24 August 2002

17. - 24 AUG: Muang Khua to Udom Xai

Departure after the usual banana pancakes for breakfasts, I am getting a bit tired of them but heck... It is not without some apprehension that we started our drive from Muang Khua toward the Oudomxai province. We had been warned of landslides, uncertain how long it would take or even whether we would make it at all. We had also been assured that work was in progress to clear the roads, but somehow that did not quite sound as reassuring as we would have wished. So we are off, no choice now...

The road winds up and down spectacular mountains. At several points, the views were literally breathtaking, if for no other reason that the tight turns, working in concert with enormous potholes, forced the driver to put the van’s wheels within centimeters of the guardrail-less road’s rim.
This cheerless town, capital of the Udomxai province, is a crossroad of cultures and races. It lies at the intersention of the main roads which lead from ventral North Laos into China to the North, Vietnam to the East and Thailand to the West.

We have dinner at a local eatery, the food is good though the mice rambling around restaurant are somewhat less than reassuring. It’s a small family kitchen with hearty food, each plate individually prepared for each of us. Anyway, it was cheap, tasty and no one got sick, so what more can you ask for?

After dinner, I walked up the up the hill to the Wat until midnight. The pale moonlighta llowed me to distinguish the countours of the surrounding mountain ranges, just. All monks are already fast asleep, and not a soul was in sight. The air was still and the atmosphere in the deserted yard around the Wat exudes tranquillity and peace. I walked up the few step of the stone pyramid on which .

I sat down on the steps and spent a good hour meditating in absolute silence. The few dim lights of Udom Xai were barely a nuisance on one side, and the town noises were only just audible. A gleaming full moon was rising fast over the horizon and cast a soft coat of mother-of-pearl over the Wat and the dark hillside.

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