Poagao's Journal

Absolutely Not Your Monkey

Feb 27 2010

Vang Vieng

February 21, 2010

The Elephant’s breakfast buffet this morning featured delicious Fukien noodles, scrambled eggs, omelets, fruit, French bread and orange juice, which we ate under the baleful glare of a scary blonde kid with a huge forehead at the next table. The hotel’s beds and sheets were quite comfy, and I slept better than anywhere else I’ve done this trip, so getting up was a bit difficult. The morning began mistily, but the sun came out while we ate, and the day was hot by the time Prince Roy showed us to the boat rental place.

I sat in the front of the slim, flat-bottomed boat, furthest away from the buzzing motor, and we slipped up the river past the hotel, under the wooden bridges and empty swings and slides the backpackers would be lining up for later in the day when they awoke from their slumber. Rugs on wooden platforms and hammocks slung between trees on each bank beckoned, and I wondered what it would be like to just take a week or a month and just pass the days in such places, reading, or dreaming or just staring into space. Some of the places were named “The End”, and I wondered how many foreigners did indeed spend their last days here or in similar places.

Despite various wriggling that I assumed were accompanying Chenble’s attempts to take photos at strange angles, the ride was smooth until we hit rapids, the motor struggling to get us through as the boat’s bottom scraped against the rocks. The view of the karsts against the late-morning sky was wonderfully refreshing, especially in the cool breeze accompanied by the rushing water, which was seldom more than a few feet deep. Occasionally we’d pass Lao people fishing for something on the river bottom or washing clothes. A couple of the suspension bridges reminded me of Bitan and home.

The ride back was not quite as awesome, as the sun, hotter now, was in our faces. Prince Roy was waiting for us back at the Elephant, and after checking out we decided to take a walk on the other side, past the hippie enclaves and cow pastures, to a small karst with a flag on top. It was reputed to have a cave. A sign was posted at the foot of the path up extolling the views and displaying a price for admission of 10,000 kip. The Lao man manning the post had run out of water.

The “path” turned out to be a rock slide sprinkled with a few rough bamboo ladders. Prince Roy led the way up, and by the time I had scrambled up, he was out of view. I climbed until I ran out of mountain, but it turned out I was on the wrong peak, so I had to follow the sound of PR’s voice to the real peak, where he was sitting underneath the flag. The view of the surrounding fields and karsts was quite nice, though the effect was somewhat spoiled by a nearby Lao karaoke session. Chenble eventually made his way up as well, and PR, wanting to proclaim his mountaineering superiority, went over to sit on a slightly higher outcropping to survey his realm.

The climb back down was different and more difficult in ways, but still fun, especially the parts where I had to swing from low branches over small crevices. At one point I had to wait above a ladder for a couple of Brits who were ascending. “We didn’t expect any heavy traffic today,” one of the told me.

“Well, get ready for some more heavy traffic,” I replied, referring to Chenble, who was still on his way down.

Someone had thoughtfully set up a rug on a table at the foot of the hill for climbers to rest on before returning to the village. The herd of cows was running around the fields as we crossed, little packs of bulls following certain cows in heat while other cows looked on. I felt like I was back in high school.

After I soaked my feet in the river a bit, we headed over to the Australian bar for lunch. It was quite authentic, swarms of flies and all. The hamburgers were good despite the sweet buns and tough-as-nails bacon. On the way back to the car, we passed a bar that was not actually showing Friends episodes, but Simpsons episodes instead. I suppose that counts as an improvement.

We left Vang Vieng at around 2:30 p.m. The drive back was similar to the drive up, with the same lawless drivers, trucks overloaded with goods and people passing on bridges and blind curves, and herds of aimless cows. Though the houses seemed fairly neat and well-kempt, even the poorer-looking ones, the temples were in the best condition. We passed the bit of good Japanese pavement and the Japanese bridge, and a strange accident in which someone had hit a tree in their own front yard, somehow involving a “King of Bus” bus.

Coming back into Vientiane, the city looked more appealing than it had when we were leaving from the airport. Prince Roy dropped us off at a restaurant overlooking the Mekong River, Thailand on the other side, where we sat drinking juice and watching people frolicking on the sand spits below while he went to pick up Spicy Girl. We ordered after they arrived, and despite a few mixups from the kitchen, the food was all excellent and the atmosphere very relaxed. If you’re in Vientiane and you have the means, I highly recommend it.

After dinner, we stopped off in the city’s Backpacker Central area to walk around amongst the foreigners, occasionally spotting a Lao person, who almost inevitably offered up a tuk-tuk ride. The area’s full of little cafes and guesthouses, nice old buildings spared from the relentless bombing during the war.

I’m at Prince Roy’s and Spicy Girl’s castle now, where my Thinkpad is (you guessed it) refusing to accept the wifi signal. Tomorrow we’re flying to Luang Prabang. Hopefully we’ll be able to find a decent hotel there. I’m looking forward to seeing it; even PR hasn’t been there.

posted by Poagao at 11:57 pm  

1 Comment

  1. Cool!!!

    Comment by Tubing Laos — April 16, 2010 @ 1:14 pm

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