Published: January 1st 2006January 1st 2006
From a day tubing...
The VIP bus regurgitates the passengers for Vang Vieng onto the gravelly disused airstrip that separates the town from the highway. Disembarking, approached by tuk-tuks and leaflets for guesthouses - I choose the first, $3 a night with the hottest shower I've experienced in south-east asia I decide to stay at the Thavisouk. It's the 26th of December 2005, I plan to stay a few days and head to Pak Say and the four thousand islands fairly quickly.
The town of Vang Vieng is small, a couple of streets lined with backpacker bars, low slung tables with comfortable recliner cushions popular in Thailand. Canned laughter spills out on to the dusty streets, the sounds of endless episodes of “Friends” being played on DVDs from restaurants I vow never to attend. Despite a heavy cold I decide to book a kayaking trip on the River Nam Song for the following day. I meet some fellow travellers at the guest house have dinner and call it a night.
I wake to rain and cold and start sneezing and coughing, I'm ready for kayaking. When travelling about sometimes it feels like a game of cards, get on a bus in a new
direction and deal a new hand, you never know what is going to crop up. I get into a tuk-tuk with my new hand while kayaks are strapped to the roof, my fellow cards are Korean and speak so little English I can't talk with them... the rain pours into the back of the tuk-tuk and I cough some more... this isn't what I'd hoped.
We get to the river and things start to pick up. We wander into a village and make our way to the Elephant Cave, a cave of special significance due to a rock formation that looks a little like an elephant. We the go to the Water Cave, a cave of special significance due to it being full of water. Time to get even colder and wetter, the only way into the cave is floating on an inner-tube with a head torch pulling yourself along with a rope. The Koreans are friendly and happy and start to cheer me up, I float into the cave and the darkness. The trip into the cave is fun bouncing off the walls bumping into the fellow tubers, wondering where we'll end. The end of the cave opens
out, dries out and we stand and look around, there isn't really much to see but it was fun getting there so we head back.
The Nam Song river is in a stunning place, sheer limestone hills rise vertically to heights over 1000m above us, the clouds make the atmosphere moody and dark, our guide is friendly and splashes us, snapping me out of my thoughts and back in to reality. Small rapids negotiated, back to drifting down the river...
Vang Vieng is all about the river, the best bars are on it the best activities are there. Day three is all about the river, day three is all about tubing. Dave from Liverpool came down from Luang Prabang on day two and with Sherrie from Perth we head out to the river, the sun is beating down and the atmosphere couldn't be more different. We drift down the river at a few meters a minute, waiting to be pulled into the river side bars to drink Beer Laos and jump from the rope swing constructs, the river pulls us onward and we bump into backpackers from all around the world floating down the river beer laos in
hand. About 800m down the river the two largest bars with the two largest rope swings and fly foxes (zip lines) wait. We get pulled in, Dave is in his element, with the enthusiasm of a five year old he tries out each of the swings and starts to perfect his back flip dives. I give the rope swing a go... it is bloody high up there, I guess about 10m above the water, the swing takes you out and back up to the same kind of height and that's where you're supposed to let go. Fingers keep hold and I swing back, I drop at the lowest point of the return swing...
Face full of water and nose full of snot I swim back in to the bar to give it another go... and another...
The afternoon is all about the volleyball, gator (volleyball played with feet and a wicker ball) and the rope swing, as people get braver through exposure or beer laos; back-flips, upside down hanging drops, bombs, belly-flops and somersaults all get given a go, points being shouted out. The audience grows and only the terrified or crazy get given applause. My swinging and
dropping doesn't quite cut it, I play volleyball and enjoy the afternoon. Then as the sun clips the top of the mountains we realise it is time to go. The river drags us on, sitting half in the cold water with the sun hidden behind the mountains, tantalisingly visible just around the next bend on the river, for an hour, I start to shiver, hook up with some fellow tubers and chat back to Vang Vieng. Kids jump from the bridges and start to kick us towards Vang Vieng, in return for small Laos money. The day has been great.
For the evenings I head over to a new friends bungalow and we play guitars and sing around a fire for a while, then on to rainbow island for more chatting, drinking, and music and the busiest bars of the town.
I end up staying for New Years - four days in a run I float down the river, making friends, playing volleyball and jumping from stupidly high rope-swings. This is the best fun you can have on a river for $3.50, but right now new years day I'm still sick - sitting in a tube shivering for
a few hours each day hasn't done wonders for the cold.
The new years party is huge, everyone is around for the parties on the islands. People that I'd met throughout the week all turn up, people are dancing, drinking and chatting to well beyond 6am. One of the best new years for a long time.
New Years Resolutions:
1)No alcohol for January - yeah like last year - call it a detox.
2)Visit 5 new countries - ok - easy enough... but does mean I have to venture out of South-East Asia before 2007.
3)Become a divemaster - hopefully in Malaysia, in the Perhentian Islands.
I kept last years resolutions
, so I hope to keep these.
Happy 2006 everyone!
There are more photos below