Perhaps a few of you have been wondering why you call Lao Laos, or vise versa; we can all hold the french responsible for that one. The country was under french rule up until 1953 and we all know the french have an insatiable appetite for extra T's and unpronounced S's so the poor Lao people now have been recognized world wide as the Laos people, which is horrible close to the plural of lice. So now that we have that cleared up it'll makes sense why Laung Parabang is a beautiful little city full of crumbling old french villa's and the more modern traditional bamboo and teak houses. Laung Parabang is one of the Unesco World Heritage sites because of this beautiful collision of cultures and of course the 15 or so temples (Wat's) that have been standing on the river peninsula for decades. The streets are lined with very sheek cafe's and restaurants full of mostly french tourists, ex-pats, and a few back packers; and some where in the mix of all this there's 100rds of tangerine robed monks from ages 5+ going to and from the Wat's. Matt and I woke up one morning at about 5:30- 6:00 to see the procession of monks with bowls in hand, collecting rice offering from the towns people.
In Laung Parabang we had collected quite a possie of Flight of Gibbon friends so, as you do with friends, we spent a few too many nights drinking a few too many beer-Lao's, good times. One terrific thing we did learn about from our crew was of the Korean BBQ. A wonderful way to enjoy a BBQ, I've never seen one in the states so i'll give you a quick idea of how it goes down... perhaps it too hard to explain completely but there's lots of pictures of our wonderful dinner. The Idea is your cooking a noodle soup and a bunch of pieces of very thinly sliced meet in the same pan... It's already getting complicated isn't it! This is one of those situations where the picture is worth 1000nd words so just check out the pictures and get yourself one if you are lucky enough to find a vendor.
Laung Parabang was not easy place to leave with it's wonderful crumbling cafes but sooner or later we had to step out of the fairy tale land and back to what we were hoping would be reality.
After a long journey south through the most stunning mountain range we found smack in the middle of Sodom, or Gomorrah, or maybe something like Tijuana; Vang Vieng is a city brimming with belligerent hooligans. The restaurants are not only trying unload a hamburger, onion rings, and a large beer-Lao but then they hand over the "other" menu. The "Special" one that is hidden behind the counter that offers all kinds of mind altering substances; from ganja, to mushrooms, to opium, and perhaps you want it all blended up in "Happy shake." Upon our arrival I though 'oh lord what am I doing here groveling amongst the hordes of intoxicated foreigners?' But we had come with a Purpose! We wanted to drink yes... but we also wanted to do the infamous float down the Nam Song River in inner-tubes. We found our self a room, the hardest town to find a room in i think, and we holed up for the night.
I have to say my experience here turned around very quickly. Vang Vieng is not really Lao at all, perhaps like vegas isn't America, or Tijuana isn't mexico, but all of the above can be a great way to spend a few days, and this one is certainly a Adult Theme Park of sorts. We hoped in our tubes about noon, 4Km up rive and came to find bungalow bars lining the way along with an assortment of rope swings, water slides, Zip lines, and anything else extremely fun and potentially lethal... this of course depends on how much you've drunk and where you manage to land. It's funny you know, in south east asia you find yourself buying and drinking "Buckets" of alcohol, literally. They have taken the idea of a simple cocktail, something along the lines of whisky and coke, and instead of a glass you get it in a bucket! With the handle and everything. So a few buckets in your toasting in the sun watching what might as well be a circus act. There's people swinging and jumping in the river in every direction and your just crossing your fingers for the poor guy with a pink bucket on his head you has floated into the line of fire. You do this tubing from bar to bar as they try to lure you in with free joints and such, when you find a place that tickles your fancy you wave enthusiastically that the rope man. He's the guy who sits there lassoing tubers all day and pulling them in. I think you can imagine what state people find themselves in at the end of the day and i am also sure that it will not surprise you that we didn't make it the 4Km back. We were unable to carry on about 2Km down. We waved down tuk-tuk driver who was lingering by the river bank hoping to bring in some easy cash. It's even more embarrassing to admit that our failure that day drove us to madness , so much so we made a second attempt. Time two i stayed a bit more sober, Matt on the other hang got to drinking 'Lao Lao' (rice whisky) with the local fisherman so i can't say the same for him... but either way, drunk or not we made it our second time.
Quite an achievement in Vang Vieng. We did have a wonderful few days on the Nam Song looking up at the absolutely stunning mountains as we drifted along, though i looked a bit like a lobster and now I'm left with some awful tan lines. Aww well.
Ciao, Amore Con i Baci!