But that’s not all

I’m totally skipping over the good part!

Yesterday was the best. Day. Ever! I’m saying it again.

After a lazy wake up on the backporch, sipping complementary coffee and snacking complementary bananas, and gazing over all the green surrounding this town of party and crazy, we decided to do something.
Levi and Makyla [CAN] were also up for taking a bicycle out to Blue Lagoon – the rest of them went by tuktuk.

Cool thing about taking bikes was that we could take a little detour that passed by a little hill –compared to the rest of them- with a really cool viewpoint and that yellow flag on top of it.
So we left our bikes in the care of the man we just paid to go up, and were on our way.

A little way up there was a cave. Pretty small, but cool. Cooler even, because there was a hole; a hole into the mountain, a hole of pitch black. Big enough to crawl through though. Too bad we didn’t have any torches with us.
Luckily Makyla had her camera, and you have the focuslight that turns on for 2 seconds or something; long enough to see where you put your next foot. So slowly we made our way in, slipping and sliding, crawling and climbing.
It’s funny how, when you’re in an entirely pitchblack space, your eyes do this thing where they make you believe that you do see something, which of course you can’t. Nature is so fascinating that way.
And when Makyla flashed that light for a moment, the 3d drawings that make up the walls of this cave were so… astonishing! Once again I’m left wordless to describe this wonder of nature to you. The inside of the mountain, a secret kept from the world.
We carefully took another turn, into a next hall, and almost stepped into a big gap. Then we found a little window somewhere and peered down a long and narrow shaft that looked to the sky, but was too small to be a way out. So we turned around, took two steps and were covered in pitchblack again.
We debated for a moment, about which way to go, but took the right one back to that hall we first fell into. Still it was pitchblack, with no sign of that hole we came through. For a second my heart raced and I don’t think the others can deny theirs did too. But sure enough as I’m writing this, I took another step, and around a corner I saw the light.
Levi found another entrance into a next hall, but I’m secretly glad we just went up and out again. Don’t tell anyone I was.

So up and up we went, a nice climb!
Too bad I was still walking around on those fliflops that kept breaking all the time. I could do part of it on bare feet, scrabbleing over mosty leafs. But higher up the climb went over very pointy rocks. And I had too little grip to actually make it atop of the highest point. We hung out up there anyway for a bit, watching out over the valley.

This tiny hill we were on: just a little bump in a big patch of extremely flat ground, surrounded by these mountains that go straight up to form high walls to shelter this little world of crazy in such a vast majestic landscape.
Up here we could still make out the sounds of the never-ending party, quite clearly even. But like a very far away, little and puny sound. Such bliss, sun and wind brushing past our faces.
Then we clambered back down, got back on our bikes and had half an hour of slightly sloping road to race down and up over, friendly faces to smile at, happy kids to yell ‘hello’ at and amazing mountains to awe at.

And then: Blue Lagoon, more of that the turqoisest water, and so nice and cool! The pool was a lot smaller than I thought it would be, much smaller than Kuang Si for example.
But it was a very nice and calm place. Not giving room to all those people in town, enough for just a few of the fun ones, playing on the swings and swimming with the fish.
There was a cave up there as well, but we decided the three of us had done enough of that already.

Back to town, eventually, and it was around 6pm when we got on that tuktuk out to the river, the tubing bars.

A new record this evening: I made it as far as bar 3. Which means a swim across the river. Most of it walking, but at the end it get’s just a bit too deep – for everyone, not just little old me. And there’s a current so strong that there’s a lifeguard throwing out a bottle on a rope you have to grab, or otherwise people start shouting at you. We all made it to the other side safe and had another plenty of dances before we stuffed a tuktuk back home.

I believe officially they’ll take no more than 6 persons. We insisted on going with 10. Our driver agreed, as long as we all still paid 25,000k.
When we were all seated and on our way Liam [CAN] had an announcement: “This bucket I got for all of us to share! It’s the tukbucket!” And the crowd went wild. We passed it down it all the way into town, laughing, singing, shouting, handing beers to passing bikes.

Where our driver stopped too soon; some people wanted to grab dinner and he’d stop only once so the rest of us had to walk the rest.
Well no way José! There was another tuktuk right behind, with the rest of us, so I ran straight for that one as I got off the first.
At my first attempt, of course, I didn’t make it, and bumped my leg foully against the grate. But I wasn’t going to give in there, so tried again and got my free 200-meter ride home.

All in all a day perfectly spend.
And after, evidently, came facking bucket island, and you know the rest.

It’s insane how popular shrooms etc are here. And I’m surprised at how many friends are totally digging that stuff. At Bucketbar I see Noah chatting to a lapricorn he just met while Chuck is fighting a monster to the death… Just to clarify: it wasn’t I who was taking the drugs.

Oh and here’s the place I lost track of my budget, which I’d been neatly keeping scores of, as I have so little to spend all together. Stuck pretty okay to under 200,000 per day though, so I should be able to make it till the end.

The walk of shame

Day XXII – April 9

And on the third day he swung his hammer at me once more to deliver the final punch that threw me down absolutely.

For the second time in my life ever, I wake up completely disorientated. A few seconds and some looks around later I realize: I’m at Shannon’s, the Canadian I met last night at a river bar, and ran into again at Bucket bar, where we flirted scandalously. Eventually I let him show me to his room.
It was a little disappointing though. He’s sexy, sure, but could not really live up to his promise of being that amazing black lover.
And when I was out on his balcony to have a cigarette, who do I see walking the bridge back from party island but Levi, and I feel my heart drop to my feet.

So this morning I walked the walk of shame. In Vang Vieng. Barefoot – my flip-flops constantly fell apart yesterday, so at some point I decided shoes are for whimps. And without shades to hide behind.

Here’s a first attempt at solid food: yoghurt. After about three steady hours, just now my body decided to reject everything again; water, coke, all of it. Long enough for the imodium and the ORS to kick in I hope.
Wait – I see a patern. It’s the guys. Men; they make me sick, literally…
My tummy started acting up again in a bad way, with a constant cramp today.
But by now I’m starting to get hungry and I’ve never been this thirsty in my life. So I guess that’s a good sign.
And of course it hit twice as hard today, after all those vile free buckets the bars try to seduce you with, and the addition of X beers and no real dinner to speak of…
Oh the joy of simply cooled drinking water! Those sweet boys! The ones that run the hostel, they’ve been keeping an eye on me all day, poking their heads around the dorm door every now and then to ask if I’m still OK or need anything, or if they should call the healing lady. At some point I asked if they had a fridge I could cool my water in, but they don’t. So they went out and got me some cubes to put my bottle in.

Lesson learned: I only learned later that (especially cold) water is a bad idea when suffering a foodpoisoning.
Medicin student Loes told me lying on your right side should help to lessen the stomach cramps. It may not feel comfortable, but it’s not more uncomfortable than anything else.

I just walked out the rest to dinner, all in a rather drunken state.
I’d like to join the fun after a whole day in bed, but the smell of the sandwichcarts outside still makes me too nauseous, so I guess I’d better stay home and stick with just yogurt for now, so I at least can get my malarone (malariapills) in…
I notices some vision blubs today, might be them now; it’s one of the possible side effects. There’s a long list, varying from slight nausea to head on paranoia.
[Another reason to avoid taking those unnecessary medications]

A little more about Easy Go Hostel. It looks like they build it themselves, not too long ago. And they keep working on it all the time.
The night before I came here, there was a huge storm that collapsed one of the rooms, so that asked for more work.
But the guys running this place all seem so very motivated!
And I already told you about how nice they are, taking care of me. Of all their guests. This is definitly a place to support!

So sweet how approving they were when I walked out today with a traditional sarong around my waist: “Yes! How Laos wear it!”

What happened?

[A little ode to Sublime is in order to get you in the Vang Vieng state of mind]

Day XXI – April 8

A bright sun pokes through the cracks of our little bamboo shack.
Why am I up before 7am? I went home early, but that was after midnight still, wasn’t it?
I’m afraid turning over isn’t going to do the trick either…

Recapturing last night: I rode a tuktuk back to town with the same girls around 9 o’clock. Good thing too.
Finally took that shower. Then Dave made me a drink some tea on the porch.
We went out for dinner but I didn’t feel like a whole plate, so didn’t order any. Rob and Ramsey [another Scottish] fed me, as we discussed, what, a threesome? (Nothing serious of course) Another guy gave me a very good massage while Dave ordered a big bottle of water and shoved it my way. He also ordered a bucket though, to reverse the effect.
And another one when we got to the island, which I ended up basically drinking all by myself.
But that was it, wasn’t it? I left for bed first of us all I think.

Couldn’t find my toothbrush or anything in the mess of my net, and still have to locate my bikini top – no no, I took it off when I went to take that shower and just threw it in the general direction my bed somewhere, is all – but other than that I think I’m good.
Got a few new bruises of course, but that happens every day out here, the way we live outside and play rough.

This girl in the next room just woke up and didn’t realize you hear every single thing through these walls. She went on and on about how drunk she still was, and then we all heard her barfing.
So, this is Vang Vieng. And that is falang.

Before, I though that the most disgusting place I’d peed was in the freeshow/ladyboy-bar in Chiang Mai, where I got my feet wet with all the dirt on the floor.
But a new champion has arisen! It is right here, where all the drunk westerners have to squat. It got so slippery at some point that I fell. EEW! Luckily I was already on my way out and they were just cleaning so they could hose me down with some fresh river water.
Those who have been to Vang Vieng know the water itself is disgusting and full of diseases and what not, but hey, we all drank from it at some point or another… I mean, you know how the buckets are cleaned right? You didn’t? Well now you do. Cheers!

So, a day in Vang Vieng is spent getting up and over a hangover. When you’ve done so, well after noon, making your way up the river to the first bar about 3 km out of town, playing (drinking)games, getting drunk (again) trying to get a few bars further than yesterday.
At last, going back to town for a change, maybe preceded by a sober-up-shower, a late dinner and heading out to the islands in the middle of town, where all the clubs are; Bucket bar, Reggae-Reggae bar, Smiley bar etc, going crazy all night long, and hopefully finding your way back to your own bed in one piece.

The other night I heard of a girl who had been here for eight months already. I couldn’t do it if they paid me – and that’s apparently what people that end up here do; they work. The pro’s of working here, or so I hear, are that you get your accommodation, free drinks and drugs, and about 70.000k paid per day.
But for now, I am having fun.

Lesson learned: If you have dixiefobia… well, you’d better get over it quick and get used to squatting, no seats, no toiletpaper and flushing with a bucket.

(All photo-credits for this post go to Dave Misrack, thanks buddy!)

On the road again

Next destination:
Vang Vieng, tubing capital

Day XX – April 7

Grandma was a sweetheart, making me breakfast ready to go at 6.30am.
On the way to the Stray meeting point I run into Patrick and the chick he scored last night walking him off. “Oh, she’s Dutch also,” he introduces us, like that’s supposed to create some sort of bond. We say an awkward sort of ‘Hi’.
At 7am we’re all back the bus again, and the road takes us through stunning limestone scenery. We stop in the middle, high up in the mountains and it gets pretty cold up here – though Luang Prabang cooled down quite a bit after last night’s heavy pouring; when the French and I walked back from Utopia, just after that first cloud had cleared, we had to take of our flipflops because otherwise we would have lost them in the violent river that the streets had turned into.

The view up here is breathtaking, comes right out of that famous romantic painting by Caspar David Friedrich – Wanderer above the sea of fog, with clouds creeping through the grim peaks of the Laos highlands.

Two hours later we enter the valley of Vang Vieng, the valley of falang, the valley of tubing and party-party, the fullmoon beach of Laos.
Two Australians have died already this year while tubing.
I believe I read it was in 1996 that a tourist first discovered tubing with his kids. They took the inner tire of a truck and floated down the river in it. More tourists came by and picked up on this fun passtime. Eventually swings were built and more and more people came. More and more backpackers came. And backpackers like a drink, thus bars were built alongside the river, each with a free, nay, manditory shot of laolao at entering. The buckets, I guess, came over from the southern Thai islands, like the partypackers must’ve.
James warns us to be very careful with ourselves because there isn’t a hospital in this town or the next, so when you do get injured you’re royally f’cked.

The local guide on the bus points me the way to the hostel I should find my friends at. He tells me he knows the place and is certain of the direction.
After walking that way until the end of town I start asking around again, and when two locals don’t know, so tell me “yes” and point further along the road, but three tell me to go back, I guess I’d better head the other way again, my 13k backpack starting to weigh a bit.

Sidenote: In Asia, it’s considered a disgrace if you don’t know the awnser to a question, of, say, directions. Rather lie and possibly send someone the wrong way. So when you are asking where to go and it looks like the person you asked isn’t confident, ask the next person, and a few more to make sure.

That’s where, in a little alley behind the Temple, I find it: Easy Go Hostel. An adorable little bamboo house, open front, pooltable right in the entance, a reception with someone asleep behind it and a board telling me the names of those checked in, with my friends amongst them.
I write my name, passportnumber, occupation and approximate departure date in their book and am shown to one of the downstairs rooms.

No one is there so I get ready to take a shower. But before I do Leila, Caitlin and Annie burst in, on their way to tubing. “Isn’t it too late for that now?” I ask, as I’ve heard you have to turn in your tube before 6pm to avoid the 60.000k fine. “No, but you don’t rent a tube anyway; that’s lame!”
So I jump on a tuktuk with them and we’re out. “Get ready for a party!”

We’re dropped off 15 minutes later, cross a wobbly bridge and are offered that first shot -which I sneakily pass- and get the bracelet that marks how many bars you’ve visited, worn as a sort of achievement.
The music is loud and obscene and wins it by far from all the places I’ve been before. Ah well, just roll with it.
We get a vodkabucket to share amongst us four to begin with.
Everywhere on the planking people are dancing and acting crazy and playing beerpong. We start a new hit: flip the cup, a sort of chucking-relay race. In no time we have more players than the table can fit and the buckets and beers come and go by the minute. But we’re having heaps of fun and I feel my head growing hazy…

Luang Prabang recommended

If this town is not on your list yet: put it on there NOW!
It’s friendly, cute, sweet, just homely atmosphere draws in many backpackers, yet it doesn’t feel touristy.

Luang Prabang Unesco World Herritage, Laos

That should say enough. You’ll love this place from the moment you arrive and it will capture an eternal spot in your heart as it did in mine.

– Transportation:
In the city you won’t need more than your two feet to carry you.
To go out of town just take a tuktuk. Renting a bike would be another option.
– Do:
Kuang Si waterfalls: the most beautiful water you’ll ever see! Though the main pool might be crowded, take a hike off the beaten path and find a universe all to yourself in no time. There is no end to the explorings you can do in this huge playground of falls.
It’s a 45 minute tuktukdrive out of the city, which will cost you, and the five others it takes to fill up the ride, just 30.000 kip each. The entrance fee is 20.000 kip. Rounds up to a $5 well spend.
Right before the gate you’ll find a market where you can get your cooled beers and snacks to take up into the park.

Alms giving is another big thing in LPB. I didn’t go to see it; I never pulled an all nighter or got up at 6am.
That’s as early as it happens. Locals line up along the main road with a prepared dish to hand out to the monks that parade with big bowls to collect food for their community.

Big Brother Mouse is a book club, teaching English and inviting foreigners to help in doing so. Class starts at 9am. It’s a great way to give back to your hosts.
To find a volunteering job you could also raid the schools and hostels for adds or just ask around. Plenty of help wanted anywhere and plenty to do!

The Doughnut Factory, in the alley between the nightmarket and Daramarket, likes to show you around in their making of sweet treats in the homelike ‘factory’. At the end of their day they take their goods to Kitsalat Road to have the young ones sell from their little cart.

Go down to the river at the end of Sakkaline Road to swim in the Nam Khan with the local kids and enjoy a beautiful sunset, finding utter inner peace at the beach.
Girls: be sure to wear your sarongs, or be stared at in a not-too-friendly manner. Buddhist culture prescribes women to dress shoulders to knees at all times.
(Wearing just a bikini is accepted at Kuang Si though.)

Climb up to the temples is another I could’ve, would’ve, should’ve, but didn’t. They’re hard to miss, making up the center of town upon Mount Phu Si.

– Eat:
In the late morning, have breakfast on the market where those sweet ladies will make you any kind of sandwich -5.000 to 10.000 kip- and all kinds of delicious shakes -5.000 kip- Be sure to try an oreo- and a lemon-mint shake!

For breaky or an afternoon bagel go to Joma’s Bakery. Good sweets too. More expensive though, as might be expected of this more western orrientated chain, also housing a branch in Vientiane (Laos) and Hanoi (Vietnam).

For dinner, take the first alley on you left, coming from the square where the market starts. Too much choice, all the tastiest food and just for 10.000 kip a plate; unbelievable!
The way you’re put at a table is the best way to meet new friends to spend the rest of your night with – or have a great conversation and then to never meet again.

The Lao Garden has a nice terras. Their prices were a bit of a shocker to a budget traveler like me. But if you like to really go out for dinner it’s a fine place to do so.
They offer a free welcome shot of laolao to all their guests.
And that I got a foodpoisoning after eating there doesn’t mean this was the place I got it.

– Drink:
Utopia was where I spend my nights, as do many of the backpackers that wash up in this town. Their drinks are priced reasonably, their service is great, and the volleyball court gives opportunity to meet and play with some locals.
It’s ran by a friendly Aussie dude who likes to come over and check if his guests are enjoying themselves.

The beach just down the left of Kingkitsarath Road is a good hangout any night. Be a good guest though; don’t disturb the locals, keep it down, and clean up your mess.

Bowling Alley is the one place open after midnight. I haven’t been though and would imagine it to be a bit of a part-party place with lots of drunk folks.
Outside of any bar you’ll find tuktuks more than willing to take you there.

– Sleep:
I wouldn’t send you anywhere else than Spicy Laos Hostel! The friendly family running it, the homely vibe, the cozy balcony, the comfortable hammocks, the roomy dorms; it’s all great! Plus there’s grandma’s stand to fix you up with any meal or drink at any time of day, there’s a good laundry service, a movie room, free wifi and a computer at your disposal.
A night won’t cost you more than 30.000 kip. It’ll be a fanned night, but who wants AC anyway? That’ll just get you a cold.

[Here are a few shots I took when in April 2012]

Lull in Luang Prabang

Day XIX – April 6

Today everybody who hasn’t left yesterday is going. I still have to wait another day for that pre-booked Straybus I’m stuck with, and am still not too happy about.
I paid way too much for a bus that leaves only on set days, has no more comfort than the local ones, and can’t change anything about the quality of the roads. Nice thing they offer is this accommodation-booking. But the places they propose are, in my oppinion, not in the budget or style most backpackers travel in.

We have a big brunch at the market with the last of us. Eli [USA] who’s been here for a month doing voluntary work, has a big goodbyehug with the sandwichladies: such a heartwarming sight.
I have my first oreoshake, and that stuff is the bomb! Be sure to try it.
More goodbyes at the tuktukstop, and with Per [17, Fin] and Oli (the other Oli) [22, UK] I head back to Spicy to doze the day away. With the balcony being such a great hangout I’ve finally picked up one of the three books I brought: The Bookthief.
Young Per is getting on a bus straight to Pakse later this afternoon. Tomorrow morning Oli is catching a flight back to Chaing Mai, his last stop. He’ll be getting home soon, and is making plans for when he get’s there; a whole different mindset.
Home finally starts sounding like a far away place to me, and I’ve left all thought of studies and what I’m to do when I get back for what they are.

Today would’ve been my last chance to do the Big Mouse; a book club where they teach English and invite foreigners to come in and help out. Class starts at 9am though, and I didn’t make it again. Too bad: it would have been nice to actually do something useful for a change.

We make an attempt to visit The Doughnut Factory, but when we get there at 4pm they’re already closed.
It’s another Laotian home in a little alley -you can actually find it on google maps- where they show you the producing of those sweet treats and make a sort of attration out of it to draw attention. We’re told to walk down the street to find the cart they’re being sold at. And they are truly tasty.

Tonight is full moon, and I’m wondering if Luang Prabang has anything special planned.
Buddhist new years is in a few days, lasting a few days and celebrated with a lot of waterthrowing. I widness a headstart of that when taking a walk about in the afternoon. A few local boys were thowing buckets full on passing traffic.
Stupid that I booked my flight to Hanoi when I was still at home and didn’t take this into account. This holiday should be an absolutely must-experience! And now I’m going to miss it, as Vietnam is not a Buddhist country.

This evening I find a companion in the French –I honestly don’t know his name- a guy who’s been in the bed next to mine all this time, but spend all his time sleeping. He was sick, he explains.
Together we go over to Utopia for a drink, but like Spicy, it’s very quiet tonight. I run into some old acquaintances though: Veronica and Devon, who I met on the Gibbon Experience.
We say goodbye with “See you in Vang Vieng!”