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From Luang Prabang to Vang Vieng

February 4, 2012

31th January

We spent the day in Luang Prabang with Neringa. Luang Prabang is a small city but quite pretty. On one side, you have the Mekong

Luang Prabang - Mekong side

On the opposite side, another river

Luang Prabang - other side

In the middle, a lot of tourists and a few temples, like this one where kids were playing a kind of petanque with their flip-flops

Temple in Luang Prabang

We started the day there by chilling out on internet, where I wrote one article. Then I gave my passport at noon to the immigration office to extend my visa of 9 more days.  We didn’t want to do all the tourist package stuffs of seeing the monks in the morning and going to waterfalls and caves, so we just rented some bikes and cycled around all afternoon. We cycled to a temple with 5 levels that we went into and had beautiful paintings on the wall.

5 levels temple

In the evening, we had some barbecue nearby the river, some warm stove they set on your table on which you put your pieces of meat to cook them yourselves.

1st February

I went early to the immigration embassy to get my passport back (pfiou!) and we took a minivan to Phonsavan. The countryside was really gorgeous, I had not expected to still see so many mountains.

Landscape to PhonsavanOn our bus, there was a German couple Oli and Marisa and an Austrian one, Sarah and Stephen. When we arrived, the six of us walked around to find a guesthouse. On the way we were joined by an American girl also named Sarah. It was pouring rain and the first guesthouses were full but we finally found one with enough rooms for all of us.

In the evening, we had a quick Lao soup and then watched a documentary about UXO (unexploded ordnance) at the MAG museum. Lao is the country which has been the most bombarded of the world so far and Xieng Khuang where Phonsavan lies was the most bombarded province. America dropped about 2 million tonnes of ordnance between 1964 and 1973. Two areas in particular were bombarded. I took photos of the really well-explained panels there that summarise which regions and why:

Map

About Southern Laos

Map2

These panels were interesting too and gave more details about the number of bombs the United States dropped on Laos

Map3

and which kind of bombs:

Bomb

Since 1964, more than 30,000 people died in Laos because of an accident on an UXO. About 20,000 other people had an accident which injured them seriously. Half the casuaties nowadays are children who either confuse this with a toy or are involved in the scrap metal trade.

2nd February

This was the worst day of my travel trip so far. We decided to rent motorbikes to go to see Plain of Jars. What I didn’t realise was that motorbikes and scooters are different animals, and that so far I had rented scooters, never motorbikes.

We first got safely to the Site 1 of Plain of Jars. Those jars are fascinating. They are huge jars of stones which were discovered first by a French archaeologist, Mélanie Colani, in 1934, and then forgotten for 60 years until some Japanese archeologists studied them again. Look at this one, the hugest found so far:

Biggest Jar

Archeologists are almost certain that they were used for funerals, to put inside human body parts after the body had been cremated. They are also almost certain of where those jars were being made, nearby, about 50 km away of the site. But what remains unknown is why they were brought to this specific place, and how people managed to bring these incredibly heavy jars here.

Jars

We walked around and enjoyed the mystery and beauty of this place.

More jars

This one was the only one which had a cover:

More jars and trees

After that, we were on our way to the “old city” when it started pouring rain again. I didn’t pay attention enough and tried to get close to the American girl and Neringa to get my raincoat which was in the bag. I fell from the motorbike. I had my D700 in the bag around me. In the fall, I got lots of bruises on my left side, but also broke the camera which since then displays an “Err” message.

The motorbike didn’t want to work anymore either. Some small plastic part of it which triggers the start broke in two. I didn’t feel like riding that thing anymore anyway. The others continued and I tried to find a mechanic nearby, but couldn’t find any. So I called the rental agency and they came to pick me up and the moto. They made me pay 50,000 kips, so like 6.25 dollars for the repair. Fair enough. Spent the rest of late afternoon with a warm tea and internet. Decision made, my experience of motorbiking was short and enough. Until I learn it properly, one day, maybe.

3rd February

The six of us took the bus to Vang Vieng. On the way to Vang Vieng, there was a drunk giant laying in the fields that was already giving us a feel for where we were going (Vang Vieng is reputed as the partying place of Laos where young people come and get drunk).

Drunk Giant

We walked around a bit and found a guest house. As it rained all evening, we just found a place where to chill out and play cards in a spot from where we had a perfect view on the pick-ups coming back from tubing. I borrowed Neringa’s camera to take a few photos.

Tubing

Funny enough, the word “tubing” didn’t evoke to me at all this big “bouée”! I had imagined that tubing meant putting your body inside a floating tube, which would roll you down the river, the way you roll down a hill on yourself. I had wondered how so many people could enjoy that considered that would make you really sick and dizzy and that sounded really scary to me. Ahah. So, tubing is in fact just this big black “bouée” that you go on down the river. What makes it dangerous in Vang Vieng is that people drink at each stop, and finish completely drunk and some people die every year because of that. Besides a few young drunk people in the streets, Vang Vieng was actually a really quiet impersonal city.

4th February

The six of us rented bikes and cycled to the west.

The landscape was really similar to Muang Ngoi Neua, with gorgeous mountains and cliffs, except that the river on which lays Vang Vieng is much smaller.

Vang Vieng landscape

We went first to a cave they call the claustrophobic cave, because it is really narrow, just enough space for you to go straight down and then back up, except in a few parts a bit more opened.

Cave

We then cycled to what they call the Blue Lagoon. Just before to reach it, we stopped at an organic place where we had food. We had the best mixed juice in Lao so far and very good food. It was a really quiet and laid-back place, with a small pound.

Eat close to Blue Lagoon

Then we went swimming in the Blue Lagoon,  although that was more like a small part of a river, not the way we had imagined it, but still great for a swim.

Blue Lagoon

After that, we walked up for 10-15 minutes to see the Buddha cave, where they have put inside a reclining Buddha statue. This was a huge cave, with incredible stalactites and stalagmites. The most beautiful cave I have seen so far (although I haven’t seen many though). Just contemplating its dimensions, its emptiness and natural carving details was enough, like being in front of the pyramids or an Angkor temple.  Fascinating cave.

Cave

We walked really deep into it, maybe 200 meters deep? And still huge, and wide. We saw a small kind of cricket-spider there.

cave insect

Before to exit, I saw the dragon. See its head, with his evil bloody eye and sharp jaw catching something? Like if just a spell could wake him up and break the stone in which it has been imprisoned thousands of years ago.

dragon

On the way back, the night was falling, and the moon was rising above the small mountains. The surrounded mountains were getting reflected in the pond.

Reflection

In the evening, we bought some bus ticket to Ventiane with Neringa, while Oli and Marisa booked a walking trekking tour and Sarah and Stefan booked a climbing tubing tour. We went for beer and played pool. Here was the menu in the bar opposite to ours. Funny Vang Vieng.

Happy Menu

Next step: Ventiane!

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