I started this blog on Saturday and then I fell asleep....... :) So here it is Tuesday and I'm trying again. I'm just going to leave it with the same intro I typed on Saturday :)
I love that it is the weekend already. The two days of school we had last week were terrible because the kids we're so wired. The week ahead will include the release of Harry Potter, Overnight camp and my birthday! So needless to say I'm happy to have the weekend to rest.
We left last friday night for Laos. While Americans were enjoying a 3 day weekend we got a 5 day, we just didn't get any fireworks since in Thailand it wasn't Independence day, just Buddhist Lent.
As a mentioned before our overnight bus was second class since every other option was sold out. The bus station that night was SOOOOO packed we could hardly move. We thought our bus had arrived so we forced our way through the crowd only to find out it wasn't our bus after all. Now there was no option going back so we were forced into the parking lot. A Thai guy came and looked at our ticket and led us over to a bus. Busses in Thailand say the name of the point of origin and the name of your destination on the side. Our destination was Nong Khai and the side of this bus definitely didn't say that but the man on the bus took our tickets and led us on. The seats on this bus were HUGE! Only three to a row (2 seats, then an aisle then 1 seat) which made us wonder are we really on the right bus? and are we really on a second class bus? Later it was proved that we were on a second class bus. We made a lot of stops and around 12am a bunch more people came on and they set up stools in the aisle. Poor Bridget had a woman practically sleeping on her. Good thing the seats were big and comfortable.
We arrived in Nong Khai (turns out we were on the right bus, Nong Khai just wasn't it's final destination) around 6:15 am. A couple of us wanted to take the international bus to the border but the 7:30 bus was filled so we opted to take tuk tuks instead. Along the way the drivers stopped at a travel agency "to buy the Lao Visa." The man told us it would cost 2000 Baht. Before we had left I had looked up the price of the visa, only 1500 Baht. When I pointed this out they guy tried to tell me I was wrong. I was like oh heck no. Finally we got the tuk tuk drivers to just take us to the Thai border.
At the border we met a van driver who offered to take us all the way to Vang Vieng. I was a pretty good deal considering we didn't have to take a bus to Vientienne then find another bus up into the mountains so we took it. After a little more than an hour spent at the Thai and Laos borders we were finally in a van on our way.
I'm pretty sure everyone got a little car sick on our ride to Vang Vieng. The road was windey and wet from the rain and the driver was going much faster than he should have, but because of that we reached Vang Vieng around lunch time leaving the rest of the day to explore.
It took a little while to find a hotel. We were there during a busy tourist time and having 7 people staying together was going to be impossible so we ended up staying in two hotels right by each other. Shaela, Bridget, Russ and I were in one and Ruth, Shawna and Lucy were in the other. The hotel I was in was right on the bank of the Nam Song river. It was so beautiful. The mountains across the river with the clouds wrapped around them looked so beautiful, like a Chinese fairytale.
After we ate lunch a couple of us went out to explore while the others napped. We paid 4 kip to cross the river. The land we found on the other side was so different from town. It's what I would imagine the real Laos is. There were women fishing with big nets tied to slicks and there were little bamboo bridges that looked like they were straight out of National Geographic.
We continued to walk down the muddy dirt road and soon found that we were being followed by a young girl. She asked if we wanted to see some cave and we said no. Then we came to a sign for the cave and we thought, why don't we go see it? We have nothing else to do. So we started on the path but we were quickly stopped by the girl and her recently materialized counterpart who then showed us a book of tickets and told us it cost 12 kip to go. We hesitated for about a second and then decided to go for it anyway. We then started out on a narrow and very muddy path through the rice paddies. About 20 feet in a slipped and fell into the rice. So much for keep my clothes clean. It was slow going from then on. Kind of like barefoot ice skating on mud (and yes I did say barefoot, it was the only way and I don't even want to think of the parasites we could have picked up). It took us about 40 minutes with a light rain to cross the paddies then we dove into the jungle. It was a scene straight our of lost, seriously the jungle was all around us. Soon we had made it to the karst mountainside and then we started to climb up and up and up. The parts of us that weren't wet from rain were soon wet from sweat. Finally we reached the mouth of the cave and we got a pretty spectacular view of Vang Vieng. The girls whipped out some flashlights and we pressed onward into the cave. The cave was pretty deep. I mean nothing like the carlsbad caverns or anything but it went in quite a ways and there were several magnificent stalactites and stalagmites and then of course at the very end a statue of Buddha like all other caves in Asia. When we got back out of the cave we stopped to sit for a minute. This is when the girls demanded a fee for light and guide. Of course right? It wasn't included in the first price? These girls were 10 and very smart. After much confusion in money transactions (Laos takes kip which is their currency, Thai Baht and US dollar. It's a little crazy sometimes.) I think we ended up paying them $2 each. Oh well, I doubt that we would have ever found it without them. Walking back through the rice paddies was much easier than walking in, except or the fact that one of our original paths had been "closed" was we were in the cave so we had to walk thigh deep through an irrigation canal to get out. Then Bridget broke the bridge :) which was actually just a bamboo stick but still it was really funny.
Here's the girl leading us across. The cave was in that mountain in the distance.
The second day we prayed for sunshine, but alas we got more rain. It actually rained quite a bit, especially overnight. When we went out to breakfast in the morning we could tell that the river had risen at least 3 or 4 feet. So what do you do when your on a vacation and it rains???? The answer of course is NOT stay inside, it's buy a poncho and go explore! So we did. We actually have an awesome pic of all of us (except Russ who was taking the picture) wearing our ponchos. We decided to cross the river again and try to find what was called "The Blue Lagoon" and maybe some other caves. As we walked along it was so evident how much it had flooded. The "national geographic" bridge from the day before was basically floating on on water. Water severely covered the roadway too. We walked through many deep puddles which was a little bit of a scary event since the cattle there are basically free range and we never knew if we were going to step in a big pile of poop. Lucy had it the hardest of all of us since she had worn shoes and DID NOT want to get them dirty or wet. Before long though she didn't have a choice. We all had mud all over our ankles.
We didn't end up finding the blue lagoon but we came across a path to another cave so we decided to try it. This one only had a few rice paddies that we needed to cross :) It was still quite a walk though. Over fences and across a very sketchy bridge with red ants on it. Finally we made it to the caves. We had to climb up some razor sharp karst rocks but we did make it only to find out NONE of us had lights so we couldn't even go in. It was a little disappointing. We had assumed that there would be someone there to take our money and give us lights. Oh well. We hung around for a few minutes and then headed back. then on the way down I slipped in my flip flop (which had become stretched out) and I ended up cutting my heal. It was lovely. Good thing it wasn't any worse. Laos has apparently some of the worst health care. Later that night we saw another foreigner hobbeling around on one rotten wooden crutch with his foot all bandaged up. Thankfully that was never us. The walk bakc felt like it took forever because we were wet and starving. We had left at around 10am and we finally got back to our hotel around 3.
One thing I found interesting about Van Vieng was that all the restaurants had FRIENDS playing on TV's (well actually I think we found one that was playing Family Guy). But you would go to eat dinner and sit down at this lounge/bed style raised table platform thingy's and not socialize as you ate because you were so engulfed in FRIENDS. I'm not complaining though. Sometimes we just wanted to watch friends :)
Our last day once again we prayed for sun. One of the big activities in Vang Vieng is innertubing down the Nam Song river and that's a little harder to do during the rainy season. When we got up it was drizzeling a little bit but not really raining so we had hope. We headed out to try to find a place that would rent us tubes. That was a no go. Everywhere we went they told us "no tubing today, river is to full." We got a little desperate. We REALLY wanted to go tubing and get on the river. Since that wasn't happening we looked at other options. No one really wanted to go Kayaking so we decided to go rafting instead.
The river was rather gentle. There were a few spots of rapids but not many. When we were at the "big" rapid spot I actually looked over on the shore and saw the driver of the truck that had taken us to the drop off point taking pictures. Watch, we'll go back in like a year and they'll have a picture of us up on their sign advertising rafting. That would be a little weird.... Anyway, you can tell the point where the tubing was supposed to begin because makeshift bars line the rivers edge. We hastily pulled over at one of the last ones called "The Slider Bar" which I assume got it's name from the giant slide they have. After a battle in knee deep mud to get to shore we finally made it.
All the bars along the river also have some sort of activity for you to do to draw people in. The slider bar had a couple (including the slide), one of which was the swing. Basically you climb up to this big platform about 30 ft. above the swollen muddy waters and jump off holding onto this swing. To say the event is mildly terrifying would be putting it lightly. I only did it because I knew I would end up regretting it if I didn't. You get up to the top of the platform and have to stand straddling a large hole while you look down at the swiftly flowing water you have to bend forward to grab the swing with the tips of your fingers. As soon as you get a grip the guy starts counting down "3, 2, 1...." and then he lets go and the next thing you know you are falling. Most people did this quite gracefully, swinging back and forth and evetually plopping gently into the water. I on the other hand am not graceful. Now I'm not quite sure exactly what happened I was falling and screaming and then I think I forgot to curl my lets up out of sheer terror, my feet caught in the water and that made me loose my grip and I went head first into the water. Now that was a scarey moment because the water was black and I didn't know which way was up so I just started swimming. Thankfully God pointed me in the right direction because soon I saw light and then there was an innertube in my face (little boys threw innertubes tied to ropes to everyone to help pull them back to shore. I must say it was a little embarrassing. Shaela said that when I hit the water everyone went "OHHHHHHH" and then it was silent and then they all cheereed when I came up. Well at least I made an impression. Needless to say I didn't go back on the swing. I did try to slide though and that was pretty fun and much more graceful :)
Having to leave Vang Vieng was a little bitter sweet. It was such a peaceful and beautiful place. The van came on tuesday morning to take us to Vientienne. We had bought our bus tickets back to Bangkok while we were in Vang Vieng so he helped us find the travel agency where it would pick us up and he also helped Lucy and Ruth find a hotel (since Lucy needed to go to the Thai embassy to get a new visa). We didn't have a lot of time in the city which was unfortunate. I would have like to explore a little more. We did find an awesome cafe (Cafe Joma) where I got the best Nanaimo bar of my life and I also got awesome oatmeal chocolate chip cookies. We went and saw a fountain and an old wat of some sort and then we got on the bus to head back to BKK. This bus was first class (although we were told it was supposed to be VIP) but it was not near as nice as the 2nd class! The seats were smaller and I had a thai guy practically laying in my lap all night. My legs are too long for those seats! Needless to say next time we're going to try to get on the ball earlier and get train tickets. At least we still had wedensday off to recover :)
If you want to see more pictures you can look at my facebook album
P.S. I apologize for any spelling errors. Blogger spell check is being difficult and I don't want to read this LONG post again :)