsaly) in the north. The area is linked to the rest of Laos via a rickety local bus on a winding mountain road. There are no backpacker hotels or restaurants. But there are two organizations, the local tourist office and Amazing Laos, that offer moderately adventurous hikes to some of the most authentic hill tribe villages in Southeast Asia. Seemed like a place for us. … Read more
I last visited Kyaing Tong (pronounced “Chang Tong” and sometimes spelled Keng Tung), a small market hill town in Myanmar’s Eastern Shan State, in 2000. It was one of the highlights of my travels that year, and as I related some of the tales to Laura, I figured that they were worth sharing with a wider audience. So, before I get into this year’s adventures here is Kyaing Tong 2000 style.
Kyaing Tong is the main town of the Myanmar portion of the infamous Golden Triangle, which also straddles the hill tribe areas of Laos and Thailand. The Golden Triangle supplied most of the world’s street heroin until the trade was usurped by Afghans in the late 90’s. The main man in the area was a ruthless warlord named Khun Sa, who ruled over two armies called the Shan State Army and the Muang Tai Army. At one point, Khun Sa is said to have had a personal militia that numbered more than 18000 men and women. The region was typically beyond the Burmese government’s control and/or beset by continual fighting between the opposing forces.
Unsurprisingly, tourists were not particularly welcome in this … Read more