countin' the days

Sunday, May 31, 2009

Same Same But Different, Part II (Lao Lao)

The last month has been some of the most rapidito traveling I've done in a long time. I've managed to bus my way through 4 different countries in the last 4 weeks, seeing & doing incredible things along the way (well... naturally). Anyway, that's my excuse for not keeping up very well with this here blog. But here I am trying. Accept my apologies, get over it, and let's get to it.

So after the inevitable departure from Ton Sai, I spent a quick week in Northern Thailand, revisiting the lovely city of Chiang Mai and the very fun rock climbing crag located nearby. Mostly we spent the week climbing, but it wouldn't be a visit to Chiang Mai without meeting up with old friends & hitting up the bars a little bit. I was sad to see that Chiang Mai's infamous "Rasta Bar" area has changed tremendously, no longer a bustling area of some three dozen bars, but a much more toned-down area of two dozen semi-okay bars at best. Sure, I found some nice spots to grab some overpriced buckets and even catch some tunes, but it surely wasn't the same rockin' reggae scene it once was.

Suddenly, the 30 day limit for Thailand was up again, and it was time for Laos. This time around, I did almost the same loop as 2007 but totally in reverse: Houay Xai - Luang Prabang - Vang Vieng - Vientiane. Starting in the border town of Houay Xai was an interesting choice, mostly because it presented only 2 options for the inevitably long journey to Luang Prabang. The first option was a two-day journey on a slow boat down the Mekong, which seemed to us overly touristy, overly expensive, and overly long. We opted for the bus, which was supposed to take only 8 (ha!) hours, but took in fact TWELVE. And so began our Series Of Bad Calls. Bad Calls #2-4 were having to stay in not one, not two, but FOUR different guesthouses in LP because it was so damn hot, we couldn't afford air-con (sigh), and just kept choosing the losers. Then of course, we sealed off our Bad Calls with ol' #5, which was choosing to ignore every travel agent that told us there was no local bus to Vang Vieng, going to the bus station ourselves, and then paying the exact same amount for an 8 hour ride in a total clunker that we would have spent to be in an air conditioned minivan. But it wasn't a total bust, because I finally got the see the Kuangsi waterfall, which was absolutely incredible. We spent the day swimming in its epic terraced pools and cooling off better than any stupid overpriced Luang Prabang A/C possibly could have.

Vang Vieng was instantly pretty awesome. Sadly, the actual town of VV is still the same death trap of identical touristy restaurants with zombied-out kids watching reruns of "Friends" played 24 hours a day on maximum volume. If anything, it's just bigger & more mind-numbing than 2 years ago. But that, clearly, is not why I returned to Vang Vieng (though I'd really been dying to catch up on all my early 90s Friends drama). It's for the shockingly gorgeous scenery all around, the lovely lazy river lifestyle, and the rock climbing.

Not surprisingly, this time around I did loads more climbing than before. In fact, it was 100% the focus of our time in VV, which shouldn't come as a shock to anyone who has paid any attention to my life in the last year. In 07, I'd only been to one of VV's crags. Little did I know that there are handfuls of crags all around! We spent every day except 2 climbing, and explored 4 different crags (one of them we even came back to again). The climbing was really fantastic, and it felt good to get back on the rock after the withdrawal of leaving Thailand. In reality, it'd only been a week, but it felt like forever! We even had the good fortune to meet up with Seth -- our stalagtite-dominating friend from Ton Sai (see previous post) -- and all climb together for a few days.

On our last day, we went back to a huge piece of beautiful limestone that we'd seen from the bus on the way into town. We found out that it had been recently bolted and was climbable, and decided to go for it. It was probably the most jungley crag I've ever seen -- the whole wall was covered in spider webs, the ground was covered in sketchy rocks & brush, swarms of butterflies surrounded us, lizards scattered around, and we even got snuck up on by a local machete-wielding dude who hung out and watched while he inspected our rock shoes. But it was pretty rad, the routes were beautiful, and it was definitely a new experience for me!

No comments: