Laos

December 10, 2008

Classes finally ended on December 2nd (well, actually they ended on Dec 4, but I thought they should end on the 2nd), so off to Laos I went for a much-needed vacation from a ridiculously chaotic semester. My friend Stephen and I hopped on a bus at 8pm, arrived at the Laos/Thailand border at 6 in the morning and spent the next 2 hours getting our visas. Once everyone on the bus got their visas, we got on another bus to go about 1000 feet and then got on yet another bus (have I mentioned how inefficient SE Asia is??) to take a 3.5 hour, very bumpy ride from Vientene, the capital of Laos, to Vang Vieng, our destination. We arrived at Vang Vieng at 3 pm—I could have almost traveled to the States in that amount of time!

Once we get there, we head to the nearest restaurant, which oddly enough, was not playing the television show “Friends”. Let me explain:  There is a strange phenomena in Vang Vieng, where 90% of the restaurants are set up with all tables pointed at several t.v. screens, all of which play repeat episodes of “Friends”, ALL day long. I watched between 15-20 episodes of Friends while I was in Laos for 5 days. AMAZING.

Watching Friends whilst eating

Vang Vieng, and banana shake # 2

Stephen and I watch Friends while eating breakfast, and then book a trekking tour for the next day (after I spend a few minutes convincing Stephen trekking for 6 hours is actually fun). Then, we find a cheap guesthouse (for 3 days, I paid 4USD, no joke), and Stephen heads to an internet café to write an essay that was due 3 days ago. While he does that, I take an unpleasantly cold shower (hey, for 4USD…), out of a hose, not even a shower head! It was like dumping a bucket of ice water on my head. After I get out of the shower, I met an Israeli and I exclaim how cold my shower was. Here’s how the conversation went:
Me:“Wow, that was the coldest shower of my life!
Him: “Ya, the water heater doesn’t work too well”
Me: “Water heater….? What water heater?”
Him: “You know, the big box that has a dial on it? You cant miss it!”
Me: “Hmm, I don’t remember seeing any box.
Him: “Let me show you…”
(then he walks into the OTHER bathroom and bam, there’s a water heater and a real shower head. Of course).

I thank him for saving me another cold shower and we part ways so I can explore the town and marvel at all the Friends episodes I hear around me. Later, Stephen and I eat dinner at one of the Friends restaurants and then we explore the rest of town, find a massage place and decide to see what a Laos massage is. Turns out great! These adorable Laotian girls, who we seriously think are under 16 years old, give Stephen and I an oil massage and then we all chat (sort of) afterwards over a pot of tea. Turns out the Laos language is very similar to Thai, with a few twists. Then Stephen and I decide to grab a few yummy shakes and before we know it, we’re completely passed out, at 11pm… in true Tracey fashion. Its okay though, we have a big day of trekking ahead of us!

The next morning, Stephen and I grab baguette sandwhiches and banana shakes from the street, meet the Belgian couple we are trekking with, and begin the adventure! On the trek, we literally climbed hand over foot for 75% of the hike, with Stephen exclaiming “Level 2 trekking!? I don’t think so…” It was an incredibly beautiful hike, with a few caves and chillingly cold (and I deemed unswimmable) water, which only Stephen was brave enough to venture in. After the trek, the Belgian couple invites us for a beer, and we all go to a Friends restaurant and proceed to watch 2 hours of Friends and literally not say a word to each other. So much for socializing! Although in our defense, we did look over at each other whenever something funny happened, and laughed together; does that count?

Lunch break

Cave we stumbled upon while trekking

Beautiful scenery

 

 

 

After dinner, we part ways with the Beligans and agree to meet up with them at a bar in a few hours. Little do they know my party tendencies and my affect on others. 2 hours later ( at perhaps 8pm), Stephen and I are fast asleep. I wake up at 10pm, ask Stephen if he wants to go meet the Belgians and have some drinks. He groggily mumbles “Yes”, and then we both fall asleep again. At some point in the middle of the night, he wakes up and mumbles that we’re the most boring people in the world. I agree.

We wake up at 9am the next day, after a wonderful 12 hours of sleep, have breakfast and head to tubing, the highlight of Vang Vieng. Basically, Vang Vieng has turned into a tourist town solely based on the tubing extravaganza. Within 25 feet of shore, there is a bar with a huge (and frightening) rope swing, and much alcohol to be drunken. This time, I decided not to be boring and Stephen and I share the first of one too many buckets. A word about buckets: they are the greatest alcoholic invention ever. You literally get a bucket of 70% liquor and 30% mixer, with several straws (for maximum efficiency). After a bit of liquid courage, I head to the rope swing, where I am barely able to convince myself to let go, I was so scared! I hit the water nicely and decide to do it again.

Rope Swingin'!

Mistake. This time I semi belly flop into the water and my chest hurts for the next 30 minutes (until I start on bucket # 2!). Stephen and I get back into the water and stop 30 feet later at bar #2. I’m really not kidding, the bars were spaced out by 25 feet. Oh, and each bar has bumping music and people dancing everywhere. Imagine MTV’s Spring Break, in Laos. That’s exactly what it’s like.

MTV Spring Break: Laos

Stephen and I start on the second bucket and this is where things get fuzzy. I remember Stephen constantly swinging on the ropes, which left me to mingle with strangers. I met tons of people, somehow made it on the rope myself, then on to bar #3. This one had a mud-wrestling pit and Stephen turned into a MONSTER! He was brutal…by the time I got out of the pit (barely with my life), I had bloodly knees, scrapes all over my side and perhaps the mud pit is where I got one of my 2 fist size bruises. Or perhaps not, I’m not entirely sure.

Mudpit: Where normal people turn into monsters

Post Mudpit

We spend another hour (maybe?) at this bar, ride the rope swings, pick up a new German friend, Sven, and move on to the next bar.

The gang, plus Sven

Two at a time rope swingin'!

Paddling merrily along

Apparently this one had a slide which I rode down, and then we went to another bar, and I had a shake. Next thing I know, my arms are absolutely killing me and I’m paddling as fast as I can in my tube, desperately trying to get out of the water. You do NOT want to be in the river when the sun goes down; I was freezing my little Texan butt off. Someone did not design this tubing experience correctly. All the bars are in the first 300 feet of the river, then you have to drunkenly paddle the next 1.5 hours till you finally get into town, freezing and utterly confused (“Why am I wet?? Where am I??), or at least that is the experience I had. Needless to say, SO much fun. It was the BEST thing ever!!

Stephen and I return our tubes and head to a Friends restaurant (surprise surprise), where we randomly run into our 3 friends we were supposed to meet up with earlier (oops). They seemed a little mad, but once they saw the state I was in (I was behind Stephen, shivering and laughing at absolutely nothing funny), I think they understood. We agreed to meet them at 9pm at Bucket Bar. Next thing I know, I’m waking up from a nap at 9:30 pm. Oops again. I grab a sandwich, and Stephen and I go to meet our friends at Bucket Bar. We hang out with them for the next hour and then we go to bed.

The next day, the others (Courtney, Robert, and Nina) want to go tubing, so we repeat the whole process again (minus the drinking for me).

Tubing part deux

After tubing, Robert and I go back to the massage place Stephen and I went to and we get massages. First, I lock myself in the bathroom (the lock got stuck, really!), and my massage girl, Nui, has to rescue me. Typical…
The next day was my favorite—we rented bicycles and rode all over town, exploring caves. In the beginning of the day, we get a map and notice a cave with a grotto (think Playboy mansion style), and I decide that is our destination! Unfortunately, we begin riding in the exact opposite direction. I have absolutely no sense of direction; it’s quite sad. We ride 5 km until we reach a cave with requires about 20 minutes of hand-over foot climbing to reach. Once we get to the cave, we see many stairs that lead into a very dark hole. I stupidly lead us all in, without a flashlight (the flashlight I bought specifically for this trip is stowed away safe and sound in the hotel room). Once we get to the bottom of the stairs, we immediately turn around and go back up. I mean, what were we planning on doing, hanging out in a pitch-black cave??

Bike tour!

Trekking it up

Sven is over the cave

After the cave, we find an organic farm and eat the most delicious lunch of fresh pumpkin soup and veggies picked straight from the garden. Yummmm! Afterwards we ride back to town, drop off Stephen and Sven (our new German friend we adopted into our clan), and the rest of us head to another cave south of town. Guess what we find at this new cave? The Grotto!! Yayyyyy….Robert and I jump in (Brrrr), and begin to head into the underwater cave, but freak out after about 5 feet and just swim around the outside of the Grotto for while and have a photo shoot.

We found the grotto!

Too many stairs

 

After the Grotto, we all go back to town, return our bikes, take showers, and try to find Stephen. He’s no where to be found, so we decide to head to a Friends-less restaurant (we wanted to actually converse with one another). Once we order food, I leave to find Stephen and I find him wandering around town, shoe-less. Whaaaat?? I ask him where his shoes are, and he says something about how he is looking for them and he thinks someone stole them. I help Stephen look for his shoes for a while and after a few minutes we decide someone did in fact steal them (aka Stephen lost them).

After dinner, Stephen buys a new pair of flip-flops and we head to Bucket Bar, to FINALLY have a party night. We meet lots of people, enjoy some buckets and then Robert and I decide to go back to the massage place and steal the massage girls away from the owner, so they can party with us. Robert spend 20 minutes talking to the massage girls in Laos/Thai, and I help the owner finish his English homework (its so cute, he literally has a workbook where he practices using English in the right tense, and with correct grammar). We eventually convince the owner to let the girls come party with us, and then we all split a bucket back at the bar. It was SO cute, I taught the girls how to “Hook ‘em” and we (kinda) talked, although we only understood about ½ of what the other was saying.

Partying with the Laotians

Once the girls leave, I somehow split from all my friends, and spend the next few hours hanging out with this super cool Danish girl. Before I know it, its 2 am (not sure how that happened, since the bar closes at midnight) and I head home.

Oh, I forgot to mention: when Robert and I gathered the massage girls, we also picked up a German, Yentz. As we’re dancing away at Bucket Bar, somehow the topic of waking up early comes up and Yentz and I agree to have breakfast at 8:30am. Not being one to cancel on someone, I meet Yentz the next morning, 8:30 sharp, and we have our breakfast date. He was actually quite an interesting person; he worked as an entertainment lawyer in Germany and recently quit to travel through SE Asia. We have breakfast until 10am, and then I grab my things to check out of the guesthouse. Afterwards, I have breakfast # 2 with my friends and then we hang out and watch Friends for a couple hours until our bus leaves.

The best part: We get on the bus from Vang Vieng to Vientene, which is a 3.5 hour, very bumpy ride. As soon as we sit down, Robert states that he needs to pee. Throughout the journey, I notice him fidgeting and I can tell he is getting very antsy to get out and pee. Only problem is there are no stops in the near future. What does Robert resort to? An empty water bottle—classic. I hold up his backpack to block the view, and he shifts his weight and pulls the perfect “Dumb and Dumber” move. How nice it is to be a boy. 19 hours later, we’re back in Bangkok and I become one HOT MESS. 3 finals in 24 hours + move out of my apartment + final farewells… Let the fun begin.

Next destinations: Vietnam, Indonesia, Malaysia, BKK, and then back to good ‘ol Texas! Can’t wait to see everyone soon!

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