12 December 2008

Vang Vieng

The journey down highway 13 from Luang Prebang to Vang Vieng must be one of the most spectacular roads anywhere. The scenery was absolutely breathtaking, huge mountain peaks and vast limestone karsts all surrounded by jungle covered hills. It definitely looked liked Slarty Bartfarst had a hand in things. And for the first time on this trip we were able to relax and enjoy the scenery as the driver was by far the sanest one we've had yet.

Things only took a turn for the worse once we arrived in Vang Vieng. I think that I had another case of "ugly shock", similar to when we arrived in Sapa. After the laid back charm and beautiful architecture of Luang Prabang, Vang Vieng was a bit of a shock to the system. The town itself fairly ugly, a little soulless and could best be described as ramshackle. To say I didn't immediately warm to it would be a bit of an understatement.

Anyway we found ourselves a beautiful bungalow right on the bank of the Nam Song and went out for a quick sundowner and a bite to eat. It was only when we returned later that evening that we realised our mistake . . . obscured behind our bungalow was a late night bar pumping out music at 200 decibells. I like a bit of music as much as the next person but not when the bass is causing the very fabric of our bungalow to vibrate at one o'clock in the morning! This lead us to check out first thing the next day. It was a real shame too because it was probably the nicest room we have stayed in and was only a tenner a night. We have now gone over to the other side . . . quite literally.

We are now staying in a resort called The Other Side which consists of about a dozen or so bamboo and rattan huts on stilts sat on the far bank of the Nam Song. It's really quaint here and a lot less manic than the town side of the river. To get to our resort you have to negotiate a 20 meter long rickety bamboo bridge which certainly keeps you on your toes after a couple of Beer Lao.

After we checked in we headed straight out for tubing. Tubing in Vang Vieng has attained a near mythical status and is a sort of rite of passage for anyone passing through the area. You are driven 4km out of town in tuk-tuk and then thrown into the Nam Song in a giant tractor inner tube. You then spend the next several hours drifting back down the river past dozens of riverside bars. If you want to head into a bar you wave at an attendant at the side of the river, they throw you a rope and haul you in. It's quite a surreal way to spend an afternoon.

The first bar where you get dropped off is also an organic farm and community project. A large portion of the profits are ploughed back into the local school to help pay for the education of the children. To help their cause we immediately ordered a couple of mulberry mojitos.

As if drunkenly drifting down a river in an inner tube isn't enough fun a lot of the bars have huge rope swings, death slides and chutes into the water. We had a go on one of the smaller rope swings which was only about 25 feet above the water . . . yes even Liz had a couple of goes. After my first go went ok I tried to hold on a bit longer to "get more air". The only thing I actually got was a right good slapping when I hit the water sideways on from about 20 feet. I now have a nice red mark up my side as if someone has smacked me with a piece of 4x2.

On Thursday we had a walk out to the Pha Pouak cave which is situated inside one of the Limestone karsts a couple of km through the fields behind our hut. One of the caves is supposed to be flooded with water and a great spot for swimming. However, we couldn't find it and had to give up the search for fear of getting lost in the underground labyrinth.

We instead had to settle for a climb to the summit of the limestone peak that was sat on top of the caves. This turned out to be quite an exciting (for me) / treacherous (for Liz) climb up some Indiana Jones style bamboo ladders followed by a near vertical scramble through a jaggedy limestone boulder field. A slightly more strenuous afternoon than floating drunkenly down a river!

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