We arrived in Vang Vieng and our jaws dropped. "So no one told you life was gonna be this way ..
. clap/clap/clap/clap". Along the one main road in this small town came the sounds of the Friends theme song blasting from every restaurant. It was like stepping into another reality. The entire town has been transformed into a traveller's relaxation zone. All the restaurants are showing Friends on giant tv screens all day long, while people chill on raised lie-down, cushion-clad seating (all seating facing the tv screen of course). It was pretty depressing - what the locals must think of westerners. Within 30 minutes we had checked into a hotel and were leaning against some cushions getting sucked into the Friends world (how pathetic are we). Luckily we had booked a two day trekking/kayaking tour starting the next day so we could escape that scene.
The tour was absolute hell. It was possibly one of the most dangerous and scary things I have ever done before, and when I think back I don't feel pride that I did something very challenging and survived, but grateful that nothing seriously bad happened. I hope that one day I will recover mentally from the trauma. The idea was to do a bit of trekking the first day - up and down two small mountains at 600 metres apiece - sleep in a little village, then kayak back into town on the second. The night before we left it poured nonstop so the path was insanely slippery, making the hike up and down treacherous to say the least. We basically were expected to walk straight up and slide straight down, walking through the jungle bush
. There was barely a path, and our guide had never before taken this particular trip at this time of year, because no one is stupid enough to attempt it in the rainy season (except us). It was terrifying for me and Tom, and of course Kyle didn't have any problems at all. After the first pass (where we had zero view because the jungle growth was so thick), we had to slide our way down to the water below. All along we could see what would happen if we slipped too far - basically death, since there would be nothing to stop a free fall. I picked up a leech on the way and practically impaled myself on a branch as I fell. At one point Tom slipped and went rolling belly over back straight towards Kyle and I. We (Tom and I) were wiping out even when we were standing still! It was not only scary, but also totally embarrassing. By the time we reached the second pass I was freaking out and ready to ask for a helicopter rescue team. I sat down and slid most of the way, picking up splinters on my hands and mosquito bites on my face. At one point we had to go Tarzan style and use a vine to help us swing straight down a mud path.
But, we made it down and over to the village for dinner, and the rest of the trip was just great. While we waited for dinner, we played with a chained up monkey (chained up because he terrorized the village if he wasn't). We slept with a family in their (rat-infested) home and it was actually really comfortable and nice (minus the rat part)
. At this point all I need is a mosquito net to make me feel safe. Early in the morning all the animals in the village simultaneously piped. It was hilarious. We were vibrating with the sounds of their collective cries for breakfast. Pigs, cows, water buffalo, chickens, dogs, goats. It was a symphony that started as abruptly as an alarm clock. What a great way to start the day. After breakfast we jumped into our kayaks and started paddling down the river. We noticed immediately that the village we stayed in was an hour walk from the point we had started our hike the day before - meaning the hike across two mountains was just for fun, we could have walked around the base of one to get to our village. Nice.
The kayak trip was lovely, and took us around the base of some gorgeous mountains. We ended back in Vang Vieng feeling a bit sore and needing some Friends. After a day of rest, relaxation, and tubing, we set off for Luang Prabang.
The drive to Vang Vieng was absolutely incredible. The scenery is fantastic fairytale kind of stuff - beautiful uninterrupted rolling mountains knocking into each other forming flowing seams, presenting every possible shade of green. Really pretty. Yet again we thought about how much things can change within a few kilometers - the little bit of Lao we've seen is completely different than Vietnam. Unfortunately, the beautiful mountains provide a huge challenge for transportation. It took us a full eight hours on a paved road to get the short straight-line distance from Vientiane to Vang Vieng. The road is essentially one giant hairpin turn. As we made our way up and around mountains we drove past small villages with tiny huts not two metres from the road with naked children waving and livestock running around.