Friday, June 11, 2010

Vang Vieng

Our bus ride to Vang Vieng was blessedly uneventful. We were all dropped off in front of some hotel in the hopes that we'd just cave in and stay there, but most people were upset enough at not being dropped in the middle of the town that they grabbed their stuff and took off in a bit of a huff. I have to admit, Chuck and I were part of the huffy group. I guess we all felt we deserved to be dropped off at a central location, but whatever. We started walking but really had no clue where we needed to go. We tried to ask an older man working in his convenience shop where the Babylon Guesthouse was. He assured us that we had arrived and it was just upstairs. For a moment I thought What luck, we found it! Then I realized he was just trying to get us to stay at his guesthouse. The locals would apparently be no help in the matter. We resorted to waving down a tuktuk who was generous enough to take us just around the corner for 5,000 kip. Per person. He didn't mention it was 5,000 per person until we had gotten around the corner. Psh. We checked into the guesthouse and then went next door for some food. We took our time eating and watched the people going by on the street. Quite a few ladies went by on their motorbikes, one hand on their handlebars and the other holding an umbrella to keep away the sun. I was impressed at a man who drove by with a big box of beers wedged into the space between his knees. We even saw a procession of monks and other devoted worshippers walking down the street followed by music and parade floats. Not sure what that was about but it was neat to see. The rest of the evening was spent watching movies (The 5th Element, oh yeah) downstairs and playing with the guesthouse cat. I tell ya, I have gotten to play with more kittens and cats in our time traveling than I did for years back in the States. This is good for me because I love me a cuddly kitten, but maybe bad for kitty populations who grow too large to accommodate everyone. Also, they probably are a nuisance to someone.

We walked through the town checking out breakfast joints on the 21st. When we finally picked one, the food ended up being very mediocre. I had a suspicion that much of the food throughout town was mediocre, given the fact that the town is only alive thanks to the tourism from drunk college students. After eating we walked down to the rivers edge to see what all the fuss was about. Maybe I should give you a bit of background on Vang Vieng here. Vang Vieng is well known amongst SE Asian travelers as a crazy town where you get drunk and go tubing on the local river. Or get high and go tubing. Or in many peoples' cases, get drunk and high and go tubing. Along with the tubing there are also rope swings hanging from the trees and people break bones frequently enough that the river is known for being dangerous. It seems that you'd be lucky if you came away with only a few scratches. We weren't near the tubing part of the river, but all the same, I wanted to see this famous river. Let me tell you, it wasn't exciting from where we were standing. It was quite shallow, full of algae covered rocks, and flowing with brown water. The surrounding scenery was quite pretty though, despite the haze of smoke in the air. The smoke was due to the slash-and-burn farming technique that is used to prepare the fields at that time of year. I can imagine it's really spectacular when the air is clear. So after the let down of the river and a few pictures we headed back to the main street. We strolled through the town, following the road through the main central part and to the outskirts on the other side. There was a temple there that we had a quick look at, and then headed back towards the guesthouse via a different path. It was a calm day of simple exploration, although there wasn't really all that much to explore. It's a pretty tiny town. And being the tourist-tubing town that it is, most of what is there is based on that fact. Just about all the restaurants served Western food and any building that wasn't selling food or lodging was selling souvenirs. That's not to say anything bad about Western food, though. Western food is good sometimes. For example, I indulged in a slice of apple pie that night. It was pretty good too.

After breakfast on the 22 we put on our bathing suits and flip flops and headed down to the center of town to rent us some tubes. When we got there and found out how much they were charging we laughed and said "No thanks." Looking back, I don't know why we were so put off. I think it was only $7-10 to rent a tube for the day. $10 for all-day tubing really isn't that bad a deal. I know there was a deposit fee of another $7-10 dollars on top of that, and maybe that's what put us off. I just don't know!Whatever it was, we decided we wouldn't bother with tubing. Besides, it had turned into such a cliche activity and we were okay with not doing the cliche backpacker thing. Although I'm sure it would have definitely been fun. Instead, we walked down to the rivers edge on our own again and I waded around with my feet in the water, just to be able to say that I had actually “gone in.” There were these bright pink and purple dragonflies flitting about that were really pretty. We were right next to one of the rickety, narrow wooden bridges that crosses the river and eventually we decided to go on across and explore the other side. The crossing was a bit scary due to the fact that it wasn't just pedestrians that used the bridge. Bicyclists and even motorcyclists used it as well. Passing a motorcyclist was a bit of a thrill. They had to stop in order to let us shimmy by, otherwise one of us was bound to fall into the water. Did I mention there's no rails on the bridge? Yeah, so falling would be pretty easy. Once safely on the other side we explored. We wandered through some well-maintained fields where some workers were digging in the ground or taking a lunch break. Heading past them and towards the distant hills, we found ourselves in some not-so-well-maintained fields. There was a cryptic sign posted implying something about following yellow flags to get to a cave. Caves sounded fun, so we tried to follow any flag that looked remotely yellow. We found a few that might have been yellow at some point, but had long since turned into a translucent cream color. We tried to walk on the raised ground that sectioned the entire field into 20 x 20 foot squares, but some spots were so overgrown with scrubby bushes and ground cover that we had to traipse through them anyways. Once we ran out of flags to follow we just walked towards the hills in front of us. At some point we noticed that the rocky formation ahead of us had a yellow flag up at the the very top. We decided this must be the cave and headed for it. As we approached we were greeted by a few local men asking if we wanted to see the cave. Yes, we wanted to see the cave. It would cost us 10,000 kip a person to see the cave. We decided what the hell and paid our money. One man grabbed a flashlight and handed it to me, then led us up a series of bamboo ladders nailed and strapped to the rock face until we came to a cave of sorts. Then he conveyed using hand signs and gesturing that we should look around the cave and then climb to the top if we wanted. And to be sure to bring back the flashlight. He then left us on our own. So we looked around the cave, which was open on both ends with a few crevices that one could explore if they were crazy. We're not that crazy, so we just shone the flashlight in these cracks and imagined evil demon monsters springing out at us (it might have been just me that imagined this) and then left to climb the rest of the rock. It was a rather frightening climb. I mean, it wasn't Mt. Everest by any means, but I wouldn't call it safe and easy either. It was basically a big pile of jagged rocks precariously balanced against each other with trees snaking out here and there for handholds. But we made it to the top, despite aching hands and tired legs. We took a breather and listened to the cows mooing in the fields below us for a bit before getting up the willpower to make the trip back down. Because we were already worn out it was a little bit scarier. It also just looks scarier when you look down a mountain rather than up it. We were glad to be back on solid ground once we were done. I handed over the flashlight (which I had somehow managed not to lose during the climb) and we wobbled back towards town. Back at the guesthouse we had to shower with our clothes on because they were so dirty. We didn't really do anything else that day. The climb was good enough for us.

We were sore the next morning. We also had a few bites and weren't sure if this was from bed bugs or if it was just bugs from being outside and climbing a rocky hill the day before. Our day was very lazy with us hanging out downstairs at the guesthouse most of the time. We managed to get out long enough to buy tickets to the town of Phonsavan for the next day, but that was it.

We woke on the 24th to find a few more red bites on us. We were pretty sure it was bed bugs, although not a bad case of them. Not as bad as in Switzerland at least. Even so, we were happy to check out. We grabbed some baguettes and waited for our pick-up van. Once it arrived we climbed aboard and waited for some more, for a few others who were supposed to be coming along. When an older couple came along i knew right away they were Australian because the man was dressed just how my Grandpa Geoff used to dress. He made a beeline for the unopened door on the near side of the van and began yanking. It was only a "dummy" door though, and wouldn't budge. Neither would the man. He faithfully continued to pull until the driver hurried around the van to let him know that actual door was on the other side. I thought it was pretty funny and endearing. Especially since mine and Chuck's seats were right next to the dummy door and we got to watch his expressions as he pulled. And his wife was so elegant-yet-rugged looking and didn't seem at all embarrassed or distressed by her husbands mistake. When he climbed in he said “Hello” to everyone happily, as if he hadn't just tried to open the wrong door repeatedly. I don't know if he was unaware of the fact the he might want to consider being embarrassed or if he just didn't care. Either way, I thought his attitude was a good one. After they were tucked in their seats we took a short ride to the bus station and all parted ways to our separate buses. Our bus was actually a minivan. The driver and his friend strapped our and the other passengers bags to the roof and covered them with a tarp. I would have been nervous about them falling off but he strapped everything down so tight that I was sure they wouldn't be going anywhere. Somehow, Chuck and I managed to pick the two worst seats in the van. Too bad for us. Off we went on the long journey to Phonsavan.


  1. hello sarah..
    enjoy tagging along on your adventure..
    how much longer will you be gone?

    good travels..aunt sandra

  2. Hey Aunt Sandy! So glad you're able to come along with me :-) I'm happy to know people are still hanging in there with me. We will probably be here for another...3 months perhaps? We're still milking all we can out of our trip, as you can tell!!