Sunday, 23 March 2008

Watery fun

It's been a wet week in Laos, and refreshingly, not all the moisture was sweat!

First there was the rather splendid Kuang Si waterfall 30KM outside Luang Prabang - actually worth visiting and genuinely beautiful, unlike a lot of the other waterfall tours we've seen on our trip. It's an impressive, multi-level cascade interspersed with milky turquoise pools suitable for swimming, all in a delightful woodland setting. Nice chilly water, relaxing spot, good fun all round, especially for the cheeky Italian boys Debs spotted "subtly" taking pictures of girls in bikinis - those red-blooded mediterraneans!

That was pretty much it for Luang Prabang, so we hopped on a pretty uncomfortable bus to Vang Vieng. The 6 hour ride featured the worst on-board entertainment EVER, in the shape of a series of Lao karaoke hits: crap songs, along with dreadful videos which made very little sense at all. You know the sort of thing - boy meets girl, they make soppy faces at each other, then there's some sort of misunderstanding (possibly involving a moped) after which they sort of chase each other a bit, she falls down a tiny flight of stairs, they make friends again... and then she walks off into the sunset with her dog - WTF? The other noteworthy thing about the bus ride - apart from the stunning mountainous scenery - was Debs trying to use the smallest toilet in the world. The ceiling was literally only 3 feet hight, so you could barely crouch, didn't have enough room to pull trousers up/ down inside the toilet, got splashed by the mandi (bucket of water for flushing the toilet) every time the bus went round a bend (constantly), and couldn't close the door. Glad we paid extra for that 'facility'.

Er... right, so here's what you do in Vang Vieng: go tubing! This involves floating down the Nam Song river in an inflated tractor tyre inner tube, taking in yet more stunning mountainous scenery. We had heard that there were one or two riverside bars on the way down too. Quite an understatement! Rickety bamboo structures lined the banks for large parts of the trip, complete with pumping sound systems, rope swings and other dangerous activities, plus friendly little dudes who threw you a line then dragged you into shore so you could relieve them of a couple of bottles of Beer Lao. It was all good fun, but a little bit tacky in a "let's partaaayyyy!" type way.

One other big shout out goes to the Organic Farm in Vang Vieng. Home of killer mulberry shakes, mulberry pancakes, mulberry mojitos, mulberry leaves fried up tempura style and a whole load of hippies (we hate hippies). We did a little bit of volunteering, attempting to teach local kids some english and some basic computer skills, so we did our bit for cultural relations. And the rest of the time we relaxed and tried not to get ripped off by the tuk tuk drivers and bus ticket sales dudes. Harder than it sounds. Vang Vieng has definitely suffered from the huge swathes of tourists who flock to the place to drink/ take drugs and spend money. Unfortunately, it's made the locals become a bit like the money grabbing touts we so disliked in Thailand.

But the tubing was lovely, even if the bar scene kinda ruined the outstanding natural beauty of the place.


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