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Published: February 3rd 2009
Right from the moment we entered Laos, we both noticed how it seemed in some way more similar to Africa and slightly less foreign than the rest of Asia. It may have been that we were really looking forward to the prospect of an upcoming 2 weeks of travelling in Southern Africa, but there were similarities.
Most noticeable was that while we had hadly ever been cold in our trip, this was the first country where the air was hot and dry
. We travelled under endless blue skies over dusty roads past grass thatched huts. As we rushed along the unsealed roads, dust was thrown into the air and onto everything by the roadside. Red dust, which where it is so typical in Africa, is said to be stained by the blood of years of battles. As the sun set we were treated to a brilliant red sunset with a massive fireball in the centre dropping behind the horizon. The air outside had the smell of dust thatch and wood smoke. All put together, these things made us feel just slightly closer to home.
We barely stopped in the hectic capital Vientianne and arrived in Vang Vieng after sunset.
Not for women and children
This city really seems to be the backpacker haven of the moment. The small roads are lined with cafes selling cheap beer, banana pancakes and showing "Friends" reruns. The restaurants overlooking the river compete for the backpackers' business by offering the "Best Pizzas In Town" or "All Day Happy Hour". In the middle of the river is an island which is reached by a rickety bamboo footbridge. The four bars on the island sell alcohol in plastic by the bucket and are packed with gap-yearers.
Our first day started with delicious fruit and muesli and a cup of coffee that kicked you in the stomach with each sip. In Vietnam we'd had nice, strong coffee, but this stuff could be used to clean the grease off engines. We hired two mountain bikes in town and cycled out along the bumpy road heading North. After a few kilometers we turned off, parked our bikes by the river, and went for a walk up to some caves that are in the hills. The first two cut deep into the mountains (one apparently goes 3km in), and we used the tiny headlamp we were carrying to light the way for the two
A healthy breakfast
(Aside from the coffee, which could stain glass)
The third cave is actually the opening of an underground spring, much like the one we saw in Sabang. At the mouth of the cave, you can hire an inner-tube and a headlamp. You then pull yourself into the cave using ropes bolted to the walls. The water was freezing, but it was a exciting way to be exploring underground. When we got to the end of the cave, we could get off the tube and walk to where the water was bubbling out of the sand.
The 13km cycle back to town warmed us up nicely and we managed to get the bikes back and grab a bite to eat before catching a ride with some tubes up river. Our plan for the afternoon was to try the activity that this area is famous for: tubing down the Vang Vieng river.
Each day a couple of hundred tourists push off the banks upriver on tractor tubes to float back to town. Along the way bars have been built next to the river with foofy slides, high swings and giant slides out into the river. Many also have huge bonfires for warming yourself after the
icy river. As you float by, they throw you a rope and pull you in.
We spent the rest of the day in and out of the river and then floated back just in time to catch the sun setting over the high hills from our tubes..
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