Saturday, 10 December 2011

Party in Amazing Vang Vieng, Laos - 5-9 May 2011

Again, we're in a rush and finding it hard to pay up our bill and leave the guesthouse as the lady really didn't care too much about getting money from us. Seriously, I wonder whether they actually want money from us or they just like to have us around! We managed to pay up and ran across the road with our bags just as a bus came hurtling towards us. Our hands all sprung up in an exaggerated manner pleading the bus driver to stop and pick us up. The driver slammed his brakes on and the bus came to a stop a couple hundred metres up the road. We ran up and were greeted by the assistant who grabbed our bags and put them underneath, took our money and we went to find a seat only to be confronted by another fantastic site. A motorcycle in the isle at the back. I mean, how did they get it on the bus?

The trip around the winding roads back towards the main highway that runs North-South through Laos was exhilarating and really required strong hands to hold onto the seat in front or you'd end up lying in the isle. A few times my arse came away from the seat as I plummeted towards the seat if front because the driver had to slam the brakes on to avoid an oncoming car on our side of the road, albeit the wrong side of the road.

The bus journey to Vientiane was uneventful and we got there as expected around 5 hours later. We were still questioning whether to stay in the country's capital city or not as we hadn't heard much about it and people advised us to skip it and spend longer in another place instead. We got to the bus station and were not impressed by being back in a big city after a few weeks exploring the small towns of Southern Laos and Northern Cambodia. We were also dismayed by the barrage of touts that tried to get us in their tuk tuks. Something we had previously loved Laos for not having but with every city you get this and have to expect it. Our first port of call was to have something to eat and then decide what we were going to do.

The tuk tuk weaved through the metropolitan traffic that lined the streets as we headed to the bus station the opposite side of the town to get a bus on to Vang Vieng. Yes, we had decided to skip this city and head further North to the paradise that is Vang Vieng, a place that I had heard so much about from fellow travellers. As we arrived at the bus station, we found the bus that was due to leave for Vang Vieng in the next hour which should take only 3-4 hours to get to VangVieng.

From our Hotel
Needless to say the journey was ever so slightly longer than that by another 2-3 hours taking us around 6 hours to travel the road to Vang Vieng. Nicky had attracted a rather interesting local who sat next to him and kept stealing one earphone from his ears to listen to his music. Personal space was not his strong point as there were a number of other foreigners on the bus, one of which was sitting in front of him and he decided that it would be a good idea to keep hitting him on the arm and laughing. This guy spoke very good English but I think he must have had some developmental disorder. His attitude made the journey a lot longer and harder to deal with. of course we had to stop along the way and pack the isle with dozens of boxes full of bleach. Nicky, Tom and I just spent the time playing a word game which must have been hilarious to listen to as an outsider.

When we finally arrived on a bit of waste land in Vang Vieng, we were extremely relieved and went on the hunt for a place to stay. It was dark by this point and the partying in the town had already begun as we walked past the bucket bars that sold buckets of alcohol for a minimal price. We found a place to stay and negotiated a price for a triple room with fans and settled in for a night of relaxation watching several episodes of How I Met Your Mother before exploring what the place had to offer the following day.

Vang Vieng, an adult playroom... Drinks and Sings!
Vang Vieng has certainly experienced a massive influx of tourism in recent years, especially with younger travellers who are ready for a party as this is the party capital of Laos which generally doesn't have nightlife. I have heard people talk about this place ever since I entered South East Asia and something called Tubing. I was excited to finally experience this place and it did not disappoint. As Tom wasn't feeling all that well, Nicky and I headed up stream in a tuk-tuk to where there were a congregation of several riverside bars offering free shots and selling other beer and spirits to the literally crazy tourists there. With the bars are slides and zip lines going into the river from crazy heights. Only a few weeks previously there had been a tourist die here as he plummeted into shallow waters and landed on the rocky river bed causing sections to be blocked off. Safety is not of great concern here, only having fun and enjoying the Laos countryside with a drink or too. Nicky and I drank up our free drinks that entice people into the bars to buy more and used the zip line in the first bar a couple of times. I'm not going to lie to you, I was a little scared as the bamboo ladder and platform tied together rather precariously swayed as you climbed up. Grabbing on hard to the bar and pushing yourself off the edge for the plunge into the cool waters of the river is quite an experience. We finished up there and swam further down the river to the next bars. Many people hire tubes, tractor inner-tubes, to float down the river, but you can swim too. As you swim you become truly aware of how shallow the water can be when your knees suddenly crash against rock and you can stand up with only your knees in water.

Our last bar for the day was relatively quiet and had mud volleyball which was incredibly funny and a slide. We finished off chatting and drinking with some other travellers until the night came with a small thunder storm. One of the guys that worked at the bar took the group of us back across the river as he had a torch and there were absolutely no lights. The bamboo bridge swayed and I became constantly aware of holes in the bridge that plummeted into the dark fast moving river below. On the other side of the bridge was a dark field filled with brambles on the ground and as we had no footwear, it was intermittently painful!

Nicky climbing down from the cave exit
The following day we had booked on a Kayaking trip up the river with a small trek through the jungle to visit a few caves. Unfortunately Tom was still feeling unwell so couldn't come along. Nicky and I climbed aboard the sangthaew with the kayaks on the roof and we headed upstream for about twenty minutes before pulling off the road to our starting positions. The guide and driver pulled the kayaks off the roof and we helped them carry them down to the water edge. Our valuables got put into a waterproof bag and we were given a two litre bottle of drinking water. I know I keep talking about it but the landscape around here is absolutely stunning and being on the quiet river in the middle of mountains and jungle was wonderful and an experience I didn't want to end.

After kayaking for a while, we moored on a small opening on the shore where the guide helped us get the kayaks out of the river. He then brought out a plastic bag with food and hung it on a tree before leading us into the jungle for our first cave. OK, so my experience in the Konglor Cave didn't teach me a lesson in appropriate footwear as I was again in flip flops. Our guide too was in flip flops but obviously being a professional didn't seem to have the same issues that I was having slipping all over the place, tripping on rocks and loosing them every now and again between crevasses.

An opening amongst the trees
The humidity in the jungle was immense and I was no longer dripping sweat, I was literally pouring. The climb would have certainly be a lot easier with good boots on. I wouldn't have to worry too much about the insects that roam the tracks either. We reached the cave and the huge opening the led deep into the cave was precariously slippery. Despite taking utmost care Nicky and I both had our legs sweep out from under us which sent us plummeting only to be caught by the guide.

Now with a muddy backside, we continue to go deeper into the cave and the guide handed us torches as the sunlight ceased to shine. We had to wade through the ice cold water that had collected in the cave. During wet season this cave is apparently filled with water and impassable unless you can swim for a long while in cold, dark water. We climbed through to the other side, being careful of spiders that linger in the cracks of rocks and once again found sunlight again.

Our guide taking us through the party zone!
Following a fantastic meal cooked by our guide eaten off a palm leaf and a laze in the river, we were back rowing down stream towards Vang Vieng stopping at an organic farm for a brief tour and a cup of tea on the way. We streamed through the party section and laughed and jested with the people swimming and floating in the river. Our last stop for the day was another cave which was a far more adventurous expedition. Having to balance along a wall, jump into a six foot ditch which would again be filled with water d it it were wet season and squeeze through gaps that no western man should be able to do. This cave however was amazing as the quartz in the rocks glittered when the torch light hit it. Unfortunately there are no photos of this as it was, predictably, dark inside and my camera does not 'do' dark.

The cave entrance!
We squeezed and contorted our bodies through the other side of the cave where we had to trek back through thick undergrowth to the bar where we had moored up. At the bar, Nicky and I had began talking with a couple of girls who were enjoying one of the quieter bars on the river with a drink. They were also on a Kayaking trip and we cracked open a couple of beers and sat there talking for a while. Unbelievably upon further questioning, these girls turned out to be from Norwich and were on there summer holidays before heading back to the UK and to university. It's always strange when you meet someone from your home town when your from a relatively small city like Norwich as there's always a chance that you will know them and a huge chance that you have mutual friends.

Peaceful river
The girls, Nicky and I decided that it would be nice to join forces on our last stint down stream to our final point back in Vang Vieng's bustling hub where all the bars play Family Guy or Friends from dawn till late. Half way down the river however, the guides had grown tired as the girls had obviously drunk a little too much and their coordination proved problematic with gaining any sort of meaningful race, so they stopped us and asked Nicky and one girl to swap kayaks. The race begun and I was the lucky one as my girl wasn't as impaired as Nicky's so we easily won our short races. My joy at our success was soon overshadowed as the girl sitting in the front of my kayak twisted and wriggled a bit too far forcing our kayak to capsize and sending us and all of my and Nicky's processions into the river. I surfaced from the thankfully shallow waters, regained my perspective and quickly gather as many of our things as possible before they headed off downstream. Thankfully we had put the majority of our things into a waterproof bag so the only thing that was lost were Nicky's 'genuiiine' Ray Ban sun glasses he purchased from a very honest salesperson in Siem Reap for a couple dollars, bargain! We climbed back in and were soon at the end of our trip. A fantastic kayak trip through the absolutely awesome surroundings of Vang Vieng that I never wanted to end.

Admiration of the view
Our third day was spent back down at the bars doing the 'tubing' thing (without a tube). My second time on the zip line brought with it a colonic irrigation as I landed painfully arse first. Tom landed on his chest winding himself. At the next bar I went on the slide and landed face first and I felt as though I may have broken my nose. With these painful moments in mind, I called it a day on the swings, slides and zip lines that plunge from the bars into the water. This was unfortunately our last day in the magnificent Vang Vieng. A place with such natural beauty and an extremely fun place to be. Although I love the place, I am concerned for Laos as I do not want it to end up like surrounding Thailand and Vietnam where the natural beauties and people become ruined by tourism and PUTs (Pissed up Twats, a term you'll here more from me soon!).

1 comment:

  1. I hope you will NOT be referring to my spectacle on Phi Phi at PUT-like. Yeah? Let's go back to SEA :(