Viva Vang Vieng

By now, I am safely back in Germany, but I owe you at least two more entries: One of a conclusive kind and another one about our trip to Vang Vieng. This little town is pretty famous among backpackers as it used to be a party paradise. It was particularly well known for its tubing – that’s when you hire an old truck tire and float down the river in it; while drinking litres of Beerlao, home-brewed schnapps and god knows what else. There were floating bars and more bars at the river side and many opportunities for rope-swinging and jumping off wooden towers. The witty reader will think “Hang on, this is pretty much the opposite of the conservative Lao tradition!” and yes, indeed this binge drinking collided pretty badly with the Lao culture but it took more than just a couple of deaths and injuries until the government put an ending to these excesses. Alcohol and water (especially in the rainy season) are seldom a good idea… They teared down most bars, put a strict curfew on most other ones and now, there are only very few places left that are open until late (probably by bribing the police…). Still, the nightlife remains more exciting than Vientiane’s. The backpacker’s motto which they display proudly on their singlets is: DRINK TRIPLE, SEE DOUBLE, ACT SINGLE. No Comment…

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Oh yeah and one quick, additional note about the „wet season“ here: It’s not even half as bad as many people think. Usually, it rains (well, pours down like it was Poseidon’s birthday celebration) at night and then, there are some quick splashes during the day which stop as suddenly as they have started. But it’s warm rain and you dry immediately. The rest of the time, it’s sunny and freaking hot: about 25-35degrees. Add a crazy humidity to that and you can imagine that this climate is not made for everyone’s taste. I can definitely confirm that every little workout session here has been an effort! And I am starting to long for the cold nights in Winter where you snuggle up in bed and sleep like a little, chubby bearcub. Here, you are constantly sweating and I’m taking showers at least twice a day…

Nevertheless, I believe I favour the wet to the dry season  – less tourists, less heat and less dust. Everything looks lush and green and I’ve come to love jogging when a thunderstorm is looming at the horizon. In October, the rainy season will slowly stop so I will get some more hours of sun before my return to Germany, yes!


The Gibbon Experience

It’s not particularly cheap, but as soon as I had heard of the treehouses in Bokeo Province, I knew I had to see them for myself and sleep in there. So, I booked my trip and three weeks ago, I jumped on a plane.

laos-physical-mapThe town Houayxay (in Lao’s Northwest, see the green arrow!) itself is not that exciting so I spent a rather relaxing afternoon with the people from my hostel, read my book and walked around. I woke up refreshed and very, very excited. After a brief introduction, we got split up into two groups and loaded into jeeps. A very bumpy 3h drive brought us deeper into the national park to a small village which was the starting point of our hike. Both groups would do the same route, but in opposite directions. For the first 5min or so I was a little disappointed because I ‘got stuck’ with a complete female group and I half-expected to have three days of screaming and complaining ahead of me (wow, am I being sexist here? I guess sexism also exists between women…). But oh boy, was I wrong! All other 7 group members were tough cookies: No-one complained about the hike being too steep, we didn’t have to wait up for anyone and all in all, we had tonnes of fun together! One of those moments when your first impression is just wrong and you feel guilty afterwards… As soon as we left the rice fields and entered the jungle, I knew I would love this trip (except for the millions of mozzies and leeches, to be fair…).

The hike was demanding enough; we were puffing and panting up some fairly steep and slippery ascents and I could tell that I am still not fully recovered from my first month here. When we reached the first zip-line, we got a brief introduction from our guides and with mixed feelings everyone tried it for the first time. Let’s just say that the security checks are rather… minimalistic and I was glad I already knew the harnesses from climbing. But this lack of security also had its advantages, for example we were allowed to zip-line by ourselves and didn’t have to wait for double-checks all the time. So, I fastened my straps, attached both ropes to the zip-line, took a deep breath and off I went.

It’s a crazy feeling to just jump and plunge into open air. I didn’t even book the tour because of the zip-lining but thought of it as a mere bonus. Looking back now though, I am so glad it was included! It was incredible to speed through and high above the green canopy, to lean back even further to increase my speed, feel the wind on my face and turn my head this way and that in order to catch every possible angle of the view. The first morning, I woke early and spontaneously decided to kick-start my metabolism: So, I put on my gear and swiiiiiiiish, off I went. Because there was no-one behind me I could break and just stop in the middle of the line. I took some nice pictures of the morning mist in the mountains, watched my feet dangle 30meters above the forest floor and just felt super energized and happy. Part of me was tempted to let go a loud Tarzan-cry, but out of courtesy for my fellow hiker’s beauty sleep, I didn’t. The downside of this little excurse was that I had to monkey-monkey myself all the way back into the treehouse. “Monkey-monkey” was what our guide called it when someone didn’t make it all the way to the platform. You then had to turn around and haul yourself along the zip-line with your arms. Good exercise!

Oh yeah and I haven’t even talked about the treehouses! AMAZING!! They are truly breath-taking and I can only imagine how much hard work it took to complete them. The national park is very remote and all the supplies for building, maintaining and all the food is carried up there on ponyback or by foot. When starting a new house, the tree needs to be climbed by a human and then, the first zip-line is set up. All material is carried over like this, from the first nails and planks to the sink and toilet bowl. In fact, we enjoyed a lot of comfort up there: Electricity from solar panels (not for charging your cameras but to power some lightbulbs)! Even running – and drinkable – water! I loved taking my showers with that view, I doubt anyone could start their mornings any more refreshed and adventurous. Going to the toilet in the middle of the night was a mission though: D I really regretted drinking that beer in the evening haha In general, I slept like a baby up there, lulled by the cicadas chirping and my aching muscles. We had comfortable army-style mattresses, thick covers and a mosquito net – what more can you ask for? Good food? Well, we even had that!

On the second day, we did more hiking, zip-lining and stopped at a nice natural pool for a swim. Ahhhhhh, so refreshing! The 3 days passed way too quickly and before I knew it, I was back in Houayxay and only the mosquito bites reminded me a few more days of where I had been…

But there was no need to be sad because the trip ended with a lovely dinner with the whole group and a local festival of lights. Every town and village celebrates it after the traditional boat races, but on very different dates. It was truly beautiful to see the many candles and lights illuminating the streets. They also let burning lanterns fly into the night sky and launched even more candles glued on boats – from the size of a hand up to 5m long ones! The whole town was celebrating.

And also the flight back was an experience in itself: The airport seemed even tinier to me than it had upon my arrival and there was a power failure so neither their computer system, nor any security devices worked. Two girls from my hiking group actually got away with accidentally having booked their flight for the day before. But because the system was down (and maybe because the overstrained, barely-English speaking Lao lady didn’t want to start an English discussion with them…) they got on the flight anyways! Lucky day! The security check consisted of one brief, 3second look into the main compartment of my backpack and no-one even noticed the remaining water in the hydration bladder; I could have brought ten knives with me without anyone noticing it… Ah well. Luckily, there’s pretty much zero risk of terrorist attacks here in Lao…

All in all, a GREAT and very unique trip!