Friday, July 20, 2007

Laos - Vang Vieng to Vientiane

After a couple of days in Luang Prabang we caught a minibus heading south to Vang Vieng. The journey took around 7 hours as we snaked our way through the mountains and jungles of northern Laos. There were several stops en route to take in the scenery, eat at the village market stalls, and also so that the driver could deliver vegetables to some of his friends.

Vang Vieng is a small town consisting of only a few streets beside the river. The main attraction here is to float down the river in the inner tube of a tyre. Sounds simple enough. However, there are around 10 "bars" on the way down the river, each one with different swings and jumps. The whole event is basically a pub crawl, the difference being you float from one bar to the next instead of walking. We run into the Canadians and the Dutch from
the slow boat and 9 of us sign up to go the next day. In the morning we take a tuk-tuk a few km's out of town to the start. There are aerial runways and swings and people launching themselves into the murky water at every
available opportunity. Lao kids wait along the banks of the river and hold out long bamboo poles, so that people can grab on and then they pull them to shore. The organisers request about 30 cents per jump, or it's free if you buy a beer Lao or whiskey shot. After the first few stops it was obvious that this was going to be messy, as there were around 200 people on the river. Alcohol, jumping and a fast flowing river...the safety issues were
evident. There was a great party about half way down, so we ended up staying there longer than expected. On the last jump of the day I slipped off awkwardly and flopped into the water, losing my wrist watch in the muddy river. Anyway, we lost track of time and this meant that we
actually ended up floating down the river in the dark. After some uncertainrty we clambered out before arriving in Vang Vieng and got a lift back in a tuk tuk. Needless to say it was an early night.
The next day was spent recovering and relaxing and organising our escape. The bus ride to our next stop, the capital Vientiane, was about 3 hours. Hovever we decided it would be more adventurous to kayak most of the way. There was a tour group going the following day, so we arranged to go with them. The tuk tuk delivered us and the kayaks to the Namlik river, the starting point. Our bags and the driver would meet us at the other end and leave us at the fountain in the centre of Vientiane. It was a strenuous trip, paddling downstream and hurtling through a few class 4 rapids. The stop for lunch was fantastic, with the local guids providing a full on barbecue on the banks of the river. Afterwards a few jumps itnto the river to cool off and it was time to paddle again. We arrived in Vientiane around 17h, completely exhausted and aching all over. It was worth it though and the day had been a real adventure.
Vientiane is slightly dull and for a capital city there is not much happening. After a day and a half looking around we decide to move on. Our next stop is Vietnam, so we arrange tickets to Da Nang on a local bus. There are no luxury busses for this journey, so it will be 24h the hard way. No false impressions about how this journey will be...