Laos is mountains. So I find a guide: he is dry and cheerless and carries a machete.
My brief to him is simple:
1. We go to the top of a mountain
2. We don’t talk.
He may like me already.
I take the usual stuff: water, food, knife, sleep bag, mosquito net, medical kit, and enough plaster to cover the human body 11 times. Usually that is enough.
We first cross the Nam Oo river. A boatman in a small narrow boat picks us up. The boat sits low in the water and is unstable. I carefully find the best place for my feet and undo my laces just in case.
We follow the stream up a narrow damp valley. I slip in the mud and leeches drop around us. Water drips from my hat as though it is raining, but it turns out to be my own sweat. Raising the tension is the deafening howl of some unearthly insect:
We reach the top of the valley. These are mostly Hmong mountains, and the trail is fringed with head-high mountain rice, corn and the occasional pumpkin: