Monday, October 20, 2008

Vang Vieng and Vientiane

All experience is an arch wherethrough gleams that untravelled world whose margin fades for ever and for ever when I move.

- Alfred Lord Tennyson

View photos from Vang Vieng here.

View photos from Vientiane here.

There are no words to describe the bus ride from Luang Prabang to Vang Vieng. I had never seen landscape like this before. I kept the window wide open taking in the warm wind and smorgasbord of scenery. Andrea, a girl I met on the bus from Germany, and I found a guesthouse, a footbridge away from Vang Vieng when we arrived. It was a peaceful little place in a lovely garden setting. After we settled into our new room, we walked back into town to check things out. Vang Vieng is made up mainly of restaurants serving western food and airing episodes of Friends over and over and over again. It is a surreal place. We met up with some girls from Quebec at one of the restaurants. It was nice but it didn't feel right watching TV surrounded by westerners in a developing country.

Vang Vieng is where most people go for tubing - it sounded super fun but I had not yet tried rock climbing and had been mesmerized by the beauty of the mountains and decided it was high time to conquer one.

The next morning, I met my rock climbing comrades: James – an English bloke about my age who was fresh from several months of traveling in India and still gung ho to do more (his next plan was to rent a boat, buy a tent and head down the Mekong!)। The couple – Vicky and Oron (or at least that’s what I thought I heard) were from Israel and on their way to North India. I was a little bit nervous, especially since I am not Miss Sporty and my companions looked like they’d climbed a mountain or two in the past.

The first climb was awesome but not without moments of ‘GET ME DOWN!’, ‘I am NEVER doing this again!’, and ‘What the hell was I thinking?’ A line kept repeating in my head from Dharma Bums by Jack Kerouac, ‘When you get to the top of a mountain, keep climbing.’ But really, my favourite part was coming down the mountain - abseiling – the closest I have been to flying yet! In the middle of all of this we had a little mountain side bbq of vegetables, rice and fish skewers served on a banana leaf! Deeee-lish!

The 2nd climb was a little bit harder and the 3rd, there was a point where I couldn’t feel my arms and couldn’t quite get used to the fact that if I did let go, the ropes and the guide below would keep me from falling. By the fourth climb, it had started to rain quite heavily and we were on the most difficult climb of the day. Not knowing where to put your foot next can be very disconcerting, but not being able to hear your guide over the rain as to where to head and realizing he means right when he says left (love that language barrier) made it that much more fun! Luckily for me, he yelled at me to come down because of the rain which was right about the time that I was ready to give up and I didn’t have to disappoint my fellow rock climbers by not making it all the way up!J Our descent was even more dangerous than the rock climbing itself. The terrain was made up of jagged rocks covered in slimy dirt that was exceptionally slippery. Nevermind that the decline had to be made almost entirely on all 4s!

I got back to my guesthouse completely knackered, sweaty and covered with red dirt in a euphoric stupor! I had rock climbed finally – and in Laos of all places

My plans to kayak to Vientiane the next day went out the window (due to my muscles feeling like jello) and opted for a bus ride to Vientiane instead

I found a place in Vientiane called, Joe’s Guesthouse, recommended for solo women travellers in Lonely Planet. And what a fab choice it was! I felt totally safe there the entire time and it was right in the heart of Vientiane along the river. I decided that this was a good place to back up all of my photos onto DVD and send them onwards to New Zealand. I spent a full week there and had some much needed Tracey Time. I was happy to take pictures, get lost on long walks, spend quality time with my laptop and just stay put for awhile.

Cait and Ada (who I had met in Thailand) recommended that I go to a Forest Wat on the edge of town to get a cheap but quality Laos massage. So I took a tuk tuk there one afternoon and was treated to the best massage since Thailand in an open air hut. She was one of those people BORN to give massages – it was great! I am not looking forward to getting back to the land of $75 massages, for this one cost me only $3 and included a herbal steam. I then walked over to a nearby wat to participate in a guided meditation with monks. About 7 more people came and we waited and waited. Finally, one of the monks said the translator wasn’t coming and then told us to START. 1, 2, 3 MEDITATE! So it wasn’t exactly ‘guided’ but was cool to be meditating with monks in a wat. You could hear them chanting in a temple nearby – tres, tres awesome Saturday afternoon!

It took me a full 5 days for my muscles to recover from rock climbing which also made me very weary Carrying my backpack, camera and computer equipment were wreaking havoc on my neck and back, to a point where I was tempted to fly straight to NZ from Vientiane. I had planned to go through Bangkok but found a deal with Air Asia to fly directly to Malaysia from Vientiane for $80 CDN, and 3 days later, I was on a plane bound for Kuala Lumpur.

Like all great travellers, I have seen more than I remember, and remember more than I have seen.

- Benjamin Disraeli

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