On to Vang Viang
As our coach rolled out of Vientiane across the huge flat floodplain of the Mekong we soon realised that this would be a very different country in the wet season. Right now the ever present paddy fields were dry, brown and looking abandoned but everywhere there was evidence of irrigation systems to regulate the flow of water and all the houses and out buildings were constructed on small raised plinths of land to keep them dry. The three hour coach journey was easy and included stops for food, water and toilets so we arrived in good shape.
The resort shuttle was called for us and we soon found ourselves admiring the fantastic sheer limestone mountains across the river from the balcony of the hotel restaurant while we checked in.
After settling in we took a stroll around this very backpacker friendly town,ending up across a rickety bridge at Smile Beach.
Cold beer in one hand, a comfy seat and breathtakingsuch view. I did smile.
After a good, though chilly, sleep we joined a tour which took us some miles upstream to a cave where one of the rivers tributaries emerged from under the mountain.
We stripped off to swimmers and were sat in large inner tubes so we could haul ourselves upstream and into the cave on a nylon rope. I have never been in an underground river before and found it quite difficult to forget that there was about 1km of rock above us. I have also not been so cold in quite a while though when we had gone in around 300 metres it did seem to warm slightly.
Lunch out in the warm sun put things to rights.
We walked across a field to view the elephant cave, obviously there were more Buddhas to view but also a stalagmite in the shape of an elephant to see before we tramped back across the field.
We were soon back in our opensided truck again to find the launching point for the kayaks to start our 15 km paddle back to the resort.
Once we had launched the double seater our Vanuatu experience soon came back to us which was just as well because it looked like it was the first time for quite a few of them as we swerved and weaved our way past vessels NUC (not under control). We felt quite cocky as we trolled off, paddles in sync and riding the occasional shallow rapids.
For the most part the ride was serene and the view just fabulous with jungle and occasional villages to our left but mountain towering over us on the right, a really lovely experience. We were confident enough now to go ahead of the guides after a stop at a riverside bar.
Pride comes before a fall and though we were handling the gentle rapids with ease we slewed against a submerged rock and found ourselves suddenly capsized. Sue handled herself fantastically well and was more concerned about her hat being swept off downstream than bumping her head on the rock as she went down. Anyway there was no real damage to the rock and we were soon remounted, pleased to discover that the drybags had kept the camera and other kit from harm.
I, on the other hand, had failed to put my wallet back in the drybag after the last stop but luckily it did stay in my pocket during my dip and the last of the day’s sunshine was employed to dry the notes out so we could buy dinner that evening.
We watched a ballon drift by that evening a little too close we felt.
The Thavonsouk resort had been a good choice and we would recommend it.
The view from the restaurant at breakfast was stunning if not a little chilly, we’ll be more prepared next time.
After 2 nights in Vang Vieng our next stop was Luang Prabang but first we had to make the grueling 7 hour coach journey to the north through mountainous terrain.
The superb views of the town turned out to be just a foretaste of the scenery to come as our coach wheezed and squealed it’s way up the steep gradients and into the midst of the bluff sided mountains. (Passing their one cone!)
Reaching for clear blue sky the limestone monsters looked like groups of green shrouded monks deep in lofty conversation, their feet far below in the quilt of paddy fields at the valley floor. This spectacle evocative of the drama of New Zealand and the mystery of the Marquesers.
I was captivated by the little dusty villages straddling ridges, huddled up to the comfort of the tarmac and overhead power lines their backs precariously clutching the near vertical slopes below.
The houses are an improbable and eclectic mix of whickerwork and thatch through to reinforced concrete. Ancient and modern cheek by jowel. The old, tilled and harvested from the slopes of the land below, and the new, dug from the gut of the limestone hillside in the quarries and processed in the massive cement plants which stand guard at the entrance to Vang Vieng’s road to the pass.
Our ride though, with its seatbelts and emergency exits disabled, was driven by a man on a mission, overtaking anything and everything on the road regardless of blind corners and hairpins. And so it was with some relief that we arrived in Luang Prabang convinced that, despite the fine views, we would fly back south!