A nice cappucino in the early morning by the side of the Nam Song river made for a great start to the day, and made us both briefly forget the dull ache in our shoulders. After spending an hour watching longboats glide up and down the river, and the villagers on the other side go about their daily lives, we decided to try and find another cave to explore. We rented mountain bikes this time with full suspension, which made for a far more comfortable ride through the tractor tire marks baked deep into the ground in the corn fields. Instead of going over the bridge and heading left to the Tiger Cave, this time we went over a narrow bamboo bridge and veered right. We cycled past some stilt houses, and some bemused looking cows, heading towards the nearest mountain.
When we got there we parked our bikes up and paid the small entrance fee to the mountain. This time we were wearing trainers, and it was much easier to climb. There was no cave here to explore, but the climb up was fantastic, and quite challenging. We reached the peak after around 30 minutes of climbing. Exhausted we sat down on the sharp rocks at the top and took in the splendid views. From here, we could see the Nam Song, like a silver snake far below, curving around the base of mountains, never straying too far away from them. We could see the vast green valleys on one side, and the yellow expanse of corn fields on the other. It truly was a breathtaking view. We took in this view for some 30 minutes, before proceeding to descend, which proved more difficult than coming up. At the bottom, we hopped on our bikes and rode back to the town. It wasn’t long before it was time for another delicious sunset, and we watched it set over the mountains, turning the river hues of deep yellows, oranges, pinks, reds, and purples. The tubers were slowly floating down, exhausted after a day of drinking on the river under the sun. Some were being towed by a longboat, too inebriated to be able to make it on their own. Laughter and the sound of boats chugging softly through the river ended another day in this beautiful part of Laos.
In the evening, Crystal and I went to an Irish bar that was run by a real Irishman – who was on holiday – and was being looked after in his absence by a young chap from London, who had come to Laos to travel on his way to Australia and ended up falling in love with a Lao girl and staying longer than intended. A Scottish bloke, around 40, then came in, sat at the bar, and ordered a big bottle of Beer Lao. He was wearing a threadbare grey jumper full of holes, and a pair of scruffy jeans….he looked drunk already…..and was certainly a character I wanted to talk to, as it was a pretty dull night up until that point. We got talking. He’s called Grant, and is from Scotland. He reminded me of Francis Begbie, with the manic look in his eyes and his shaved head. He was a builder in Scotland, but had sacked it in and moved to Asia, and had been living in Laos for a couple of years on and off. He had a deep love for the country and the people. I asked him what he did for a living. “I draw cartoons for tha kids like….” He replied, and then took a piece of scrap paper and started drawing me. He was a funny bloke, very anti-English – but in a non-threatening way. He drew a fantastic caricature of me holding a bottle of Beer Laos with the caption “I am an Englishman. Until I met Crystal, I never had a girlfriend!” I put it in my wallet for the memory. Then a girl from Essex came in with some friends…..’Crazy Kath’ as she called herself. She works as a English teacher at Pattaya International School, which must be a mad place to work. Some good indie rock tunes came on….we had more drinks and danced. Grant was quite a mover, and was twirling Crystal around the dancefloor. At 2 minute intervals he’d come up and slur in my ear. “You got yerself a pretty wee lassie there, no mistake.” Then he’d put his hand on his heart and say: “No offense….not trying anything….don’t take offense”. This happened at least 15 times. I wasn’t bothered….he was a very nice and amiable chap, and I felt in no way threatened. I enjoyed talking to him more than the young backpackers with their tales of round-the-world beer-drinking and partying. He also recommended ‘The Island’….a place across the river where there were a few bars and the ‘younger crowd’ went to party. ‘Go to Smile bar….I cannae go now….if I were 10 years younger. I’ll be fine here with ma bottle of Laos.’ He clutched his bottle of beer Lao to his face, and kissed it. ‘She’s the only one I love now’ he said, and he looked almost sad. ‘I’m an alcoholic….I cannae deny it’ he confessed. We left him there to his lonely night and his beer Lao.
Across the bridge we saw lights and heard music. So this was where everyone went in the evening! A young backpacker crowd were gathered, dancing around a huge fire…..we got there in time for the final song before the music was shut down at 1am. John Lennon’s xmas song – War is over, came on, and everyone there sang along with each other “War is over if you want it”. Here, despite all the different nationalities present, everyone was at peace. It was a beautiful moment, as the fire died down, and people in their xmas hats sang at the top of their voices.
Crystal and I left, with me slightly the worse for wear, and ordered ham+cheese pancakes before walking back the bungalow.