Saturday, January 19, 2008

Vang Vien II - Cruising Down the River

Liz and I arrive in Vang Vien at about ten after a four hour bus ride with a couple of stops along the way for people to hop on and alight. Our early morning bus contains only Laotians so we are surprised when we arrive at the bus depot in Vang Vien to find large numbers of Australians, Brits, Canadians, Germans and Americans.

Guide book in hand we head off across the open area beside the bus depot for the only three story building in sight. The karst forms car
ved out of the limestone hills form a lovely border for the river and we want a nice view.A nice view we get. In our room at the top, we lie down on our firm beds and don’t wake until 2 pm. We think we could sleep all day but struggle out to find lunch. The town is packed with eating places, bike rentals, massage parlours, laundries, and tour offices and awash with young whites travelers. It looks nothing like a Lao town and I suppose it is now more of a tourist town.

I try the local green papaya salad, Liz has some soup. Both are excellent. We think we would like to hire a taxi to take us sightseeing but there are few of them and the prices are rather high. It seems foreigners here ride bikes. I pop into a local travel agent and ask about boat trips. When I say we would like to go today, the fellow runs out into the street to find us a taxi and within five minutes we are on our way to the dock.

It seems most of the dugouts have left but there are a group of men playing cards under a tarp and one of them takes us in hand. The Nam Song River is incredibly scenic. I almost fall out of our narrow vessel trying to take photos. We meet a number of other dugouts all of which also have outboards in the stern, returning from upriver.

As we get further out there is a bamboo bridge spanning the river. Business on the river is going on as usual as Lao couples pole motorless piroques across the river. A group of water buffalo browse at the water edge and women seem to be harvesting something from the bottom. Fisher folk swirl and lift nets as we flow past them while the sharp edges of karst forms are silhouetted against the sky. At shallower parts of the river trucks even motor across slowly.

As we get further on there are massive camps playing raucous rock music, most fitted with platforms high up in the air from which are launched bungee jumpers and swimmers being catapulted out into the river. Beer Lao flags festoon the buildings. Rafts of people water tubing down the river surge towards us. We wave at kayakers and boaters as they navigate the shallows.

From one group of water tubes, just as we pull ahead of them, a voice rings joyfully out across the water to us.

“Lady doctors from Canada!”

How, we wonder out loud, can anyone here know us? As I looked back to check, I note a hand waving to us. It belongs to the American doctor from the Navajo reservation, who while dining alone at the French restaurant and overhearing our conversation, had leaned over to ask if we were physicians. We were ready to dissemble. It turned out, as so often happens, that friends of his had worked with the small NGO we were visiting in Lao that helps to provide internal medicine and pediatric post graduate training for the National University of Lao. We had a nice chat at the time but never thought we would ever see him again.

High on the cliff sides beside us we can make out cave entrances. We manage to spend an hour and a half on the river, returning just after all the tour boats have returned. It has been a spectacular afternoon. Liz is chortling when we find we can order a gin and tonic at the riverside hotel. After an hour and a half in the dugout we are glad for the lovely walk back to the hotel.

Couldn’t have had a better day trip.

Photos: View of karst hills on Nam Song; woman crossing on bamboo bridge; truck fords river; platform lauch for jumpers.


Blogger Miss M. said...

I always love your stories, they're like little windows into the often hidden places of the world. I think my favourite bit about this one is the "it's a small world after all" bit in the middle, and the wonderful pictures!

11:47 PM  
Blogger chanpheng said...

I've never taken a boat trip in Vang Vieng - we've passed through a few times on the route between XK and Vte. In spite of the development of the town, the natural areas are still pretty well preserved. I hope they stay that way.

8:00 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Hey BB. Great pictures and writing, as usual. I was checking out the links on your sidebar and the one to TravelNurse seems to be missing the .com in the hyperlink. Just thought you might want to know.

5:32 AM  

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