Saturday, August 14, 2010

Laos: part 1

I love Laos. Love, love, love it. It is so relaxing and calm here. The people are sweet. The food is spicy and delicious. Even the street vendors who are so aggressive in other countries (madam, come look, come buy. Lady, this is not so much money for you!) are so chill. Someone asks you to buy something, you say no, and they smile at you and walk away.

I flew into Vientiane, the most chill Asian capital city ever. It's a nice place, but not a ton to do or see. I spent day there and then took the bus to Vang Vieng. Originally, I had planned on taking the bus straight to Luang Prabang, but decided to break up the 11 hour bus ride with a day here. Vang Vieng has a reputation as a party town. It's set among limestone karsts and on a beautiful river. The biggest pastime here is to rent an inner tube and float down the river. This has become such a popular thing to do that there are now tons of bars and restaurants on the river. So, people tube for a few minutes, stop and have a beer or a shot, tube for a few more minutes. The result is a lot of hurt people. I ran into so many people that had huge scrapes, sprains, and cuts from tubing a fast moving river, drunk or high. Every menu in town has a "happy" option. Meaning, with methamphetamines included. It truly boggles my mind, who would take drugs in an Asian country....haven't they seen "Locked up Abroad"? One guy I met, got caught with marijuana and had to pay $1000 fine to get out of prison. Anyway - I heard the scenery is amazing, as long as you stay away from the river. So I booked a bungalow about 10 minutes out of town. It was really basic. No a/c, hot water, tv, or internet. It was right on the river and had a great balcony overlooking the river and mountains. It was great for about 5 hours. Then I finished my book, updated my journal, and had enough self reflection. I wanted to rent a scooter and head out to explore some Buddha caves. But, it started raining. And I decided that probably wasn't the smartest thing to do. If you get hurt here, you're only option for good treatment is to fly to Bangkok. Night fell, the jungle moved in to my bungalow. All sorts of weird insects I've never seen. At one point during the night, I heard this weird screeching noise, and then a thump as something landed on my balcony. I didn't sleep so well that night. The next morning, I made a snap decision to get the heck out of town. I took a taxi to the bus station, and caught a bus right as it was leaving the station. The drive to Luang Prabang is one of the most beautiful in Laos. It winds up through the mountains and jungles and rural villages. I was looking forward to all 7 hours of it. And lucky me, it ended up being about 9 hours instead. (Mom - if you are reading this, you may want to skip this section :)  This ended up being the most dangerous bus ride I've ever been on. It had been raining heavily and there were several mudslides. We ended up stopping for a couple hours because of a huge mudslide ahead. When it was finally cleared, we watched bus after bus, drive through the remaining mud and fishtail all over....dangerously close to the cliff on the other side of the road. I wish I would've taken video of the buses because it was seriously horrifying. People were gasping and turning away because it looked like they were going to go over the side. It only took a second for me and a few other people to decide that we were going to walk instead. A few foreigners got off. The Lao passengers laughed at us. Our bus made it through with just a little slipping and sliding so we jumped back on, and then off a few more times as we drove through more mudslides. At one point, we were driving through a village, hit mud, and nearly slide into some poor man's house. About 15 people were in and around the house, and once we started sliding their way went running like crazy. The house was set right off the side of the road on a steep hill. Our bus kept sliding into it and hitting his roof. We all got off again, since it looked like we were going to take this guy's house out, and there was a power line that we were precariously close to. The bus driver fought the bus and scraped the house again, but finally got it out. It was insane. Such an eventful and dangerous drive. No American bus would ever have been allowed to drive in those conditions.

One of the buses fishtailing and sliding through the mudslide.

Other passengers from my bus that decided to walk rather than risk the sketchy ride through the mud.

My bus nearly taking out someone's house and a power line. Our bus broke it's rearview mirror and scratched up the entire ride side.

I spent a couple days in Luang Prabang which is a great place to relax. There are more temples and monks here than in any other city in Laos. Herbal saunas and cheap foot reflexology treatments abound. I treated myself to a few of each, just to test our which was best :) I also signed up for a four day trek through the Lao mountains where we spent two nights in rural villages with the Hmong and Kamu people. I'm looking forward to it!

Huge reclining Buddha outside of Vientiane.

Buddha in Vientiane.

Buddha with sticky rice offering in Vientiane.

Wat Siskatet in Vientiane.

Buddhist wat (temple).

1 comment:

  1. That is hilarious about the river! I am relieved to see you throw in a touch of wisdom in the midst of all your brave and daring exploration, skipping the river was clearly one of those wise moments! Skipping the bus ride may have been another one...
    Praying for you safe return...your Visiting Teacher.