26th August 2012 10:53
No, I didn't go tubing. Shoot me.
Tubing involves floating down the Nam Song river in a tyre inner tube, grabbing hold of ropes thrown from riverside bars along the way, being pulled in to get suitably pissed, and high, before floating downstream to repeat the process at the next establishment.
Now what I've come to realise on this trip, is that actually I'm an old, old man who really wouldn't enjoy such shenanigans. Give me a night slowly getting drunk in a bar/pub, with decent music, chatting randomness with mates, over binge drinking till I can't control my actions any day. Oh yeah, no dancing either... dancing is the work of the devil.
A story I heard which perfectly exemplifies the type of person you get going tubing, is one of a nice young lad who got completely wasted at one of the bars. In his merry state, he decided it would be fun to jump into the river from the deck of the bar (plenty of the bars have this kind of setup, some also with rope swings and slides out into the water). One of the bar staff explained to the gentleman that it would be inadvisable to jump into the water, as it was rather shallow in that area and he was likely to do himself some harm. The guy turned round and punched the member of staff, before jumping into the water anyway, only to resurface completely motionless and float off down the river... plenty of people die in similar incidents each year, I heard a number around twenty five last year being mentioned, I don't know how accurate this is.
I set about finding other activities to keep me amused while I was in town. Heading to the local Green Discovery office (these guys run tours throughout Laos, and you'll usually find a branch in one of the places you stop at), I asked if any tours had already been booked by other people, which will always lower the price you pay. They had a one day tour for the next day, which two people had already booked onto, halving the price automatically. Perfect! Sign me up...
The songthaew arrived at 9am sharp (yeah right!) the next day, and we drove around picking up the rest of the group. More people had obviously booked after me, as we had five people in total, promising a fun day out. Driving around twenty minutes outside town we reached our first stop, Elephant Cave. This cave is a Buddhist temple and has a couple of Buddha statues, as well as a limestone formation resembling an elephant, hence the name.
From here we walked a short distance to our next stop, Tham Hoi (Snail cave). On the way there we passed a young girl and her mother harvesting crops of peanuts in their field. A few words from our guide, and a handful were passed over for us to try. I can confirm, they tasted like peanuts.
Snail cave went much further in, and we were walking for a good twenty minutes, lighting the way with head torches before heading back to the entrance. It was in this one that we saw a snake - apparently the first time the guide had even seen one in there - and a huge spider! Indiana Jones eat your heart out.
Than Loup (Deep cave) was next, with stalagtite and stalagmite formations decorating the interior. This wasn't in anywhere near the same league as Kong Lo cave which I'd visited before, but still impressive nonetheless. It wasn't really possible to get photos inside these two caves, as there was no light whatsoever apart from the head torches. On a couple of occasions we would all turn these off and stand in silence, and it was a very surreal experience, not a chink of light or the slightest sound within.
Outside the cave our guide Mang pointed out a plant that the locals chop up and use in a soup. They drink the soup and if it tastes horrible and mildly burns their mouth and throat, they know they don't have Malaria! However, if the liquid tastes sweet to them, they need to get their arse to a hospital sharpish.
We trekked to Tham Nam (Water) cave, and were able to experience the infamous Vang Vieng tubing, albeit on a tamer level. At this cave, it was time to strip to our swimwear, float out on a tube and pull ourselves through on a rope affixed to the walls of the cave. This one was easily the most fun! We got to a point in the cave where the water ended and the tubes washed up on a sandy beach. Leaving them behind, we moved further along and the roof of the cave got steadily lower, until we were forced onto our stomachs to wriggle through army style! This part only lasted for around five metres as we emerged into another more spacious section of the cave, and entered the water once again. It felt colder without the tube, as more of your body is submerged. It also slowly rose higher as we moved further in, until Mang said it was not safe to continue due to the fast flowing water we could now hear ahead of us. We returned to the tubes, no longer requiring the rope, as we were carried along at a steady speed back to the cave entrance by the flow of the water.
After emerging from the cave, we sat down to eat lunch before trekking to our next destination, a traditional Hmong village. Naturally though, they had a stall set up to sell snacks to the tourists! I don't tend to like visiting villages like this, as it feels like a big invasion of privacy, so I didn't take any photos here. The villagers are clearly used to it though, and take full advantage where they can.
We carried on, through stunning scenery, until we met up with the songthaew again and were driven to a point on the river where we could kayak 9km back to town. Sadly I don't have any photos of this activity, for fairly obvious reasons. It's quite wet when you get out on the water. It gets even wetter when you capsize just after coming out of some "rapids" (very tame ones, like you see in the photo). And wetter still when the guide in the other kayak deliberately tips you over for a second time further downstream!
While chatting with two of the people in the group, Quang and Evie, they mentioned they'd booked onto a half day rock climbing tour the following day and that I should come along. I asked what experience they had already, as I have none and I didn't want to be biting off more than I could chew, but they said they were both beginners too. I hadn't yet made any plans, and it sounded like fun so I happily agreed to tag along.
Now I don't know about you, but when we arrived we didn't exactly think it looked very beginner friendly! We had three different sections of the rock-face we would climb, all with varying levels of difficulty. I think the hardest we did was "6b", I'm sure that'll mean something to someone... It was pretty tough going, and I came off a few times. There's that split second of fear as you feel like you're about to plunge to your death before the rope tightens fully and you swing out and back against the wall. Good fun... All I kept thinking about were those people who climb without ropes and how utterly mental they are.
Now completely unrelated, but I was just sat waiting for my minivan by the side of the road one morning and thought I'd illustrate the dedication to road safety people have over here. I couldn't get a photo of the 10/11 year olds you see riding scooters around, sadly...
And a couple of friendly local kids (still annoyed I couldn't zoom out quick enough to avoid chopping off the top of his head).
Next up, Phonsavan, and the most terrifying bus journey yet!