Backflips and bellyflops
Trip Start May 29, 2010
68Trip End Oct 09, 2010
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Where I stayed
With the air con working we progressed on and encountered better roads (though only better in comparison to driving over the surface of the moon) and started to climb up through the mountains. After another hour or so the bus stopped at the side of the road and the driver and his posse got off again spanners in hand and marched to the back of the bus. The air con was still working so we weren't sure what they were looking at. After about 20 minutes everyone was ordered back onto the bus and we set off again none the wiser to the cause of the delay.
We stopped one more time after that at a restaurant food stop, the driver and his pals were tinkering with the bus and still didn't think anything of it expecting that this would be a rest break for 20 minutes or so before we set off again.
We had run out of cash the night before and Al had nipped out early that morning to find an ATM, he tried 4 seperate machines none of which were working so we had had to use the little Kip we had remaining and some dollars to pay our hotel bill (it is almost impossible to pay by card in Laos), we had zero cash on us and hadn't been able to get any breakfast so at 10am when we stopped we were pretty hungry
So, it's 10:30 and we have been waiting for 30 minutes at this stop watching people eat and drink (thankfully we had lots of water with us) the bodge it crew were still working on the bus and it looked like we were going nowhere fast. We sat for another 1 and a half hours expecting to set off on our way, we were used to delays by now so thought they were just having a long break. We were getting really hungry and found the only currency we had left which was pounds, Al went off in search of someone who might agree to exchange it for us amid the crowd that had got off the bus and ended up talking to a Laos guy who spoke good English. He explained that the bus was going nowhere and the crew had called for another bus to come and rescue us, the major issue with that was the bus would have to come from the same station we had left over 2 hours drive away. He then explained that our tickets included lunch and pointed out the stub on the end of our ticket which said coupon, he told us to go to the food counter and pick from a list.
We noticed that all the Laos people from the bus were munching away on one side of the restaurant and all the Westerners were sat on the otherside looking non plussed at the bus still waiting to get on. We told people about the food and the situation and gratefully went to get a sandwich (preferring that to a chicken dish which had been sat in the open since we had arrived, the flies had made themselves comfortable). We started talking to a NZ couple who sat at our table and laughed at the complete lack of communication, they also offered to loan us some money until we could get to an ATM which was very kind but we had eaten so the emergency was over for now and we declined. They had been living in London for a year and were on their way back to Nelson where they lived. We talked about NZ and how much we loved it and they about London and how much they didn't love it! They took pity on our cash strapped predicament and boiught us a beer and shortly after that the new bus arrived complete with foreign music blasting from the speakers.
The rest of the journey was fairly uneventful other than the ridiculously loud music blaring from the speakers, it was so bad we found it hilarious, it was just like the music from Phoenix nights Al had us laughing playing the back of his chair like an organ. About two hours before we arrived in VV the man in the chair behind Char fell asleep leaning against the chair and slid his hand down the side of the chair against the window and right next to Char, at first it wasn't a problem but when he got into a deep sleep he kept twitching his hand and hitting/nipping Char, it was like a dead mans hand like in the Adams family, eventually Char put a book behind her to stop the twitching hand nipping her but it didnt make him move it he just slept away
Again we had no money so after talking to a group who had stepped off the bus asking how far it was into town a lady called Amanda from California offered to lend us the money to pay for our taxi until we got to an ATM.
Saved again by the kind heartedness of fellow travellers we stepped onto the tuk tuk and asked the driver to stop at an ATM. We were a little concerned as our guidebook warned that ATMs were few and far between and it was nigh on impossible to pay for anything by card, it seems our guidebook is a little outdated in that respect as we passed at least three ATMs on the way into VV and the driver stopped at another as we got onto the main road. Relieved to finally have some cash in our pockets we got off the taxi with Amanda as she had told us about a place that sounded really nice and was next to the river. We walked together down a path and came to a bridge where we found there was a charge to walk across (obviosly the residents didn't pay only us Westerners), this would be payable every time we crossed the bridge and though it was only 4,000 Kip per person (about 35p) it seemed unusual to have to pay that to get to a hotel
It was dark by the time we made our way down the the Grandview hotel which had received good reviews, we looked at a couple of rooms and settled on an air conditioned room with views of the street rather than the riiver which saved us a few pounds on our room, we would be on the river the following day and didn't expect to spend much time in the room.
Char went to fill in our details and pay for the room and was followed up to the room by the man who had checked us in who demanded one of our passports. In the time we have been travelling we have not given our passport to anyone and Char wasn't going to change that now. Char refused to give the passport, the man said it was for our safety which seemed strange as surely he would have asked for both if he wanted to keep them safe for us
Char walked away from the man and practised some deep breathing anger management strategies whilst at he same time envisaging throttling him, meanwhile Al had been in the bathroom listening to this and every now and then would shout out "Char, can you just wait for me to come out" or "Char maybe you should just give him the passport?".
Char contined her conversation and said if it was a problem then we would leave and go somewhere else. The man said we could do that but he would charge us 30% of the cost of the room to clean it, we had already paid for one night (with no mention of needing a passport) so it was clear we weren't going to get all of our money back. We had literally put our bags on the floor in the room so there was nothing to clean
We went for dinner that night and afterwards found another hotel down the road with rooms of exactly the same standard, same price and they didn't want our passports.
The following day we checked out after Al had collected his passport and made our way to the alternative hotel dropped our bags off and headed out to do some tubing.
We found the tubing station and collected our truck innertubes which we would be using to float down the Nam Song and took the tuk tuk to the start of the route where we were greeted with loud music and offers of free shots. We decided just to go with the flow and ordered margaritas and drank the shot which was disgusting and came from a bottle with wasps in the bottom, it was lao lao but tasted more like tequila. Char had a lao lao bar motif spray painted onto her stomach (like you do) and after finishing our drinks Al took the slide with his tube and we plopped into the river and we went on our way, we hadn't gone far when we reached the first bar which had a huge rope swing and loud music blaring
We stopped at the next bar and once we had pulled in we climbed through some undergrowth and made it back to the first bar where the crowds were growing and the rope swing looked ace. We got there and Al was straight up, he managed to stay on for a long time before dropping into the water and catching the rope to pull him back in. Char watched not wanting to try the first swing. Al continued and had lots of attempts at swinging high before doing a tandem swing with an Austrian guy. There were lots of funny bellyflops and we enjoyed the beer and banter as we laughed at the people flopping into the water.
We decided to get to the second bar as it was around 2pm and we had to get the tubes back by 6pm, it was at least 3 kms back to Vang Vieng and the going was slow!
We skipped the second bar which didn't have as impressive a swing and made our way to the third which had a death slide
We decided that that was probably enough swings for Char for the day and when a group of people arrived and started playing mud volleyball we joined in
Al was on one team and Char was on the other and it started fairly equal then Al and his teammate got into a rythm and pretty much anhialated Char's team though it did have a lot to do with Char's refusal to dive in the rancid water to catch the ball.
We decided to make moves after the ball was knocked into the river and got back in our tubes and floated for around 20 minutes past a couple of closed bars (it was boating festival so some owners had closed for the day) and stopped at the last bar which included opium, hashish and mushrooms as past of its offering we decided not to partake. We met up with a lot of people there that we had met earlier in the day and lost track of time drinking and chatting. Al pointed out that it was 5:30 and we had 30 minutes to float ove 2kms back to Vang Vieng. It looked like rain as we got back in the tubes very much worse for wear and we spent the next half hour paddling and swimming back to VV where we were pulled in by small children who looked a little scared when Al grabbed on the rope and the 6 year old at the other end started to topple
After showering and eating a really good dinner at the bakery in the village we got seperated when Al went back to the hotel room and Char found a bar to wait in. Al couldn't find the bar and Char was busy chatting away inside so after a while Char went to find Al who was like a bear with a sore head. We made our way to the bucket bar to see what all the fuss was about and met Amanda, she was there with a friend she had met earlier in her travels called Etay (from Israel but living in Melbourne). We sat in the bar drinking our mojito bucket and loving the random dancing peformed by some of the chemically drunk revellers. There were some real characters in there including lady boys and a strange guy who took a liking to Amanda (who would therefore be known as the stalker)
We met the next day with Etay and Amanda and went for breakfast at the bakery then caught a bus with Itay to Vientiane. We would be flying to Hanoi the following day.
Laos had been an experience, there is no easy way to travel in the country and we felt like we had spent most of our time on buses. We certainly hadn't experienced the friendliness that other people had talked about from the Laos people, it seemed that they saw us as walking bank notes rather than anything else.