Travelling through Laos
16.08.2011 - 22.08.2011 30 °C
Hanoi to Vientiane Laos
When we left Vietnam we were inspected by about 20 vietnamese military, some of whom showed grumpy tactics, like making me empty my pack out on the road, before myself and everyone else nearby were allowed to walk out of Vietnam, the Lao customs & border control were much nicer to deal with! The bus trip from Hanoi & Vientiane was pretty cool, it may have taken 20 hrs but it also had quite a few stops and as I have been travelling for about 5 days & I was looking forward to a couple of chilled days in Vientiane.
Im usually prepared to search fo an hour, deciding where to stay, saw one with cool boganvillia garden but was booked out, I ended up in a more conventional Vientiane travellers hotel, just a stone's throw from the Mighty Mekong and full of hallway cameras, too many! Hired a bike every day so I could pedal around the flat streets of Vientiane where there seems to be a temple or stupor on every second corner, the weather was humid, due to the nightly heavy rains & sunny cloudy days. I spent one night with a couple of friends I had met on the bus, playing pool and drinking in the Red Mekong, which is far less of a stone's throw to the Mekong, than from my hotel.
After an easy 5 hr mini bus trip from Vientiane I arrived in Vang Vieng mid afternoon and managed to find a nice homely hotel overlooking a river. The room had a balcony, a large clean bed and wifi everywhere. From my balcony I could see a bridge to a small stoney river island where there were simple wooden canopy structures and decided to check it out. The town is a young peoples party town, restaurant diners lie around, there are no chairs, eating great food, drinking beers and juices while looking across the river to a ridge of hills in mist or in in other restuarants hunkering down in front of the TV to watch reruns of Friends or Mash.
So I get to the bridge in fact had to walk down about 30 concrete steps to reach a modern wooden construction. Not the first bridge to be built here and probably not the last. As I cross the bridge I cant help noticing a caucasin, lying comotose on the muddy river bank in an inflated tyre, while his girlfriend tried to bring him round by pulling at him, none of which was doing much good.
When I got down off the bridge and near the drunken sailor, I sensed he might be an be an Australian or a Kiwi by what he had moaned while throwing up. He needed a kick up the jacksy, so I said to him that “..... I have better things to do with my time than hang round looking after a drunk.....”. This utterance seemed to strike a cord with him which made him stagger out of his tyre & his stupour and eventually disappear up the steps leading to the road & restaurants, with his head in his hands and the girl no where to be seen.
I stood on the bridge again and watched many more people float past in groups merrily chatting & also yelling at other groups tubing the river.I ate a great spagetti bolognese at a restaurant on my way back to my hotel.
Had quiet beer which was followed by flash downpour which caused a the local power to go out around 9pm that night and it never came back till 11am the next day. The rains continued on an off during the night .No generators.
Tubing the River
Woke up to suprized by fine weather but the power was still off, so went for breakfast at a nearby restaurant, where the food is good, and then sauntered across the road to buy a ticket to tube the river that afternoon. I was interested to find out how all these tubers ended up merry and toasted. So I got my number written on my arm, a large tube thrust into my hands, and then transported 5 km up the river in a cramped tuktuk with tyres tied on the top. When you get out of the tuktuk, you are blasted with waves of loud music and peoples shrieks and cheers, there is a party going on. We are transported across the swollen river in a small multihull boat to an open air bar where about 150 people are drinking, dancing, playing drinking games, swinging off a rope, chatting and laughing, getting ready to tube the river.
The houch they are giving away , I am guessing, with an alcohol content of around 15% to 20%. It was basically undrinkable,but that didnt stop most of them. Within a km of this bar there looks like another 4 or 5 bars downstream, I have a beer and decided to do some tubing.
I grab a tube and launch myself into the river, sitting in the the tyre and using my arms as oars I quickly reached the centre of the river, a rope attached plastic missile (Coke 1.5 lt ) falls near by, I reach out and grab it & I get dragged into the next bar. In about 200m I have already been to two bars this one is like the one before more dancing, more music, more drinking games.
I have spied about a kilo down the river a large slide that looks like it could like fun, so I start tubing down the river towards it. Along the way other bars fire missiles but I leave them alone letting them float by, until I catch one that drags me into the bar with the large slide.Its large enough to sling me about 5 m in the air with a chance it might end in a face plant. I got better with practice.
From here there are few bars it is about 2-3 kms drift down the river back to Vang Vieng and then return my tube to the collection centre in town, in order to have the tyre deposit refunded. Tomorrow off to Luang Prabang
This trip should usually take 6 hrs but took almost twice that because of a large slip that had to be cleared before we could get through, 5 large diggers were working in unison to make it happen. After that there were a couple of high mountain passes that put most of us to sleep. then its levelled out for a 2 hrs drive into Luang Prabang.
Most of the small hotels & restaurants are found a narrow 2 km long ismus surrounded on one side by the Mekong and on the end & one side by the Nam Khan, a tributary to the Mekong at the far end and other side by. I have enjoyed the central location of my hotel, it is well run by a couple of young guys, who took me to one of the night markets, which are well worth a visit, clothes, jewellery, leather goods, textiles & local stuff. I hired push bikes quite abit, and the town is fairly flat & there are some great river views to be had.
On the last day I decided to take a trip on the ever present Mekong, the large brown river flowing briskly past Luang Prabang. Boat trips cost 100,000 kip ($12US) but seeing there was only me, I decided to take the cheaper option of a motorised canoe. I started to have migivings when I saw how small it was, this smallness was mirrored by the size of its motor, which was noisey and almost totally powerless.
As we venture out across the Mekong, I quickly realised the precarious balance of the canoe and the fact we didnt have enough speed to keep up with the current and when in the middle river, it is a a good 300 m long swim to shore, there are no life vests, I start to concentrate on a successful crossing. Then the clouds were burned off and we realise that we only have one umbrella, its as hot as hell, not breath of wind, I am dying, just after we went enter the Nam Khan, the tributary to the Mekong, the canoe makes a shudder and then a clunk. I grab the umbrella he leans over the back of the canoe then says the propellor has come off. I am just glad we are not out on the Mekong. He has a spare propellor which he ties on, Im hot , we have run out of propellors, it was time to be dropped off.
I fly to Chiang Mai, Thailand tomorrow.