16 November 2007

Vang Vieng caving- Tham Hoi

We wanted to see some caves in the morning before going home in the afternoon. It turned out to be another caving adventure. A guide beckoned us to follow him, and not really knowing what was going on, we did. We followed them through a maze around the squares of rice paddies. The scenery was really beautiful. We followed them into a cave and found ourselves going deeper and deeper into the cave. The cave was quite nice. I think it might be full of water in the wet season so it was quite muddy rather than being pure white. It didn’t help that our guide smoked in there.

Right inside the cave there was an underground lake. It was fun to go for a short swim, even though it was a bit cold. Our huge old technology lamps were actually waterproof- we could go swimming for them. There were parts of the cave that were really beautiful. One had thin layers of caramel coloured crystal lattice. Pity the guides thought it was okay to pick off a couple of stalactites to give to us! We think it was Tham Hoi cave but are not sure. It is one of the caves in the loop of caves 13kms out of town. We booked a tuk tuk from the guesthouse to get there.

Vang Vieng tubing

We caught an early local bus to Vang Vieng. The bus was quite usual- smashed windscreen, small cracks in the floor so the dust gets through and a live chicken on board. The Lao people are so small there are three people per bench instead of the usual two and the conductor makes sure each bench has three people and that women get priority when sitting down. I sat between two friendly girls. In Australia this kind of lack of space might cause frustration but in Laos it causes friends.

The most popular activity in Vang Vieng is the river tubing, so that what we spent the afternoon doing. Tubing along the river is beautiful. Along the way there are bars constructed from bamboo that usually have a rope swing that you can use if you buy a drink. There were lots of travellers and lots of loud western music! To get you into the bar someone throws a bamboo pole attached to a rope at you and you grab it and they pull you in. I think someone drowns every so often which is alcohol related. The rope swings are some of the best I’ve ever seen. They usually involve climbing up a bamboo platform and swinging off something that either resembles a trapeze or a flying fox. I didn’t go on any rope swings but did stop for a game of badminton.

We stayed at Viengsavanh guesthouse, and at $4 a night it is the cheapest accommodation I’ve stayed in my whole life. It was simple but good.

07 November 2007

Lunch cruise

A bunch of us caught bus number 23 thirty kilometres out of town. There are a few restaurants with a few boats each where you can have lunch. We ate some food while we were waiting for a boat. The boat we did get fit a small table and wouldn’t fit more than about 15 people there. It was like a big raft powered with a small propeller. The roof was made of straw. It was very pleasant. They take you upstream and let the boat float downstream again. They made a really hot papaya salad and an equally hot red curry!

Shit pig

There was an expat that was going outside to use the toilet somewhere in Southern Laos. The locals insisted that he take a stick. This was because pigs will try to eat your waste as you’re doing it and you need to fight them off. My Korean friend said that there’s a special place in Korea where the same thing happens. You need to go to the toilet with a stick. At the same place he got to enjoy ‘shit pig’- apparently it’s a delicacy in that town in Korea.

Boat racing and end of Buddhist Lent

The end of Buddhist lent and the big boat racing festival is during the same week in Vientiane. The end of Buddhist lent also marks the beginning of the wedding season.

The boat weekend is a big party in Vientiane. The main streets are lined with food stalls, random stalls selling things like soap, fly spray or clothes, and fun gambling games. There are mountains of grilled chicken, coconut sticky rice in tubes of bamboo, steamed buns and popcorn. They had some of the best jumping castles I’d ever seen! The most popular gambling game seemed to be a game where you throw a dart into a grid of balloons and if you hit the marked balloon, you win a prize. The music was really loud and I had never seen so many people in Vientiane.

I watched some boat racing from the starting line. Two boats race at one time. Each boat has 40- 50 people in them. They are what we would call ‘dragon’ boats in Australia, but are about twice the size of the ones I’ve seen in Australia. I noticed that one of the people in group of starting line officials had two very large guns- AK47s. I wondered why he needed such huge guns- what security issue could he possibly have? I see many guns like that but it’s usually someone in a khaki uniform that carries them, usually police, military or security guards. This guy was in plain clothes. I was very surprised when I realised he used these guns as the starting guns and alternated them between each race.

There were lots of fireworks available for sale for 10-50c. It was scary to see so many people letting them off. You light the tube of fireworks and they fire one at a time. An adult was seen chasing a child with fireworks. My friend said her neighbours gave their 6 year old child some fireworks. When the first one fired out she got scared and started spraying them everywhere. My friend ran for cover.