Vang Vieng - the most touristy place in Laos. The landscape is absolutely gorgeous, with rice fields and limestone pillars surrounding the town and a river running through it. The main draw to the city is tubing. The tracks pick you up at the city, and drive you around 6 kms up the stream from where you tube back to town. Well, actually it's not the tubing which attracts people, but all the bars along the river which serve dirt cheap alcoholic drinks, usually served as buckets. Lao whisky is so cheap, about $1 for a bottle, that these buckets are 50% alcohol, and even though they taste disgusting they're enough to forget your name, or to be amazed at how did you get home last night and what is this pig doing on your pillow! There aren't too many laws in Lao, and tourist money is really good. Since people get that drunk and later go on a tube, or swing and jump into the river or miss and head dive into the deck, about 20 people die each year. I'm not surprised at all by that. When you look at them, it's like looking at an alien, their eyes look in different directions, they can't keep balance, and they speak a language which slightly resembles English. If people didn't get that drunk, it would've actually been fun (at least for me). There are guys who throw an empty bottle attached to the rope at you, you grab the rope and they pull you inside the bar. There is good dance music playing, water fountains, drinking games, like ping pong, where you're supposed to get the ping pong ball into the cups filled with beer. If the ball makes it, the losing team drinks that glass. There are prizes to be won. People draw things on themselves with a marker and paint, it's a lot of fun ... again, if not everybody was that drunk, or ... on a school holiday. This city is filled with 20 year olds, which is really not my scene anymore. One day I went tubing, I didn't go to any bars, just cruised down the river enjoying the fabulous views and dodged the bottles that kept flying at me.
This town is also filled with mushrooms and other kinds of drugs restaurants. People take them, but the police patrols the places, and if they catch anyone, the fine is usually USD $600!!, and you can't really not pay, because 1. drugs are illegal in Laos, and you'll go to jail, and 2 if you don't pay and they will take your passport away, I don't think your country would love to hear the reason for it.
There are also a bunch of restaurants that show re-runs of friends and family guy. I love friends, and since I've been travelling pretty fast, and I'm always up to date with all the monuments, I don't feel bad spending hours and hours lying down on the mattress with a bunch of pillows supporting my head, ordering mango shakes and watching friends ... aaahhh ... I'm in heaven :))
One evening in my "friends" restaurant, Oliver found me. I've just seen him a day ago going tubing with another guy who I knew. He sat beside me and made me go out.... but what about friends???? Not that I enjoy a drunk as my company, but it was an interesting experience. I can't really respect people who get that drunk when they stumble while they walk and make no sense at all. I was very surprised to hear that he's actually a helicopter engineer, and another girl that we've met in a bar does a PhD in Chemistry in Oxford ... I would assume they have more brains than that, or is there something that I don't get. Can someone explain it to me please?
I asked Oliver why did he get so drunk, and he said that he starts a very difficult job in 2 weeks and will lead a group of people, and now it's the time to party, but isn't it good to party when you'll actually remember the party and not the hung over days in the bed?? Also, guys should really have some rules, such as, if you're drunk and the girl isn't ... leave her alone!!! Even if I was interested in a guy, and he approached me when he was drunk, I would NEVER go for him!!
I didn't drink anything that night, I didn't feel like playing the catching up game. When I met him the next day (randomly on the street), he asked me if I'll go out tonight and I'll be drinking this time. Why does he care so much if I drink or not? Is it something to be proud of? It seems to be an object of pride "I woke up fully clothed and not even in my cloths, I don't remember anything, dude, can you tell me what kind of crazy sh*t we did?, and I have no idea how I made it back or at what time" ... and why is that a good thing exactly?? "Sooo ... you're gonna drink today?". It's not something that I usually plan!
Most of the people in Laos ride scooters or bicycles usually in winter jackets and under an umbrella, not to get tanned. That makes me think. In Western societies everybody wants to get tanned, tan looks good and healthy, and "I'm so much prettier when I'm tanned". But in here, it's the opposite! We have this perfect image of ourselves in our heads, of what makes us look good or bad that doesn't concern anybody else. Everybody has their own taste, and everybody likes something different. We try to be what we are thinking is pretty, which could be something ugly to someone else. If there were no mirrors, and there wouldn't be anybody to tell you how you look. Would you care how you look like? We're all moved by media, which is moved by money, not our interests, and they only make our lives more complicated by constant worrying of us not being good enough. In my personal experience being 10 kgs over and under my normal weight, having short/long hair cuts, makeup/no makeup, dressing up very nice/ok, didn't influence anybody except myself and my troubled mind. It's good to know it, but it seems that every time I forget. When I got a haircut a week ago, I didn't like it how the hair falls. I would've straightened the edges in Canada, but here I have no hair styling equipment. That was until I asked a guy in the hostel how my hair looks, and he said it was fine. When would I ever learn how to relax and not to care?!?
Next day I took a tour to have fun and to meet not tubing kind of people. We drove to a very cool cave. The water is very high right now, and pretty much you take a tube, sit on it, and pull yourself through the cave on the rope with ceiling being only a few centimeters above the head. Sometimes the ceiling would be so low that I had to lie on the tube to pass. Super cool! Except one part where there was a gigantic spider, and really not too much space to go around it. I closed my eyes (after squeaking for a while), and pulled myself through :) When we ate lunch I asked our guide to translate to the bar owners that birds are much more happier in the wild than in the cage ... but they laughed at me :( We then saw a cool talking bird. When you talk to it, it really listens, it moves the head side to side to try to learn the sounds, moves some flaps up and down and then repeats it!! Apparently it wants to be a cat more than a bird, since it really mastered the meeeaaauuuu sound really really well, and was constantly repeating it. We also taught it ku-ku and hello. What an amazing creature! In the bar there was a board attached to a long rope, you can stand on it, and almost wake board. It took a while to get used to it, and near the shore I was just going left and right and left and right, but then I got the hang of it, and boarded to the middle of the river doing one hand, backwards, jumps and flips ... just kidding :) Why didn't anybody else try it??
We finished the day with kayaking back into town going through small rapids, but mainly relaxing and splashing each other.
In the evening we all went to a dinner together. 1 couple was on a tight budget and we went to a local restaurant where they only served chicken, pork or beef noodle soups. It took the waiter 10 minutes to take the order, making sure 3 times that we got the right kind of soups ... seriously?? At the end, he didn't have change, and I was waiting for him to give it to me. Then his phone rang and he was speaking on it completely forgetting his job. Everybody was waiting for me to go, but he turned his back on me and kept on talking. His sister came, and I told her that I need 35 kip in change, but she started recalculating everything, who ordered what and how much money she has. That was the first time in Thailand and in Laos when I blew up. Jeeeeeez, I told her, just a soup and a water, and I need 35 kip in change! The waiter just in time finished his phone conversation, patted me on the back, said that it's ok, it was his brother on the phone. I don't care who that was, didn't you hear of customer comes first? He tried to calm me down and said that he'll see me next time ... um ... I really doubt it!
I started reading this really boring book right now "A year to live", I don't think I'll finish it. But it's an experiment of a guy who's gonna live his next year as though it was his last one. In one of the chapters he starts off saying that if we were to die right now, most of us will have huge regrets about things that we haven't done. I started thinking about myself, and I don't think I regret anything, or would be very upset about things that I haven't had a chance to do. I lived in 3 countries, I lived in a beautiful Bermuda, I've learned 4 languages, finished university, I've travelled the world, I experienced extreme love and happiness, I learned how to forgive, I stuck to my principles, I've been honest with people ... if I had a year to live, what else would I want to do??? Nothing much comes to mind ... but I think I would do something that makes a difference.
Philosophy aside, I rented a bike and went for a ride in the country side. It was a 60 kms circuit, and an hour later, I only covered 15 kms ... yep, that's how good the roads are. There are more potholes and muddy baths than roads, but my bike carried me thought them every time. The landscape was as always so beautiful with green rice fields and limestone mountains all around. I stopped at a blue lagoon, but it wasn't too blue, what was much cooler than the lagoon is a cave which completely blew my expectations to pieces. I thought it would be a small Buddha cave, like all the rest of the caves, and at first it's exactly what it was. Although still a pretty big open space, I thought to myself "Is that it?", until I saw a sign in red with an arrow "Cave ->" ... what? If the cave is there, then where am I? Thank god I rented a flash light at the entrance. I hid my beg which was annoying me, and getting in the way of climbing the rocks, and boulder climbed into a black hole. The flash light was very powerful, and the cave was gigantic. It's pitch black dark, and you can barely see where the flash light hits the wall. I was baby walking in it, since at times I would come across a deep hole in the ground and a small sign next to it "Danger!". I was so happy that I went there by myself and not with a group or a guide, it definitely made the experience more spooky - just the way I like it! :) My only concern was that if I'll fall, will anybody find me?? Now that I'm thinking about it, I want to go back in and explore some more :)
At the lagoon I met Matt from Canada who is one of the coolest people I've ever met on this trip. He's in the middle of an overland tour from UK. It took him a year to come to Laos, and then he'll go back through China and Central Asia. We've shared our frustrations of India how everybody's incompetent, and to do anything, no matter how little it is, requires a huge amount of effort. He told me a story which was funny to me (now that is, and now that I'm away from India). He ended up in this expensive hotel and went to a restaurant. It's boiling hot outside, but in the restaurant is arctic cold. Indians always push for the extremes to show how rich they are. He had to go to the room a few times to put more and more layers. He was the only one in the restaurant with about 8 waiters sitting there staring at the wall (they just love to do it!). He ordered room temperature water (since it's freezing in there!) and a meal, and meanwhile skyped with his brother. Half an hour later, there is still no meal, not even water, and in his picture of himself on the screen there were heads popping up from all directions. Um ... do you want to say hi??? And where is the water? Finally they brought him a bottle which sat at the sun, and was boiling hot. At that point he exploded, like we all do. Is this room temperature?? Why are you bringing me boiling water?? Don't you have any ice?? And that's in an almost 5* hotel. Where is the common sense? And why things can't be done right from the first time??
We've hung out for 2 days and had the most interesting conversations on philosophy, psychology, travel, politics and the problems with the world and how to fix them. Next day we went to a waterfall, and where it broke, it sent out all that water outwards with extreme force, and to stand in front of it, felt like being in a hurricane. I kept thinking to myself, why am I enjoying this, and if I were caught in the middle of the street with such a rain and wind, I would curse everything around me? Does our happiness depend on choices we make, or in an ability to have a choice at all? Or are we just stuck up and want everything to be the way we want it to be? :)
On the way out I tried a corn flavoured iced tea, and fried bats. They were ok, not my favourite meat so far, and actually I felt quite bad eating them. Why do I feel bad about eating bats, frogs, birds when I feel nothing eating chicken/pork/lamb??
Matt left, and I spent another day going to yet another cave (apparently north of Laos has the largest cave system in the world) and then chilled in a restaurant watching friends :)
I also heard that there is a baby bear in town and went to search for it. I had to make my point again and again that I'm looking for a bear, not for a beer, and at the end the only thing I could find was baby Sofi, or Susi or something. The mom was curious why I have such an interest in her baby, and why I didn't want to hold her. "You want to hold her?" ... "Nooooo, thanks, I'm ok!". I didn't have the heart to tell her that her baby looks nothing like a bear :)