Thursday, July 16, 2009
Trekking the slippery slopes of Vang Vieng
http://picasaweb.google.com/lapert/VangVieng02# (Once they are done uploading)
After our short stroll through town Tuesday night (by the way it turns out I was wrong about those all night Friends TV bars. It turns out they are in fact all DAY Friends bars, as well), we emphatically decided we did not want to go tubing with all the drunk 19 year old backpackers (my earlier estimate of 22 was way off.) Instead we signed up for a two day trek/kayak adventure to a self billed "secret Eden." Before signing up I looked through the forms of the four people who had already signed up. They were all between 27 and 29, so I knew we were good to go.
The people in our group were certainly great to trek with (mostly) but nowhere near as bizarre as the last group. There was a pair of very friendly Canadians, two Brits on their way home from Australia, and two American girls from San Fran. Most of them were great, though one of the Americans left something to be desired in the ways of friendliness. What can you do. We hung out most with the Canadians, Rob and Laura. Rob is sort of a cross between more subdued Alon Cohen and less talkative Jonah Lowenfeld. Though since not a whole lot of you know both of them, I'm not sure how much that helps. Our guides were of course a bit on the crazy side, though thoroughly entertaining. One of the things I like most about the people here is how playful they can be all the time, even when sitting on their asses after falling down a muddy hill inside a cave. Though I'm not sure why Yong (the main guide) decided that Adina and I were two "researchers." I think it was his way of calling us dorks.
Day one of the trek was a long hike up and down a couple of very slippery limestone karsts. Which is apparently what one calls a cliff when they want to sound different. We got lucky and saw almost no rain, but the path was still a giant mudbowl from start to finish. Our trek in Chiang Mai was squeaky clean compared to this. It turns out it's pretty fun to slide your way down muddy boulders on the side of the mountain. This time, though, we were well prepared and did not forget our first aid kit. Which was good, because neither of us could stay on our feet for very long. Plus it's nice to put on a bandaid after the leech is removed. Those suckers really make you bleed. In the middle of the morning hike we explored a very cool cave in the side of the mountain, which is what this area is most known for. It went on forever inside the mountain and had some pretty spectacular stalactites/mites and really cool wavy rock formations all over the place. And bats. Lots of bats.
After our second big climb/descent we were carted off to our 'resort' for the night. Now, considering I was expecting to sleep on a mat on the floor like our last trek I shouldn't complain, but Adina was right to point out that having massive bugs crawling over the place is ok when you're outside, but the same bugs inside just feel gross. We were especially unhappy when our gigantic spider friend that had been parked on our ceiling was suddenly not there anymore when we got back to the room. And when we discovered the ant colony - though probably better described as an ant civilization it was so big - inside our shower. Cool thing about ants, though. When you try to rinsed them down the drain, they cling to each other in some sort of death grip and become too big to get rid of. I was impressed. Unlike our last trek, the food situation wasn't great. Vegetarianism doesn't mean quite the same here. Our guide was pleased to bring us out a dish described as "vegetarian, with a little pork." So, after a less than satisfying dinner of sticky rice dipped in soy sauce, we played some cards (I tried teaching asshole, but we ended up with too many people and played shithead instead), had some Lao-lao (rice whiskey/moonshine) and headed off to bed.
Today we very lazily awoke and headed out to spend a day kayaking on the river. Considering neither of us have kayaked in a long time, it was nice to be on a river that could really do all the work for us when we needed a break. We made a few stops, including another terrific cave. This one flows with water all the time, so we had to swim through before climbing up some more mud (because Adina's ass wasn't muddy enough already). It was around this point in the river that we started running into the tubing bars. The kids who tube here get in the river, then maybe 50 meters later they are pulled into a bar on the banks where they order their beers and their buckets, zipline/trapeze into the river, and head on their way. Until they are pulled into another bar 50 meters after that. Then about 7 more before the trip is done. It was still early, so not too many drunks were out, but that didn't stop the nonstop soundtrack of American rock (with lots of bass) from blaring itself though the beautiful scenery. We did stop at the last one of these bars to use their swing and jump into the river (even Adina did it, from about 30 feet above the water! I of course had fun, though I learned I may need to improve my backflip technique a bit. Don't worry, making it halfway around and getting the wind knocked out of you on impact with the water isn't so bad. It's trying to keep up with the current dragging you downstream with said lack of wind that gets tricky)
All in all, it was a terrific trek, one of our favorite things so far (though Angkor Wat, tropical paradise, and diving are still to come!). For any one thinking of coming through here any time soon, Green Discovery is worth using. They are a bit more expensive, but the guides are terrific and the company really knows what they are doing. Oh, and they claim to help local people or something like that.
It looks like we're heading out of town tomorrow to Vientiane for Shabbat, then flying to Siem Reap on Sunday. Our time in Laos is winding down, but we both totally see why every one is so crazy about this place. Aside from the natural beauty, (which frankly is not better than anywhere else **Adina disagrees**), you can't help but feeling good when every one around you is relaxed and laid back all the time.
Next update will probably be next week from Siem Reap, unless something noteworthy happens in Vientiane. But I wouldn't count on that.