..........whatever shall we do ?
25.11.2012 90 °F
Well Hello There,
It’s been almost exactly one week from last entry and I am still in Laos. No longer am I in the capital city of Vientiene, but in Luang Prabang. Still situated on the Mekong River about 500km north of Vientiene this cozy little town has a completely different vibe to it. That being said, I have only been here 24 hours so we will see what the next few days bring.
Last Tuesday I decided to leave the capital and head about 3 hours north to Vang Vieng. A super easy laid back bus ride through the country with fellow backpackers filling the small bus and in no time we had arrived. Vang Vieng was known by many as the party spot to go to as the local economy is centered on backpackers tubing down km’s of rivers. Beautiful, long, preserved rivers, where bars were scattered on the banks around every turn. Of course drunken shenanigans ensued and fun was had by all. Upon arrival it was apparent this was not the case and within 5 minutes of walking down the main streets one could tell something was seriously seriously wrong. There were very few people in the restaurants and bars, the street vendors were empty of customers, and I even saw a three legged dog shed a tear laying in the gutter.
After getting the inside scoop from a few people the Laos government had came in towards the end of August and cleaned house. Stopped the tubing and stopped the drunken debauchery down the rivers. One could still tube a small portion of the river, but from what I have heard it’s nowhere near the same. Needless to say the amount of backpackers that once fueled this local economy has dwindled significantly. Significantly as in 80%-90% less people travelling there and spending their parents Kip on booze, fluorescent t-shirts, and food. This place was a ghost town, but there are two sides to every story and this story most certainly has a darker side. Last year approximately 30 people died tubing down the river. Backpackers getting to drunk and not using their heads combined with raw nature while floating down the river is a bad combination. Diving off of rocks into shallow water, drowning, etc you get the picture. Other countries governments intervened and strongly encouraged the Laos government to shut the whole thing down, resulting in not as many backpackers, and therefore creating a ghost town.
In all honesty it was very nice, very nice indeed. Don’t get me wrong I can put some beers down with the best of them, but it’s not really my scene anymore just getting hammered drunk all day floating down a river, full of over the top crazy 19-23 year olds. Instead, my friends and I rented bikes and drove 7km out of town to a place called the Blue Lagoon. The water was blue and icy cold, big fish swam in schools all over the place, and there was a tree you could jump or dive from where the water was very deep. Of course this place was typically a second thought in months past as tubing had dominated the scene. But with no tubing I was very happy with killing two days at this laidback watering hole. Strangely there was an entrance fee of about $1.25 USD and they had a little hut where you could buy delicious food and drinks. Laid out on the grass were straw mats to sit on and soak in the sun’s rays. Closer to the banks of this happy little watering hole were about half a dozen raised huts to offer some shade. The sun was really hot and there was no breeze like the beach. A quick dip in the water every 30 minutes or so and all was well in the world. My friend Max was on the rope swing and diving off the tree for hours and hours. Max is German and is seems more American than I am, which is hilarious. After travelling with him and another girl named Franky for little over a week now we have all been getting along very well. Max has been constant entertainment since we all left Vientiene together and we have a good vibe going with the three of us. Franky and the rest of us just kind of took it easy at the lagoon and soaked up some rays while watching Max’s crazy antics. Long story short, we visited the Blue Lagoon twice in the 4 days we were there, and tubing or no tubing, I was very happy. Night time was laidback as there was really only 1 bar that was pumping out music and a curfew is enforced by the Laos government so I think last call comes pretty early. Really never stayed out to late to hear last call as the only other thing to do at night was watch Friends. Yes, you read that correctly Friends the TV show. There were handfuls of almost empty restaurants in the small town with little raised wooden platforms where you sit on with cushions and small tables. On the wall were two flat screens TV’s playing infinite episodes of friends with a couple places displaying Family guy. You could just lounge here on these wooden platforms with cushions and have a few cocktails. After being in the blue lagoon all day this was right down my alley. I am not a huge fan of Friends, but enjoyed the relaxing time in a very different environment. Watching an American TV show with others from all over the world is usually a good time. Although the Olympics back at the hostel in Australia could get a little heated.
Stayed there for several days and left yesterday to head up north to where I am currently writing you from, Luang Prabang. It was a long 7 hour bus ride up and down crazy mountains the entire time. If you’re familiar with the TV show Ice Road Truckers when they are in South America, it was just like that. Cut-backs and zigzags the entire time made it somewhat of a challenge to read so I just looked out the window and listened to music. I would venture to say we never went faster than 30 mph as the terrain was intense. Intense yes, but some of the most picturesque scenery I have yet to see on this entire journey. On a side note: I saw a baby bear in a huge glass jar fermenting at a rest stop on the side of the road. Not sure what the story is with that yet, but I motioned to the village woman if I could try a drink of it from the tap. Translation barrier could not be broken and I left the rest stop thirsty, without having tried fermented bear juice. Oh well maybe next time I will have the opportunity to cross that off my bucket list?
Not sure how long I am staying here for, but am still aiming for Bangkok the first week in December. Just taking a bigger loop and crossing into Thailand at a different location than originally planned. However, there is the option to get to the border via slow boat, which seems like a nice alternative to the bus. Then take a train from the north down into the depths of Bangkok. That’s all I have for now and hope everyone who is reading this is having a good day. Smile.
Sitting on the Mekong,