Published: July 31st 2011July 28th 2011
Ready to rumble
Paddles in hand, we were ready to attack the Nam Song River (turns out Sydney was the only one who didn't tip)
Again, we suggest you check out Matt's video in conjunction with the blog as it captures things that words cannot. Just cut and paste! Take note how different the water is in his "borrowed" clips.
Leaving the incredible town of Luang Prabang (after 12 days there) and the phenomenal hotel of Luang Say Residence will not be easy. The family is however ready to hit the road in search of new adventures. What they were NOT ready for was the mode of transport to our next destination. We ended up taking a 7 hour bus (called a VIP bus that is simply a great way to lure in tourists) ride down to Vang Vieng. When we got on, they handed each one of us a “baby wipe” type of package for cleaning your hands and a plastic bag. We weren’t sure what the bag was for but this became apparent very early in the trip. The twists and turns of the road took their toll on all of us and when the whole bus began to smell of diesel, Sydney was the first to drop. One sick person usually creates a cascade but we all kept our
Ready to venture into the water cave and a little unsure of what we are getting into.
eyes focused outside and Trevor was sucking in the air con like he was pregnant (like Entanox gas for a labouring woman). The road weaved and turned and bounced and jiggled for almost all of the first 5 hours. The distance between the two cities is 110 km as the crow flies (the road distance is 230 km). The total bus time is 7 hours with only 45min of stopping. This means that it is a LLLOOOONNNNGGGG SSSLLLOOOOWWW trip.
The crew arrived weary, and were dropped off in the middle of a dusty street to find a tuk tuk to our hotel. We had changed hotels at the suggestion of a fellow traveler up in Luang Prabang., and this saved us around $100 per night. We were a bit disappointed upon arriving and took a look at our original hotel that was just around the corner (we could now get it for $50 less than what we agreed to in our pre-booking). As there were no spectacular accommodations in the whole town, we decided to stay put. A room switch the next morning put us in a brighter room and all was good (Marla is always incredible that way
Toll bridge in Vang Vieng
Wonderful bridge near the end of town.
at getting us the best rooms). REALLY, what could we have expected for $20 per night!!
We were warned that everything may feel like a step down once you leave Luang Prabang (we had been told that by many). Keeping our heads up, we ventured out on our first day, choosing to do kayaking and caves with a group (TCK Adventure Tours) and we were incredibly impressed by the safety and professionalism of this company. The caves were amazing (don't know how Marla overcame her claustrophobia)). The water cave was touch and go due to the high water levels during this wet season. We were very pleased to see that we were able to enter but were a bit unprepared for the squeeze that was required. First of all, you put on a headlamp and sling a small car size battery around your neck with open wires everywhere (thoughts of electrocution filled our heads). You then sit in an inner tube and need to squeeze yourself through a crack in the rock (you actually need to submerge your tube under water in order to get your body in). The next 150 metres has you pulling yourself along by a
We had our most sun so far on the trip for our outdoor adventures on the river. Very surreal as we floated down thinking about where we were.
rope that is attached to the cave walls. All of us felt the a bit of angst as the rock seemed to close in. We made our way over 300 metres into the cave, abandoning our tubes part way and crawling along our bellies commando style in order to work our way through a sliver to the next opening. In parts you were able to stand up and have the river flowing beneath your feet. It was just tooooo cooool for words. The return trip on the way out had you swept along by the current as the water exited the cave.
Lunch was included in the tour and the kayaking down the Nam Song afterwards was also a blast (lots of pretty good rapids). It is the wet season so the river is moving at a fairly good clip and is quite high. Courtney and Matthew ended up tipping 15 seconds before Marla and Trevor did as well – Marla shouting for them as we went over. We had been shown how to flip these open kayaks upright and all worked out very well. All in all, pretty amazing day.
The guide books tell you that Vang
Stopped for a bit during kayaking so just kicking back.
Vieng is full of backpackers looking to party. They float down the river from bar to bar getting duly intoxicated (not a great combination, river and alcohol, so unfortunately there are a number of avoidable deaths every year). This all provoked some very interesting conversations within out family about some of the risks of travelling and growing up (ie. getting caught up in scene). We had talked to some people the previous day however who said that the float down the river was fun and there are some great places to stop and jump in the river. Our strategy was to get out early enough to beat the crowd down the river as they literally do hop from one bar to another. We walked into town and rented our tubes and were driven to the drop point. They ferry you across the river to the first bar (which was already packed with partiers) so we quickly jumped in the water and floated down to the next stop which was empty. We stayed there for a few minutes then criss-crossed the river, staying ahead of the pack. This continues for around 10 potential places to get out and get a drink.
Courtney and Matt showing off their superior kayaking skills.
The wonderful part for us was that each place typically had a unique way of grabbing people. Each place hires “thrower” to launch a partially filled plastic pop bottle attached to a rope. This is thrown across the river and typically lands somewhere around you so that you can grab it and they tow you in (nailed Marla and Sydney in the nogan a couple of times). Our favourite place turned out to be one that had a 3 story 40 foot slide that lifted at the end and flung you into the water. The launching pad looked pretty spectacular and it satisfied all of the daredevils that we had in our crew. After an hour of this type of fun, we slid back into the river and continued the peaceful family float lazily down the river for the next hour and a half.
Dinner was spent in another surreal place. A second oddity about Vang Vieng is that it is filled with restaurants that have lounging seats set up and reruns of Friends and Family guy playing 24/7. These types of quirky backpacker enticements were humourous in one way and sad in another. We loved our adventures of
Looking back towards our hotel along the Mekong waterfront. The other side of the river is Thailand.
this tiny Laotian town but 2 days was more than enough and we were ready for our next (and last) taste of Laos.
Vientienne is the capital of Laos and was the first time that we really felt like we were in a city (we saw our first traffic light here). Vientianne has a populations of approximately 750,000 in the surrounding area. The four hour bus ride down in the mini van went fairly quickly (even though we had 13 people stuffed in with bags and everything packed to the gunnels). We hadn’t been sure about our accommodations at the Mekong Beau Rivage (the pictures looked kind of funny online) but it turned out to be a real gem and was beautifully situated along the Mekong river just off the edge of the boardwalk where there was a lot of night action.
Out time in Vientianne was spent walking the streets, getting laundry done, biking for the day and just enjoying the feel of the waterfront and Laos people. This was the first place in all of our travels where we encountered Laotians enjoying recreational activity (that we could see). In Luang Prabang and Vang Vieng, most people
Great night area where there is a wonderful atmosphere in the evenings.
were too busy working (restaurants or markets or fields) to have much leisure time. In Vientianne, the boardwalk area felt like many waterfront areas we had visited before with families out in the evening, people jogging, casual sports being played, and people just out for a stroll (it reminded us of the waterfront in Istanbul along the Bosphorous). The only drawback to all of this was the heat and humidity. When we rented bikes, we looked online and the weather network said temperatures registered around “37 degrees but feels like 48”. We don’t want to complain as we know the weather has been the pits at home but this was all a bit much so we curtailed our afternoon bike ride and made a quick dash for Swenson’s Ice Cream parlor that we had seen on our first day in town. The large and fancy ice cream sundaes have never tasted so good. Equally rewarding was the air conditioning. It should be noted that this was a “3 shirt day” for Trevor.
Our final night in Laos we were treated to one of the MOST SPECTACULAR displays of lighting we have ever seen. There were some bolts that stretched
Sunset on the steps
Enjoying the evening in Vientianne (great looking group).
from cloud to cloud above us and spanned your whole field of view as we watched from our balcony. The power lines, a mere 30 ft from our vantage point, had us a little worried but the fact that we could only hear the thunder once in a while calmed us a touch. The lighting stretched out across Thailand (the other side of the river) and as far as we could see to the East and the West. It hung over us for a couple of hours so we got our full money’s worth.
Now, we say goodbye Laos and begin the Cambodian part of our trip. We are struggling with the fact that after so much planning, the adventure is more than halfway done but we are soaking up every part of it. Laos is a VERY special place!!!!
There are more photos below