Laos – 16th August
We have been on a bus for twenty hours. We are somewhere in Laos, hopefully near Vietianne. We jumped on this bus 6pm last night in Hanoi, it is now 2:16pm the next day. My body clock is confused, I have slept at random times (thanks to sleeping pills) and eaten random snacks. There are locals sleeping in the aisle and a tv blasting movies with asian voice overs. Last night felt like we were flying erratically through the darkness, the breaks would be pushed to the limit and the horn would go off every few metres down the road. Where are we?
We crossed the boarder at 7am and it only took two hours, which apparently is really good. It was pretty painless, no dramas. We walked over the boarder in the rain, is this New Zealand? Laos is colder than Vietnam, a comfortable cold. It is extremely green, amongst falling in and out of consciousness I would wake up to rain patting on the roof as we drove through low hovering clouds and thick emerald bush. Seriously are we in New Zealand?
Arriving at Vietianne bus station it looked like we were in the back country. Nothing in sight. We took a tuk tuk into the city centre which is amazingly quiet. No horns going off, no “you buy this, you want massage”. We found a guesthouse and settled in. We ended up having a quite a few beers and ventured somewhere to try find a pool table. We met up with Nicky a Canadian girl we had met on the bus and her English friend Davey. We took advantage of happy hour.
Woke up with another hangover today, a bad one. We found Jess and finally became human just before dinner time. After dinner we went to the night markets… AMAZING. The best market I have ever been too. The Lao people are so friendly and gentle, tranquil. Everything is hand made, woven, glass blown, knitted. I could easily fill a massive bag of stuff and send home goodness.
Vietianne is the most relaxed capital city in the world. The people are gentle and pleasant. They have a calmness that makes them unique, absolutely nothing is done in a hurry. The streets are quiet and the curfew for the town is midnight.
We woke the next day and boarded a bus to Vang Vieng, three hours north. The drive was beautiful, full of small villages living in harmony. The roads change from wide sealed grey carpets to thin rocky ledges. Arriving we instantly love it. The township is small and everyone is so relaxed.
We hired old school bicycles once we had unpacked into our new home. Food stalls on the streets cook up flavoured narn breads, kebabs, baguettes and local food. The village people roam the streets, kids play on busted up push scooters and adults hang in hammocks waiting for you to enter their shop.
Vang Vieng is stunning, like nothing I have seen before. It is nestled underneath soaring bright green mountains, spiritual mountains that stand proud protecting the community. At the foot of the hills is the Nam Song River, A long beige channel of water, adding to the calming atmosphere. It feels untouched though clearly isn’t as the backpacker comforts dominate the town. In about 95% of the restaurants there are either reruns of friends or family guy playing. I’m not complaining it was the best way to cure a hangover, lying down on cushions on a small bamboo platform with a table awaiting a massive breakfast.
Tubing… seriously what can I say. IT. IS. f***ING. INSANE. Something I could do for days on end.
First off we got a tuk tuk three kms north of town. We were dropped off at a bar on the river with a slide and some sweet tunes playing. This got us in the party mood, a mood ready for the unexpected. Anything could happen on this river of life or doom.
Next we ventured down the river on our tubes. A black round inflatable ring that carries you swiftly through the water. Its refreshing, its calming yet exciting. The second set of bars are high on stilts and are all made out of bamboo and wood. A tree house pub, though not for children. People throw empty plastic bottles out to you that are attached to a rope and pull you into their bar.
There are only two ways to have a drink on the river, either in a shot glass or a kids sand bucket. The shots are free and are local whiskys which have bees drowning amongst the alcohol. The buckets are loose, made up of numerous concoctions of local spirits and imported goodness. They really do kick you in the bum. The lines of bars all have their attraction. The second tree house of doom has a high swing which is like a wakeboard rope that fly’s you over the water next to all the people grooving on the tree platform. Bars further down have flying foxes and high platforms to jump off.
The mud bar which was known for its pink eye infestation has tug of war and muddy volleyball. We played a few games of tug of war and were coated in alcohol, slushy mud and potential pink eye juice. Jumping back in the tubes we all felt in joyful states. Floating down to the unknown we came across a sign which read “Free joint with every bucket.” Amazed, confused and surprised we ventured in to take a look. Sure enough there was a ‘strong’ menu which had a list of mushrooms, opium and weed. Were police about to run out of the jungle and attach hang cuffs?
Now in a euphoric ambiguous mood we glided further down river, to one of the last bars, one that became our favourite. There was a slide which was so knarley we all had aching muscles the next day. It is a long white smooth tiled slide which ends with a launch pad, a ramp or half pipe that flings you metres in the air until you start falling the distance to the water. It is amazing. This place also had the highest swing on the river, no wonder we all had bruised up bodies the next day.
There is no end to the tubing event, you either end up with someone from your pack sharing a tube or with some random trying to figure out what to do next, but as soon as that sun disappears its time to get yourself back to town. Some people float all the way back to town, others jump off and take a chance to find a tuk tuk o a village. Somehow everyone meets up and the buckets continue back in town, while still drenched in Nam Song goodness.
Tubing is so sick, no wonder every backpacker who is fortunate enough to pass though Vang Vieng loves it. On our second day both of our cameras along with all the amazing photos were swept away with the strong current of the Nam Song river, properly now down the Mekong near Cambodia. Maybe they were just never meant to be seen. I’m so guttered though as there would have been photographic evidence of me and Kahns double swing jumps, the crazy tug of war sessions, the buckets and buckets of alcohol flowing, Michaels classic drunken face, Jess’s multiple whisky shots, the amazing loose people we met, all of us flinging towards the sky and the way the river has its own atmosphere, it’s mystical ambience once you pass the bars and are floating down toward anonymous waters, feeling tiny amongst the tall soaring hills above you.
Because your… RIVERSIDE MOTHERf***ER!
I am sitting on the balcony of our guesthouse, three storeys high. It’s 4am. I can’t sleep properly here. The town turns into a mystical ghost town in the darkness, so quiet and deserted. It’s amazingly scary. I am surrounded by geckos, moths and werid bugs on the walls. There is one that looks like a grasshopper that has had a drink of nuclear waste from Homer Simpsons plant and grown hundreds times its normal size. I think it might eat me.
I got that feeling again, when you have to leave somewhere you tuly love and have come in tune with. Vang Vieng may be a place where everyone comes to go on a water way pub crawl but it also has something more. The village is beautiful, small and happy. These people are genuinely happy, not crying out for help or slowly wasting away on the streets. The spirit and people of this village are in tune with their surroundings and culture, it is a mix of western satisfiers and authentic stimulates.