Sunday, July 3, 2011

Day 62!

Flooding in VV, on the day I arrived it went to the 4th green steps.

1.21$ all you can stuff on a plate mean

Rock climbing wall, about 100 meters above the ground

First climb of the day, having to shift from one hanging object to another 120m above solid land. Sweet!

Left side is route of 5'11 climb all the way to the shadows

Puffy hand from wasp sting (48 hours later)

Alright! I left off in Hanoi hung over and about to head to Laos. My trip over to Luang Prabang was failry uneventful. I met a canadian living in Hanoi who gave me a few helpful hints for Laos and was off. Fortuantely he was still around when we got to the airport because the ATM wouldn't accept any of my cards and I had to pay him in Dong (Vietnamese currency) and he paid for the tuk tuk into town. Getting to Luang Prabang, I found a relatively costly however very nice guest house. Being late decided to go with it. Luckily this was a good move. It was right next to the night market and also the food stalls. These were great! For 10 000kip (1.21$ CAN) you could fill a plate with as much food as possible. For another 10 000 you got a tall beer. I was set. Getting my fix of vegetables FINALLY after a 3 weeks in Vietnam I was set. Who knew I would be craving vegetables so badly. Eating in Vietnam wasn't great and my stomach agreed. However getting to Laos not 12 hours later my stomach was rock solid and thankfully has been ever since!

I was sitting at the food stalls and noticed a full table next to me roughly my age. They were all speaking with different accents so I decided to try my luck and introduce myself. Sure enough they were a group that had somewhat formed on the road (Laos really only has two routes people travel (North to South and South to North). I hit it off with this group (2 Austrian, 1 German, 1 American, 1 Dutch, 1 Italian) and these were the people I hung out with for the next few days.

Unfortunately that night it started to rain. A common theme for the next week. In Laos when it rains, it rains hard! A 20 meter walk and you are soaked. The idea was to go see waterfalls the next morning however when the rain continued this proved impossible. Tuk tuks wouldn't drive and there really wasn't any other way. This was a good relaxing day though. In the rain the group went to little cafes and somewhat just killed the day. A good way to offset the crazy pace that was Vietnam.

The rain continued and unfortunately once again the next day waterfalls were not possible. Speaking to some people who rented their own motorbikes and braved the elements to see them, they told us that there was a 20 minute walk through leech infested waters and the waterfall was brown from all the mud so you couldn't swim in the lagoon (which was this waterfalls major draw). Feeling defeated many of us decided to leave Luang Prabang and head south to the party city that is Vang Vieng (VV) where the legendary tubing takes place.

The trip down should be a 5-6 hour minibus ride. Easy. 4 of us from our international group departed in heavy rains. Rumors were ominously suggesting landslides. My roommate from Vancouver Corinne was strategically (or through poor planning) 3 days ahead of me in her travels through Laos and reported that heading south from VV was blocked by landslides but north was still clear.

After passing a half dozen landslides which covered 50-75% of the road and squeaking by after 4 hours of driving we had only gone 100km (of the 229). It was painful. I could bike faster than this. Then came the road block. At 2:30pm we ran into a large set of cars all waiting for a landslide to be cleared. The wait wasn't too bad. Locals sold food and beer walking along the cars and horns cheered as the excavator drove up the street. At 5:30 the road was clear and we piled back in the car. Sure we were 3 hours delayed (on an already slow day) but that part of the alure of travelling in Laos. Infamously slow buses. We get back into the car. Make it to km 102 and stop again. This time we can see the row of cars (not the 15 that had been previously waiting but 1-2km of them. A 30 meter landslide had been blocking the road since 9AM. To make the story short. We had a street party. Locals brought more beer and food and we played music until 10:30PM when the landslide was cleared. Unfortunately when you have 12+ hours of blocked road. There are a lot of cars. It was not until 12:30 that we moved and then there was a dense fog requiring us to drive 15-30km/h the rest of the way. I was thankful for this though becasue the roads were terrible. In some section sthere were large cliffs and the road had sunken 5 feet.

Arriving in the rain in VV at 5AM myself and a fellow bus rider found the first available guest house and went promptly to sleep.

VV was fun. The next day had no rain and we went tubing. Its exactly what its made out to be. Chaotic, a lot of fun, filled with lots of irresponsible behavior, loaded with drugs and a big headache the next morning. One day of heavy drinking was enough for me however some of the friends I had made decided to go a second and even third day. No way! Tubing was interesting though because of massive rainfal the city had the most flooding in decades. Great timing for Laos Vince.

My second day I went to visit some caves. They required a bike ride along VERY rural streets. I had to dodge cows along the way. THe caves were really cool however I described them as though I had had a cave on my land and charged admission. There was no public tourism. Once in the gave there was no guidance and getting lost without anyone knowing were you were was very possible. As a result myself and my american friend decided not to go too far in because we didn't really want to die.

The third day was by far my favorite. I have been rock climbing in montreal and vancouver for the past 10 years however had never been outdoor climbing. I signed up for a guided climbing day. The rock cliffs were apparently very similar to the famous areas in Krabi (thailand) however significantly less known. Climbing was hard. I managed to get stung by a wasp while tubing and also sliced my foot.This made climbing hard since my foot hurt in the shoe and I couldn't apply any pressure to my hand which had swelled to nearly twice its size. I've attached a photo but unfortunately it was once the swelling subsided and it really doesn't give a good image of the swelling, it just looks puffy.

I still managed a 5'10-5'11 climb for those of you who know what that means (it was actually a 6B+ using the french system so wikipedia was used to translate). What made this route hard wasn't the difficulty of the holds (which were hard) but the fact that the route was over 30 meters long. To do the route clean took nearly 5 minutes which in climbing terms (for me at least) is a marathon.

Deciding I had enough of VV after three great days I headed south again. Corinne (my roommate) was somehwere south of me and I thought that if I skipped through some caves and minority villages I could catch up. I took the bus to Vientiane (capital of Laos) spent the day sightseeing and got on a nightbus sleeper to Pakse in the South. The sleeper buses are funny. Although you do get to lay down, you have to share a 3X6foot spot with someone. Thats right, they aren't individual. At supper I met a family from Ireland also taking the sleeper bus. We had seen each other in VV and chatted quite a bit. They had two daughters traveling similar routes to me who I would assume were both doing their undergrads (or that age about).

Getting to the bus station, my ticket didn't have a seat assigned. They quickly assinged me #48. The irish family had seats 45-48... Uncertain where to go I just kinda hung out for a while until a bus official told me I was to share with them. Cosy! There were 5 (small) spots in the back row (44-48, 2-1-2). The two daughters were in the first two spots and to make life not super awkard I didn't share the other spot with the mom. So I got to spend the night on the sleeper bus between two 20 something girls and their parents. It was actually a really funny situation and I think they were pleased that it was me there since we had met on a few occasions and I can definitely say I am pleased I wasn't stuck between a bunch of Laos who didn't speak english.

Getting to Pakse I toured the city and tried to hunt down Corinne. With no luck. I had no idea if she was ahead or behind me on the road until 10PM when I got an email from her surprised to hear I was in the same town. Today we went on a tour of the Bolivan Plateau which has lots of coffee and waterfalls. Apparently the coffee is amongst the best in the world. Our guide was a french guy who has been living in Laos and married to a local(kinda, you aren't allowed to marry a local if you are a foreigner, its illegal). He is completely integrated but still has to western perspective.

All in all I really enjoyed it. Now tomorrow Corinne and I head to 4000 islands and then off to Cambodia!

Wow, I thought that by doing shorter interval between post that it would be shorter. Instead I just remember more details.

Also funny side note. The guy sitting at the kiosk next to me is watching porn and has been for the past 45 minutes with no shame. Asia is funny.