Thursday, 29 December 2016


15th - 17th Dec 2016

Café girls being Festive in VV
Continuing on from the tubing, we (Bs) were taken on to the Blue Lagoon about a couple of miles out  of town. Actually, to be pedantic, this is a murky green coloured pool in a small tributary off the main river; but then 'Murky Green Pool' doesn't have quite such a romantic ring to it. I noticed that most of the streams coming out of the sandstone Karsts were a greenish colour. This is due to whatever chemical there is in sandstone, I was told.
Anyway, the 'Blue Lagoon' attracts a lot of youngsters (and the occasional oldster in observer capacity) who swing on ropes, hang on trapezes, swim around in it and, most popular of all, jump from an overhanging branch into it. I suppose it is about a 30ft drop. Lots of showing off and some even doing somersaults to impress their mates below.
Left: If you cannot swim it would indeed seem an obvious precaution to wear a life jacket, or not jump in at all. However you might if you are  pissed and if so would probably be incapable of taking any notice of this warning!

It was nothing too exciting to watch and I and couple of others went off for a beer and sandwich in one of the several cafés around the place. We came back and there was continuing leaping and cheering. One rather well built Thai girl was causing some amusement. She climbed the ladder up to the branch and, after stepping up to jump, hesitated. Lots of 'go go go!' from below, but she didn't and retreated. She stepped up to the plate again and the crowd were right behind her now with cries of "one, two, THREE...GO!", she was on the point of leaping, but pulled back again. She repeated the process several times. Each time she took up position there was an increasingly expectant hush from a gathering number of supporters, including me, followed by more "one, two, three...Go Go Gos!" She nearly did with one foot dangling into space on several occasions...but didn't and with an increasingly panicky look about her. She was developing a bigger fan club with every failed attempt and was obviously doing her best not to let them down. By the time I left she still hadn't taken the plunge and they were still cheering her on. It was very funny. Maybe she will tomorrow, after a night on the pop.
Right above: The 'Blue Lagoon' with the Thai girl in black swimsuit preparing for yet another abortive descent.

That was the outside entertainment for day one. Day two, and I decided to visit a much advertised waterfall and a cave. The sandstone cliffs are riddled with caves; some several kilometres long with lots of side passages. It is a speleologist's dream. Some have guides which, if unlit, you are wise to employ even if you take the elementary precaution of taking a good torch. It is not unknown for the unprepared to get lost in a labyrinth below ground. I expect some gap-year students are still in there well after their gap-year ended. Some you float into on tubes from the river. But first of all the waterfall.

I made a bit of a mistake when organising this trip through the same little little travel agency as yesterday. I found I had hired a personal tuk-tuk at some cost to take me there ($30). Tip for future: I realised afterwards that I could have hired a motorbike/scooter very cheaply ($8 per day) with tour map included and done the whole thing at my leisure and much else besides.
Anyway my driver was very decent and off we went to the celebrated Kenlon, or Kaeng Nyui, waterfall about 12 kms out of town. Down some bumpy gravel tracks and I was dropped off at a small hamlet at the foot of a hill and told vaguely in which direction to climb. There was a well worn path, nobody else around, and after about half a mile I found a sign directing me to the waterfall. After another few hundred yards uphill passing some attractive little pools and river banks   I came to it.

Well whoopee! OK, its the dry season and the watercourses are not exactly brimming but this waterfall did not exactly fill me with awe. Hardly on a par with the Victoria or Niagra versions. In fact a water-pipe sprang a leak in my house last summer and the resulting deluge was not unsimilar in volume to this one.

I returned back down to the hamlet and waiting tuk-tuk, coincidently passing the Cambodian engineer and his lovely Lao girlfriend (from the zip-wiring yesterday) who were on their way up. They had sensibly hired a motor-bike.
My helpful and chatty driver asked me if I would be interested in visiting a Hmong village nearby. Well, I have visited several Hmong villages in the north of Vietnam so not that keen to see another. The Hmong are a people spread around southern China, northern Vietnam and Laos. They are divided into several tribes such as Black Hmong, Red, Striped, White, Variegated, Green, and Flower Hmong who sport very colourful costumes, speak strange dialects, lead a subsistance life in the mountainous regions, are very jolly industrious people and have become something of a tourist phenomenon. They may have become unexpectedly prosperous on the proceeds, but have to hide it of course to preserve their touristic credibility. If they now own BMWs and Mercs and have holiday homes in Monte Carlo they keep the fact well hidden.

Right: Hmong ladies. The Hmong were persecuted following the Laotian civil war (courtesy of the Pathet Lao) in 1975 and many emigrated to Thailand and even to the USA and Europe. It is rumoured that there is now a Hmong tribe living in Cowdenbeath, the Tartan McHmong, who are noted for their drab dress, surly attitude,  indolence, heavy drinking and foul unintelligible language directed at foreigners, especially Englishmen.

We went back to Vang Vieng and to the Jang Cave on the southern edge of the town. This is a big cave complex, but a thoroughly touristy one in so far as it has electric lights down the main passages and even a paved floor in parts, and lots of tourists. At least not much chance of getting lost forever in here.

Left: Steps up to the Jang cave.

Right: Views inside the cave......

.....where you come across the odd Buddha or two parked in small niches.

I had planned to investigate the hot-air balloning and micro-lighting that afternoon, but it had started to rain and the cloud base descended. So far the weather has been sunny and warm, but today it turned overcast and I suspect the weather system I fortuitously avoided in Vietnam had moved west and caught up with me. As the day progressed the rain increased to torrential proportions so I spent most of the afternoon in various cafés and bars. No chance of balloons etc. The gravel roads had turned to mud. 

For some reason many of the larger restaurants and bars feature these platforms with low tables on them (right). I haven't noticed them anywhere else apart from a Hari Krishna restaurant in Belfast. I believe they are popular in Korea and, as mentioned earlier, there are many Korean visitors and workers in Laos, especially Vang Vieng, which might explain their presence. I find them remarkably uncomfortable.

The next morning I set off north in a mini-bus up to Luang Prabang. This journey normally takes about 4 hours and routes over a high mountain pass. The mini-bus was full and, again, contained a small contingent of chatty giggling studenty types, this time from Canada. More of the 'like like' conversation ensued; or perhaps 'comme comme' when they spoke in French.
All went well to begin with. We stopped for a breather at the aptly named village of Kasi for a loo break and coffee before climbing on up to the pass.

Then the problem. The overnight storm had caused several landslides along the precipitous hillsides. Just before reaching the summit the road had become a slick of mud and a large truck had bogged down in it. We tried to go around it but ground to a halt. To our left was a sheer drop. 
We were in cloud and visibility was down to about a hundred yards. It was cold and wet.
We were there for about two hours while traffic queues built up behind and people were wandering around rather aimlessly wondering what to do. Some 4X4s managed to plough their way through, but not cars or our mini-bus.

Eventually they started to reverse the bogged down truck which was top heavy and slid dangerously close to toppling over the edge of the precipice. It was nail biting stuff.
Having cleared a bit of room our intrepid mini-bus driver took a fast run at it (without us in it I hasten to add) and after smacking the nose of the vehicle into a deep rut or two made it out onto some clear road. We were on our way again.
The slalom ride down the other side was again hindered by landslides but we managed to negotiate them slowly and therefore on to Luang Prabang. It took us over seven hours and was quite a hairy journey.

Left: A gathering of the Cowdenbeath Tartan McHmong tribe performing their traditional song and dance  routine, the 'Yoolookinatmejimmy'.

News from Luang Prabang to follow in due course.

1 comment:

  1. Hello ! Miss Olmes here. Very nice writing again. Very good reading. I did follow at the beginning and was sad when you got home again but somehow one just "forgets" to look again. Then when one does there is lots more writing, it seemed a bit hard going. However, now there are proper photos it's much more fun. Just a case of keeping up, thata all.
    I promise to visit you at Sunnyside and read to you if need be, join the queue even.
    Lots of love and hope to see you soon.
    Miss Olmes.