Ruth / Gordon:  This is the second time we have cycled within spitting distance of China. The closest we have been was during our trip in Northern India, when we were only a few kilometres away. The Chinese influence is strong here, with the majority of the restaurants and guesthouses being operated by Chinese. We were hoping for one or two guesthouses in Namor, but it turned out we could choose from at least 10. It appears that the open borders and bridges with Thailand and China have increased economic activity considerably in this region.
The ride today was lovely, with lots of climbing, but on reasonable grades.  The scenery was beautiful.  Although the vegetation is lush, little of it is mature forest.  Level areas are committed to rice growing, riverbanks to vegetables, and mountainsides to rubber plantations.  At our guesthouse in Louang Namtha we were fortunate to meet a student from Spain whose Ph.D. research is about land use in this area.  She said that most of the rubber plantations are actually owned by small holders, who typically cultivate one or two hectares of rubber trees.  The student indicated that rubber is quite a lucrative crop, generating revenue of about US$1,000 per year between the 7th year after planting, when the trees begin to produce, until the 30th year, when they typically die.  This is greater revenue per hectare than grain crops in North America, but at the cost of much greater labour.  For example, each tree is scored every day to keep the sap running.  We always know when we are downwind of a pile of raw rubber by the strong smell.  The student likened it to rotting fish, but Ruth thinks it is more akin to a used diaper.  However, as we used to say of the pulpmill stench in Castlegar “It’s the smell of money.”

We stopped at a rural roadside market to purchase some bananas and a type of local nut which the women were laboriously cracking and shelling one at a time.  One of the vendors laughingly pointed out the grilled rat that was on offer.  I am guessing that few farang indulge in this delicacy, and we chose not to surprise her by having any either.

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