It is with a deep seated satisfaction that I write these lines. We took a fairly long hike today, went out west to see THE blue lagoon (there are about half a dozen impostors) and a cave, walked 16 - 18km all in all, and are now sitting at the Veggie Tables restaurant drinking a well deserved beer (from a neighboring restaurant, they don’t sell beer here) and waiting for girlies tofu burger and my deep fried spring rolls. Both are awesomely delicious here.
But yeah, enough with the drivel. We made it to Vang Vieng just fine, on a nice VIP bus with dead CRT screens for entertainment. The seats didn’t really recline either, but the ride was short, only about four hours. I hoped for some truly spectacular mountain pass crossings, with hairpin turns and bottomless drops right behind the window, but no. We went timidly along the Mekong river, with barely any rises along the way.
Oh, and I guess this is as good a place as any to dispel any rumors about bad roads in Laos. We have heard so much bullshit from backpackers of all nationalities about the sleeper bus ride from Hanoi to Vientiane and about the roads in general and we believed them all. But in our experience the roads were great! Sure, they weren’t autobahn level highways, but compared to the “highways” of India and East Africa they were superb. The buses were in great technical condition as well, and the drivers careful. And this goes for “normal” sleepers as well, ones that are used by locals as well as by the (poorer) backpackers. I will forever remember the backbone breaking rides on disgustingly dirty and decrepit buses with shot suspension and an overactive AC on system on permanent Siberia setting that never went off. Maybe the people that are bitching about the buses have never had the pleasure of experiencing true extreme bus rides. Loser bitches.
But I digress. Vang Vieng, despite all the rumors and writings on the intertubes, is no longer the amphetamine-fueled party capital that it once had the dubious distinction of being. Kind of disappointing really, I was looking forward to seeing nubile western girls in the throes of drug induced lust squirming topless on the ground, Woodstock-style. But no. The tourist mix was overwhelmingly Asian, with a few backpackers and older westerners thrown in. That seems to be the case in many of the South East Asian destinations, the growing middle classes are demanding holidays and entertainment and are flooding the neighboring countries. Crass, uncultured bastards most of them, apart from the overtly civilized Japanese and South Koreans. The raucous braying and spitting masses of Chinese tourists remind me of the Russians in the early and mid 90s.
We were originally thinking of finding accommodation on the quiet side of the river, preferably in Maylyn Guesthouse (about 80,000 Kip a night for cheapest rooms, 110,000 for bungalows), but found good digs on the city-side of the river. The town was so quiet though that we didn’t fancy going to the other side of the toll (4,000 Kip there and back!!!) bridge, lugging our backpacks for kilometers, so got a cheap, clean room with a surprisingly good mountain view not far from the bridge for 60,000 Kip a night. Hot water shower, fan, a good bed, nice clean blanket, working WiFi during the daytime hours… The works.
After that we just chilled. Girly got most of the performance out of her system during the three weeks we have been on the road, so it was no longer the case of running around “doing” sights and activities. We didn’t really fancy tubing, even though that is what most people do in Vang Vieng. I guess we’re rebels that way. Or it could be that the water was kinda cold and we didn’t feel like soaking our arses in the water for two to three hours while yawning our way downstream. They demolished the riverside bars, too, so no fun pitstops along the way, either. Plus it seemed kinda overpriced at 60,000 kip (plus deposit of 55k) a head. And no way in hell was I gonna wear, or even buy, one of those tasteless hoodies one saw all over Indochina.
Prior to going to the Blue Lagoon & the Cave we went to our cheap-ass local breakfast place, and ordered two gigantic stuffed baguettes to go. I took one with omelette and girly chose one with vegetable & cheese filling. Thus properly equipped we started out on our trek. I won’t bore you with any more details, but let me say that the tourist breed is lazy beyond belief. We were passed by numerous vehicles, bikes, scooters, cars, jeeps, dune buggies, but only saw one other walker. So basically we swallowed a lot of dust, but our smug self satisfaction grew with every clogged alveolus. The lagoon itself was pretty neat, the water indeed aquamarine blue and deep, swarming with fishes that bumped into my back and took nibbles at my stinky feet. The cave was a cave, nuff’ said. There was a reclining buddha in it though, on an altar of gold, with a gaggle of middle aged women primly sitting around it, eyes closed but occasionally peeking to see if anyone was watching them be culturally aware and profoundly spiritual.
We had a beer, dried off after our swim, and headed back the way we came. It was New Year’s Eve and we had no plans what so ever.