Spent the morning in the shops of Vang Vieng, buying shorts, vests, and sandals. At 11am we went to the Wildside Green Discovery tour shop, where yesterday I had booked a kayaking trip down the Nam Song river, and waited for the pick up. Also joining us were a couple of mates from London – one who works in Bangkok, the other wanting to escape England and follow – and an elderly Swiss couple, in their 50’s, but still in the mood for adventure.
We were driven down to a quiet spot by the river, around 5 km north of Vang Vieng. The kayaks were unloaded, and we each got a wet bag to put our valuables in. I applied suncream liberally, for it was a scorching day under the merciless afternoon sun. The river was running at a steady pace, and the views of the limestone cliffs looming overhead were stunning. Crystal jumped in the front of the kayak, and I hopped in the rear. Kayaking was another first for Crystal, but she took to it like a duck to water, and we soon had a great rythm going. It was very peaceful, and only the soft splash of paddle in water could be heard. Only our group of 4 kayaks were on the river, and it was nice to pull up alongside each other and get to know each other better as we slipped softly down the river.
After about an hour and a half, we parked up on the side of the river next to a particularly huge cliff. a huge cave was inside. We all got out and followed our guide through the cave, each of us holding a candle. The first part of the cave was half submerged, and we had to wade through chest-deep water, whilst trying not to slip on invisible rocks underfoot, and holding our candles aloft. When we were passed this point, we entered a large cavern, and now the only light visible were our candles. This cavern had an eerie feel. Children’s handprints were all over the walls, and the guide told us villagers hid in the caves for almost 2 years during little known side-campaign to the Vietnam War – the Lao carpet-bombing operation. I couldn’t imagine spending such a long time in a cave. It was claustrophobic after just a couple of minutes, let alone 2 hours. We continued through this cave, which we learned was actually not that deep, and some others around are so big it could take days to walk through. Our guide also said there are thousands of unexplored caves in the area…..a fascinating thought. At one point we had to slip through a tiny hole, dragging ourselves on our backs, before climbing towards a pinprick of light that was the exit. We had been some 30 minutes walking through this amazing cave – my best caving experience thus far. Dragging ourselves out of the tiny hole, we continued down a narrow path and out by the river once more.
We continued down the river, and then we heard music blasting towards us, and the sound of laughter and MCs hollering on their mics. As we rounded a corner of the river, we were met with a scene straight out of Apocolypse Now. Hundreds of backpackers were floating around on tubes (inflatable tires that can be hired for a 3km run down the river. You just sit in and float down.), some drinking beer lao or cocktails, others totally out of it on mushrooms. Bamboo bars had been set up along either side of the river, and each bar had loud music, sold very cheap buckets of alcohol, and had fantastic rope swing attractions. Some had DJs and dirt dancfloors. It was a surreal experience in the middle of the vast rice fields, corn fields and banana plantations with the limestone terrain all around. Hundreds of drunk sunbunrt backpackers having the time of their lives could be seen dancing, making new friends, and catching ropes thrown out to help them pull their tubes up to each bar for more drinking and fun. Our kayaks floated past, and we too stopped at a bar a little further down to enjoy big bottles of ice-cold beer Laos. This bar had an amazing rope swing attached to a pulley, that sent you flying out from a ridiculous height, and at the end of the pulley you had to let go at the peak time and plunge into the refeshing river. It was fantastic fun, and the lads in the group all had a go. I managed a backflip and landed on my side after falling for 5 seconds, which was bloody painful. After this, we continued down the river the an area near Ban Sabai, where we parked up the kayaks and got out.
The sun was setting now, and Crystal and I went and sat on a wooden platform by a bamboo bridge and watched a delicious pink and red sunset as the hammoks swayed, boats glided by, bicycles were wheeled over the bridge, and children played in the river. We savioured the views over coconut shakes, and the whole place was basked in purples and pinks as the sun diappeared behind the cliffs. Wonderful stuff.
Later that evening we found a restaurant that advertised the sale of illicit substances in Chinese outside. We entered, and the man started speaking in Japanese to Crystal, who doesn’t speak a word of it. I began speaking to him in Japanese, much to his delight, and we continued speaking in Japanese for the rest of the time there. He gleefully presented us with a hand-written menu that contained such delights as ‘bag of weed’, ‘pre-rolled joint’, ‘opium tea’, ‘mushroom shake’ and more. We had a couple of joints each that were mild but nice enough, then we went to anther bar which centred around a big camp fire. We sat next to the fire and had a final drink before heading back to the bungalow, shoulders aching from a day of kayaking with the promise of more pain to come.