Stay Another Day In Laos...

Trip Start Nov 05, 2008
Trip End Jun 23, 2009

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Dok Boua

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Saturday, January 10, 2009

I'm beginning to realize that its difficult to leave a place that is so enjoyable, which was the case with Vang Viang. This picturesque town with some of the most dramatic landscapes in the country has so much to offer and you can experience everything in a few days, but what's the rush really? The town is most set up for backpackers to rent tractor inner tubes and float down the Nam Xong river which goes through the town....we'll get to that later in the blog. I made some friends on the bus ride from Vientiane and ended up hanging out with them most of the time. Its a very easy place to meet people because the town is full of backpackers that flock here ready to party and some of them only come to VV for vacation and go back home.

My first day there, a whole group of us went on a kayaking, caving, trekking adventure near the town. We hiked through a small village to get to some spectacular caves that go very deep, some too deep and steep. The biggest one we went to was quite slippery and of course dark, so we had to use flashlights and not only watch our step, but also our heads through the narrow passages. There were many smaller passages shooting off the main part of the cave going who knows where, so we just stuck to the main route. All the "end" of the main passage the guide say it was too dangerous to go any farther, so we all turned off our flashlights and stopped talking for a minute so really feel how dark and quiet it was in the cave. The natural rock formations inside the cave were amazing. The next cave we went to was set up to take inner tubes through it, while pulling ourselves by a rope attached to the roof of the overhanging cave. The water was absolutely freezing, but we all dealt with it.

After exploring the caves, we walked for a couple hours with our hilarious tour guide (He told us his name was Porn, "like porn star, easy to remember") and listened to him telling stories about growing up in a small village in Laos. One of my favorite stories was how he used to take his red shirts and dress up one of the cows his family owned, then make the cow run towards the other cows to scare them away, just for fun. His English was not great, so it made the story so much more entertaining. After a delicious picnic lunch with BBQ chicken skewers, corn, sticky rice, and bananas, we embarked on the kayaking part of the trip. It was a gorgeous day, so the dramatic, jagged cliffs looming over the river were is plain view and made the kayaking all the more enjoyable. The Aussie couple with us had no idea how to kayak and somehow managed to capsize on the very calm river with no rapids in sight.

The whole tour group, including Porn, went out to dinner that night which was fun because of the interesting mix of nationalities. The food in VV was decent, with a wide range of "Western" restaurants with Lao food mixed in, but my favorite was the sandwich stands that made me tuna melts with REAL cheese! I went to the same sandwich lady everyday so after the 3rd day, she would see me approaching and would start making the sandwich before I could ask. VV is also notorious for the restaurants showing reruns of the shows "Friends" and "Family Guy." I didn't think I would be watching TV on my trip, but ended up spending some quality down time watching "Family Guy" after a full day of activities.

The rock climbing in VV was quite challenging, especially because I haven't done it in years. We learned how to belay each other and took turns going up 3 different routes of varying difficulty. For the climbers out there, the hardest climb we did was a 6B and only 1 person made it to the top. There were some tight squeezes and some almost impossible sections, where you really had to be confident and trust the ability of the climbing shoes to support your weight. On my first climb, I slipped off the wall, but got right back on and made it to the top. You have to be pretty creative in some spots. I still don't know how I made it past one very difficult spot on the 2nd wall. I did the last climb of the day when the sun had already set and I couldn't see anything on the wall, so I had to feel around for hand holds and pray I was going the right way. I was pretty sore the next day, but escaped with only a couple scratches.

Not too many backpackers can say that after leaving Vang Viang, especially the ones that go off the rope swings and zip lines into the river. This was the most popular activity in the town, as the town is custom made for backpackers to go floating down the river and get roped into bars where they have giant slides, high zip lines and rope swings and volleyball nets. So people forget about the tubing all together and just swim to the bars and hang out for a while. The bars turn into dance parties around noon and continue throughout the day and into the night.
While this is fun, it gets old after awhile and feels too much like a Spring Break atmosphere.

My last day there, a group of us rented mountain bikes in search of the so called "Blue Lagoon" which we heard was amazing and a must see. We searched around for most of the day and found A blue lagoon, but there were no clear signs or a decent map to help us find the real one. However, we did find another cave and at the entrance there were 4 locals kids averaging about 8 years old who led us through the cave. We were a little unsure about 8 year old tour guides for some strange reason, but they seemed to know where to go and had flashlights. We went pretty far into the cave and only one of them told us to stop because the cave was getting REALLY steep and slippery. So we had to turn back and I think we were all ready because it was quite an odd situation with these young kids as leading us through a dark narrow cave. This was an appropriate way to spend my last day because it really emphasized how unregulated Laos can be. Its so laid back and relaxed about everything that its easy to get caught up in the moment and forget about the comfort of an organized situation. In any case, after a week of fun filled activities and much deserved down time, I realized that I could have stayed longer in VV, but didn't get trapped like some travelers do.

Next Stop: World Heritage Site - Luang Prabang
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doriastories on

Rock climbing and spelunking with Aussies
Right about now, I am jealous of the warm weather you are enjoying. After last night's low of 1 degree, we are finally up to a balmy 10 degrees this morning in lovely snow-strewn Cambridge. Sighhhh. I find it amusing/terrifying that you are forced to rely on 8-year-olds to show you around steep dark slippery caves; I rely on my 8-year-old to keep me up to speed on Harry Potter's quidditch scores. I recall vividly that when you were 8 you were already a terrific hiker, scrambling up mountains like a little monkey (ironic, yes?!). So I guess I shouldn't be surprised at your adventuresome, risk-taking spirit now. Funny that you can watch the Family Guy in Laos!! With or without subtitles?

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