Backpacker Central

Trip Start Oct 30, 2012
Trip End May 30, 2013

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Where I stayed
Maylyn Guest House Vang Vieng
Read my review - 4/5 stars

Flag of Lao Peoples Dem Rep  ,
Monday, December 10, 2012

After only a few hours of gut-wrenching twists and turns through the mountains, we've arrived at backpacker central – tourism gone wrong, many say. A place where 'westerners' flaunt their desires despite cultural differences. A place you either love or hate, the guide book says.  2 types of people come here: those who want to party and those for the nature. Well, we're not here to get hopped up and watch Friends, so I guess we're part of the latter group.  The natural beauty of the place abounds. From the second we disembarked the bus, we just started walking towards the karsks – never mind waiting for the sorongtuu to give us a ride (I say, if you can't carry your backpack, you're not really a backpacker...). Found a gorgeous place on the 'wrong' side of the river away from the noise. Beautiful bungalows along the river overlooking the magnificent karsks while surrounded by butterfly infested gardens – wow!

Into the hills we went on some rickety old bikes all the wrong geometry for our bodies with wheels and cranks loose on some of the roughest roads imaginable. Big loose stones scattered over potholes and ruts on a dirt track. Thought the bikes were going to rattle apart in the first five minutes. It reminded me of our last trip together on bicycles:  Brian complaining about the mechanics of the bikes and me saying it will be fine. I told him that we're not the first people to ride these bikes on these roads, to which he answered, we might be the last...

At every junction of the road are signs directing you down various side roads to caves beyond. The straight sheer cliffs of limestone are riddled with holes everyone wants to lay claim to. Enticing descriptions of 'large cave', 'interesting rock formations', 'natural water', and
'swimming' are some of the teaser lines.

Finally I decided to try ones of these. Definitely not listed in Lonely Planet, I thought it might be nice and special to support a local and try something different. The side road in was a refreshing change of packed dirt and winding curves covered with butterflies of all shapes and colours. I don't think I've seen two the same. 10 000 Kip for the experience and we were busy trying to find our way through the rice paddies to the cave.

Well, 'special' it was. The cave was barely the width of a body and difficult to traverse. Busy trying not to slip or put your hand in something gross you could not look at anything else, not that there was anything to see. A tiny, slimy crack in the rock with a hole filled with water (which was probably filled with strange creatures with big mouths and no eyes). Swimming, we would not. But the walk in through the banana plantations and rice paddies was beautiful. What a fabulous place to live with ponds, rivers and mountains all around. I've decided I'm going to retire in Laos.

After that fulfilling experience, we decided to try a more acknowledged site called the Blue Lagoon. We knew we were in the right place because the area around was covered in ripped guys swinging into water and bikini-clad girls sunbathing (the Laos people actually have a big
problem with this and find it very offensive. Everywhere you go there are requests to keep your body covered). 

The cave opening was a steep 200m climb up rough rock 'steps'. Opening into a large sheltered cavern that seemed to go on and on (if you picked the right route). Past the reclining Buddha we followed the signs directing us into the actual 'cave'. Turning on our headlamps it was a difficult
climb over boulders, but then it cleared and we were amazed at the show that went by. Huge stalactites dripping into little pools.  Stone glittering like travertine marble in a never ending arrangement of shapes and designs glinting just beyond the range of our lights.  Stopping every once in awhile, we'd turn off the lights and just listen to the drips echoing around us. Completely alone. Seems like everyone we spoke to coming up or doing down afterwards are afraid of caves and only just poke their head in or go to the Buddha, which was fine with us!

The next morning I rose early to go scout out the sunrise thinking it would be stunning. But because we're in such a mountainous place, the light is quite bright by the time it rises over the hills. But the pre-dawn mist between the hills is quite enchanting. While I walked through the
shorn rice fields rousing the chickens it seemed like time stood still...(did I mention I want to retire here?).

We decided to rent a motor bike and see things a bit further. We did the Great Eastern Jungle Loop (sounds exciting, eh?). It was about 15km of wild jungle road.  Before, in Cambodia, they would talk about 'jungle' which was something a little more than a 'wood' or 'forest' consisting of tropical plants. Here, the sides of the road were an unpenetrable mass of trees interlaced with vines creating a web going up and a curtain coming down.  Further covered with ferns and other plants with the occasional spike of bamboo soaring above. More mountainous than just karsks,  there were sweeping valleys covered with this unending green. A tiny road twisted and turned and climbed steeply.  Even with both brakes fully engaged the bike would still slide down the rough surface. About half way around the loop we stopped at the Kaeng Yui waterfall. A lovely 300m walk through the jungle with butterflies swirling around wherever we stepped getting higher and higher upstream. Finally, there was a moss covered cliff face with a gentle mist pouring down landing in a shallow pool sounding like rain. I could have sat there for hours.

Sitting on our balcony in the tropical garden overlooking the mountains, I watch the sky slowly darken as the butterflies went to bed. Birds and bats come out for their evening meal.  The sky fades and the first stars begin to glint through the dark. Then the frogs, crickets and other Lao-tian singers start up an orchestra that's so loud it's almost difficult to speak over. I'm dying for a glass of red wine. What would be more perfect on an evening like this? But alas, it's gone the way of Brian's cream in coffee. The few bottles I've been able to find for sale are 2008 French bottles which have been sitting in sunny shop windows so long the price has faded away.  I'm sure they're not very tasty, plus they're 5 times the price they should be. Brian's happy with his $2 bottle of kick-ass Lao whiskey...I'll have to wait a bit longer.
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My Review Of The Place I Stayed

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michelle preston on

love all the pics just can' tfind any of those ripped guys:):)

2totango on

in my private collection :)

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