29 October 2007

Vang Vieng bike ride and caving

A group of us hired a bus and got to Vang Vieng from Vientiane in about 4 hours. When we made a stop I saw some grilled rats on a skewer for the first time. I wonder how safe they are to eat. We stayed in some bungalows by the river. After dinner we went to have a drink. Unfortunately the bar had to close because it was near midnight when the cops do their rounds. The way they sell drugs is really blatant. The bar has a menu where you can buy drugs from. Some things you can buy include opium tea or coffee, a marijuana shake or pizza or mushroom tea. Alternatively you can buy drugs by the bags. A joint costs around $2 US and a marijuana pizza around $8 US. From memory an opium tea costs around $3 but rumour has it that it is actually codeine. There have recently been lots of schemes to get rid of opium poppy farming, including in the golden triangle region of growing in Laos, Myanmar and Thailand. People are trying to get the farmers another way of making a living.

We hired some mountain bikes and set off on a 7km journey to Poukham Cave. Vang Vieng is an absolutely beautiful place. It is surrounded by mountains of limestone. On the bike ride we saw lots of rice paddies. We saw young children that looked younger than 10 with fishing rods and slightly older children with a round mask and a spear gun for spear fishing. We saw families bathing in the river and washing their clothes.

Outside the cave we stopped to swim at a ‘blue lagoon’ which was actually a small stream with blue water which was unexpectedly cold- around 20 degrees. I could see beautiful fish in the water with colour so bright I thought it looked more like a tropical marine fish. We first intended to look at the cave but somewhere along the way we decided to go caving. It was quite a steep climb up- we were really climbing. There was a Buddha at the cave entrance but the cave was black from people touching it and smoking. We went further into the cave until we were in pitch blackness. It was amazing inside- large caverns of untouched limestone that sparkled. Some was toffee coloured and looked like toffee that had flowed downwards from the ceiling.

We met four monks that were acting as tour guides for a Japanese girl. I was talking to one of them and apparently he had been studying in Vientiane and started working for the Ministry for Education. The Ministry decided to send him to a monk school in Vang Vieng and that’s how he ended up there. In hindsight, I don’t think I’m supposed to talk to monks because I’m a girl, but they did talk to me first and were taking a girl for a tour. It was funny when the monks hid and then jumped out to scare the Japanese girl!

I used to think of monks committing long periods of time to studying as a monk but these days, especially in Vientiane, I think it’s more temporary. I’ve known people to do it for a day, others a week or two. Friends have seen them out buying mobile phones or at the internet cafĂ© playing video games.

No comments: