I met a girl in the hostel who was going to the same town, and she suggested that instead of making it closer, we should stop here and go to the recommended guest house which has a lot of info about the area. The guest house was super cool, very big, sitting in a huge garden. Completely unexpected for a non-touristy town like this. It would've taken us 3 days to get to Vientiane from here, which is too many days to spend to only see 1 sight (due to too many bus changes), so we all took a pretty expensive tour, but at least we've saved precious time.
All the morning the 5 of us who were going for the trip were discussing how we all were getting ripped off. After India, I think I could talk about it all day long, without taking a lunch break! The guys said that in Cambodia there is a problem that they don't tell you what the tour includes. When you sign up, pay and go, you find out that there is all this extra stuff that you have to pay for. I read in LP that to take a public transport between Laos and Vietnam, there is a common scam of drivers (sometimes of big buses) stopping in the middle of nowhere and demanding more money, and even though I'm a fan of public transportation (common, half of my India blog would be missing without all these fun train rides!), I think I will take a tourist bus to get from Laos to Vietnam.
We passed very beautiful landscape of green rice fields, lush jungle, and lime stone pillars which rise vertically out of a flat terrain. Laos is extremely undeveloped and beautiful with green green green stretching from south to north, east to west. Most of the flat terrain is being used as rice fields, and I wonder how different Laos would look like when rice didn't grow. Would it be brown brown brown from south to north, east to west? I also wonder about their lives. Lao people don't work, they only work in rice fields. They don't have any money, and they're poor by Western standards. Although I wouldn't say that they're poor, they're all self sufficient. But what happens in years when monsoon doesn't come on time or there isn't much rain for the rice to grow, or when they buy Western pesticides of GMO seeds and their crops die? How would they survive that year, what would they feed on??
We arrived at Tham Kong Lo cave which is a 7 km cave underneath a mountain through which a river flows and you go through it on a motorized canoe. Outside the cave, local kids were playing volleyball kind of game but without the use of hands. They were so athletic, jumping so high and kicking the ball with their feet. They should be in Olympics! :)
The cave was very nice. It's pitch black dark, and I have no idea how the driver navigated it with his small flashlight. We stopped for a walk through stalactites and stalagmites and drove through to the other end. On the way back we came too close to the wall, and I was thinking why does he drive that close, I imagined the boat crashing into the wall, just like other few "accidents" that I had when they come out of nowhere. We didn't hit the wall, but the motor hit the rocky beach and the canoe almost flipped. I guess we were lucky and the driver's brain got reset for higher alertness.
I found the experience nice, and that's it, I asked the 4 other people who I went with, and they all said it was amazing! I think I got immune to excitement. Maybe that's why I'm an adrenaline junky. I did so much that I always need to out-do myself, to out-top my previous experiences.
We went to a local restaurant, and like in many Asian restaurants, we were served in a 10-15 minute intervals between plates. It's not considered to be rude to start eating as soon as you get your food, cause otherwise it will either go cold or moldy.
As always, they don't know any English, so you just point at an item, and get it served. There are no alterations, there are no questions, you're not in control and you have to accept it!
Our driver dropped us off at a bus station, where luckily the bus arrived 5 minutes later, new, clean, double decker, 70% empty, blasting 80's Lao music. Maybe and probably not 80's, but it definitely looks like it. There are "video clips" where the band "dances" in some park. All 10 songs are alike, all dancing is alike, the camera is shaking, zooming in from person to person, trying to do some tacky visual effects ... 80's visual effects. I remembered watching this kind of TV in Africa. These countries just started developing after being suppressed or bombed for years and years, and are very much behind, so behind that at first it looks funny, but really, it isn't.
Arrived at 10 back to Vientiane, and except the 3 hour break at the cave, we spent 11 hours on the buses getting to and from the cave. It's alright while travelling, but can you imagine in normal life, on a weekend saying to your friends ... soooo ... do you want to go to this cave that is 11 hours away?? That's further than Quebec!
I found out that I need to do a pre-arranged visa for Vietnam... bummer! What's even worse is that I need an ASAP visa to Vietnam, because I don't plan to get stuck in Vientiane for too long. I rented a bicycle and went off. I barely filled in a quarter of an application where I put my name, date of birth, visa duration when he took my application and said it's enough info, just pay $60 (Vietnam better be worth it!!), and then told me to come back at 1pm. At 1??? Awwwww ... I made a sad face, when I turned around, he told me, ok, ok sit. I barely had the chance to sit and put my stuff into the bag, when he called me again. What is it I thought, come here, go there, sit, come here? When I came to the counter, my visa was ready! What?? Why did he tell me to get back at 1??? That was like 3 hours away!
I saw the most important temple in Laos, which wasn't impressive at all, and for the most important temple, it's in a desperate need of a face lift.
On my way out, I got a little bit lost. I think U2 wrote the song "where the streets have no names" in Laos for sure! Even the major streets have no names. Even LP describes bike routes by kms. "So, when you rent a bike, make sure the odometer works, cause you'll need it! About 13 kms from that monument there will be a sign less turn to the left. Make sure to take a pen and paper with you to write the distances!". It took me a while to get back to the hostel, I think I got a small heat shock, and needed a cold shower and an AC room. I waited till 3 for it to cool off ... it didn't really, but it was much better than 12. I tried to find a shooting range which I think moved, and then I drove to a traditional spa. Again, I missed the turn and when I looked at the map, I was certainly not where I was supposed to be. I only rode about another km, so it wasn't too bad. It's a temple spa, a temple with no name, a spa with no name. Common! If LP recommends the place, put a sign!!! The setting was very nice in a green garden full of blooming flowers, on an open 2nd floor of a wooden house. They also had a herbal sauna, but I think I sweated enough toxins out on the way to the spa, so I was ok. The massage was ok, not great. It depends on the masseuse so much, while I was having it, I looked at the girl next to me getting an hour long foot massage ... uuuuu that looked gooooood, the masseuse seemed to be in love with her feet and enjoying them like ice cream :))
When I rode back, it was after 5, and it was still hot. I think I chose the hottest day to cycle ... not that I had a choice though ... At the hostel, all the members of the room decided to have dinner together. 1 guy I met at the cave, he was ok. The other guy had Phd and was a tad annoying and whiny for me, another guy was 20 from Germany and barely talked. We went to a dinner at a local place where nobody approached us, not even to clean the table, because nobody spoke English and Asian people are very shy. They would ignore our waving hands up in the air, and it wasn't until a waiter passed by our table when I stood up in front of her and turned her to our table that we were finally served. We just pointed our fingers at the pictures of unknown stuff, and crossed our fingers for good luck.
We ended our evening listening to a live jazz music in a very upscale bar, ordering cocktails and martinis, martinis and cocktails. The reason why I write it, is that I just had the most amazing day of riding around on a bike, seeing the most important monument, having a massage, and feeling like a star in that bar, and all this day (with accommodation and food) cost me less than $30. I can't even imagine what would happen if my daily budget was $40, I'd feel like a queen :))
more pics are added to: https://picasaweb.google.com/100036016632387453128/Vientiane4000IslandsAndChampasak