Published: August 7th 2005August 1st 2005
So I'm having trouble sleeping, its not the rock hard beds, I'm used to those, the left side of my body (the side I sleep on) is covered in purple and yellow bruises.
Throughout my first four months of travel in south east Asia, scores of people said Laos was their favorite place they've been to. It took me a few weeks to see why and while I don't necessarily agree I can appreciate it. For example, you walk across the street in Vietnam, you may get asked for a taxi three times, if you have a backpack you might as well a bulls-eye on your shirt. I'm used to it, it didn't hit me that Laos people don't hassle you until I arrived in the capital with a backpack past 5 taxis, all laying down or sleeping, not a sound from them. You almost feel helpless, where are all the people to help me find a room?
I left for the deep south of Laos with the group from the Sapa bike trip, we are all going on well now 5 weeks later. Our first stop was Don Diet in a place called "Four Thousand Islands." I got
Mekong Rapid at dusk
Fishermen will cross the rapids via rope, sadly a Canadian died a few weeks before trying to do the same.
real close to my hammock, we shared some great moments. This place is a tiny island in the Mekong river, no electricity, if you order a banana shake the cooks have to run out back to turn the generator on for the blender. A bungalow can be had for 1.50, hammock included. I spent six days doing a lot reading, running and nothing. The pictures show an impressive drop in elevation for the mighty river, the falls continue for hundreds of meter past the frame. Aside from the falls a small population of fresh water dolphins make up the tourist draw. Did I mention the hammocks though? After six days I had seen EVERYTHING of the 6 km island and got a little crazy so Jen, Rich and I left behind three others on a mission to find a 7km cave tunnel in south central Laos.
I was looking for a pain in the ass travel destination and I found it. Three bus transfers to a small village where we found out the road we wanted to take was washed out for the last few days, so rent a long tail from the locals and ride six hours to
a 'guesthouse' with dust on the visitors book. For dinner they set up a table with a large and a small plate, complete set of silverware, and glasses. What went on it was slightly less impressive, they had no food except instant noodle soup and lays potato chips. I know what you are thinking a real culinary feast, something exotic from central Laos. After the trip down college memory lane we went to bed wondering what it must be like to roll into a nearly four mile cave. It didn't disappoint, our guides were short, sturdy old men that had to be tracked down in their village as they only knew the way through. The mouth of the cave has rapids that would sink such shallow boats so we got out, they took the motor off and hauled it over a rock pass to a muddy sunken boat anchored inside. Ten minutes of bailing and sealing the wide seams with mud we were set, three travel days later. I can't remember having such dorky, giddy, wondrous feelings. Small corridors would open up to large ones, perhaps a hundred meters high, natural water pipes sprayed water from all points in the
Start of Cave trip
During the rainy season, roads wash out for months at a time. We shared a tuk tuk with 12 others, I sat on a bag of rice and made funny faces with a little boy.
roof and the sides of the cave, the driver couldn't miss them all so we were constantly sprayed. About half way in a huge bend appeared and on the corner a beach, imagine spending some alone time in there. We were left to looking where the guides looked, my LED headlamp wasn't exactly useful. Coming out the other side was just like a movie, clouds lying low, huge green cliffs and the junction of three tributaries each spilling different colored water into the main river.
Vientiane is the laid back capital, even with an ASEAN summit in town and soldiers with guns on every corner it still felt like everyone was asleep. New Zealand cheese and wine party on our guesthouse balcony was a highlight, after four months without a glass even bad Merlot can taste pretty good. We also went bowling, that's the one sport where you can feel like you are in the same place no matter where you are in the world, the twilight zone of bad haircuts, ear shattering pop music and over the top high fives. In the heart of Vientiane is a six lane interchange surrounding a poor, concrete mess of a replica
A sound Boat?
Not a real confidence booster, going 7 km in the dark, cold cave.
of the Champs Elysees. Its only funny if you saw the traffic there, a couple of bikes, maybe a car, perhaps a delivery truck, in 300 years they might need six lanes.
There are two things to do in Vang Vieng, both include a mass loss of brain cells. The town couldn't be in a better place, along a river, surrounded by karst limestone cliffs just take a look around and every shot is gorgeous. But there is a catch, a tractor beam of extreme laziness that if your not careful time will pass quickly and drool will form at your mouth. Friends, not the kind you make or travel with, the fake plastic kind on TV. About five TV bars show non stop episodes of Friends, the workers there must freak out when they hear the theme song 20 times a day. I was even pulled in one day, I sat down for some food with Matt and Jen and 5 episodes later I was less burdened with intelligent thought. I also saw a near fight, an Israeli couple changed seasons on a couple of English girls without asking, I've never seen such violently polite threats before. I
Mouth of the Giant
We found out later that water levels were too high the days before. Inside some corridors are only a few feet above our heads.
don't see how anyone could be so lazy with the river though, I could have spent the rest of the summer there. Rent a tube catch a ride upstream and float down to rope swings, zip lines, and giant platforms to jump off. In six days there I spent every other day on the river, recovery time needed. We had two days that were reasonably sunny which meant at least 50 tubing buddies out on the water. On the last day we had a bit too much to drink, you know, a little muddy, you pick a little up throw it on someone and soon its out of control. Which is why I cant sleep, during the mud fight I managed to get myself about four or five feet in the air and crashed on some exposed tree roots. It was one of those music stops, everyone stares at you kind of moments, as everyone who knows me I seem to be famous for hurting myself in very stupid ways in public.
There are more photos below