Posts Tagged ‘cave’

Tubing in Vang Vieng

Wednesday, May 27th, 2009

On Wednesday night my train left Bangkok a little past eight. I was travelling with Daniel and Joachim, whom I€ met in Pattaya, and in a bunk near us was a Dutch girl who was going to do an internship in the tourist industry in some National Park in Thailand. The girl was nice, and had a deck of cards, so we sat in the cafe carriage playing until they kicked us out. We returned to our own carriage, and probably kept people awake with our talking long into the night.

When we got up the next morning our train soon pulled into the city closest to the Laotian border, where we bought tickets for the final 15 minutes into Laos. We went through the Thai border control before boarding the train, and got our visas with surprising efficiency when we reached the other side. We shared a minibus with some other backpackers the 20 minutes ride into Vientiane, where Daniel, Joachim and I eventually found the bus station where the cheap local buses for Vang Vieng leave from. Apart from a couple of girls from Denmark, we were the only westerners on the bus. It was an old and rickety bus without aircon and with broken fans, but the windows were open, so I wasn’t too hot. One funny incident on the way, was when we passed an overturned pick up truck in the road. The truck lay on it’s side, and it’s load of fruit had been gathered up on the side of the road. The bus pulled over next to the truck and everybody got out. We promptly tipped the truck right side up, got back in our bus again, and continued on our way.

When we reached Vang Vieng I asked the Danes whether they had a guest house booked, because that’s often how I get to the cheap places to sleep, by leeching off of other people’s research, not to mention it’s a great conversation starter when you meet beautiful young women… 😛 They didn’t have a reservation, but we set out together to see if we couldn’t find a decent place anyway. The first one we stopped in had a nice laid-back lounge up front, with lots of DVDs, hot water, free wi-fi, a roof terrace, free drinking water, and basically seemed nicer than most places. Since we arrived at the same time, we were asked if we wanted a room for five people, and after a little deliberation and some overdue introductions, that became the arrangement, so that night we were five Scandinavians heading out to an Indian dinner together.

Vang Vieng is located in beautiful karst scenery, like Halong Bay and Ninh Binh, and this has been developed by the locals, to offer kayaking, climbing, caving and tubing. Seeing as the young crowd these things attract don’t necessarily have a lot of money, the place is set up to cater to backpackers, and the prices follow suit. The small town is packed with backpackers’ guest houses, restaurants-cum-TVroom that show Family Guy, American Dad or Friends non stop, not to mention bars galore. Thus, after dinner, Daniel, Joachim, Simone, Cecilie and I headed across a plank bridge to an island in the middle of the Nam Song river, and a place called Sunset Bar. The place is outdoors, but has platforms with roofs over for those rainy days, and hammocks and pillows strewn all along the platforms. We all really liked the place, and stayed there till it was time to head home to sleep.

Friday morning we all got ready to go tubing, which is the main attraction in Vang Vieng. That meant that we put on our swim suits, rented inner tubes from trucks’ wheels and got driven by Tuk-Tuk three kilometers out of town to a place in the river where we got dumped with our tubes to float our way back down on the river. All along the banks were bars with swings, zip lines, water slides, mud pits and the like, and we had a lot of fun. On the way, when we stopped along the banks, somebody took two of our tubes, though, but we decided to return the next day, and just swim down the river instead. 🙂 The mud pits were at the last place we stopped at, and we didn’t get all the mud off, so our bathroom was literally COVERED in mud by the time we’d showered. After some pizza we headed back to Sunset and the hammocks, but were so exhausted from tubing that we soon went back and to bed.

Saturday morning started with breakfast at one of the places where you lie down on pillows by a low table, and watch Friends. After breakfast we checked out of the Babylon, since the power was gone, the water was gone, internet wasn’t working, and the owner was a psycho who hauled Joachim out after his hair when he asked when the power might be  back… We checked into a much better AND cheaper room in the guest house next door, called Nazim. Like we had planned, we went back to the river without the tubes, and had a great time again, and again rounded off the night at Sunset after dinner.

On Sunday we decided to go explore a cave, after our long Friends-breakfast. We rented three scooters between the five of us, bought a map, and headed out of town. Some 15 kilometers out we turned off from the main road, and followed a gravel road a few hundred meters towards, and across the river. From there it was more of a path than a dirt road… 🙂 We finally reached the cave, where they rent out tubes and torches, and we started swimming into the cave. A tributary to Nam Song River runs out of the cave, and although you can wade in during the dry season, it’s been raining enough lately that we had to swim. The cave is apparently 500 meters long, but we didn’t follow it all the way to the end. It was a really weird experience to be floating around in a tube, deep inside a mountain! On our way back it got dark, and it was time for dinner. After dinner we decided to honour the Scandinavian tradition of a Vorspiel, before-party, in our hotel room, so we bought some beer, and sat around playing games and listening to Kim Larsen… 😀 Once again, we rounded off the night with our friends in Sunset, since that was THE place to meet people.

Monday morning saw us at the Friendsfast again, and I went tubing with the girls, while Joachim went for a looong ride on a rented scooter, and Daniel was stuck in bed with problems of a digestive nature. At the end of the  day’s playing in the river and dancing at the bars, we didn’t even TRY to rinse off the mud from the mud pit, and instead headed into town covered from head to toe, assaulting other, cleaner specimen of tubers… 😛 I thought the bathroom was dirty the first night after tubing, but after we’d helped each other get rid of all the mud on this day,  we had to shovel the mud from the floor! Even though it was still early, the others fell asleep as soon as they’d dried off from the shower, and in one case before, so I just headed out on my own for a baguette for dinner and went to bed myself.

Yesterday the boys headed back to Bangkok to get some clothes made and stuff before going back to Norway, and the three of us that were left moved into a smaller room in the same hotel. A slow day was spent watching Friends, buying bus tickets out of there, getting a massage, playing pool, and as usual rounding off in the hammocks. This morning the bus left at 10am, and we arrived in Vientiane around 2pm. I said goodbye to Simone and Cecilie at the bus station, where they were getting on a bus to Hanoi in Vietnam. I myself took a Tuk-Tuk downtown, and I’m finishing this post in my room here. There’s unfortunately no wifi here, but I’m hoping to get this posted somehow before I go to bed.

Nha Trang – Backpacker Central

Monday, March 30th, 2009

March 29
Yesterday we got up at 6am, and were picked up by our diving outfit outside our Guest House at 7.30, after showers and a rice-noodle soup breakfast. We were driven to the harbour, and it turned out we were the only two divers on boat, so we had the crew of three all there only for us. At first we were a tad nervous that we’d ended up with a unserious outfit, and that everyone knew but us, but our misgivings faded when we saw how professional they were, and how well they treated the equipment.

The boat ride out to Hon Mun (Mun Island) National Marine Park took about 50 minutes, time we spent relaxing in the morning sun on deck, and then preparing our equipment. We got in the water shortly after arrival, and started our first dive at just before 9am. The site was Madonna Rock, by the tiny Hon Rom, outside of Hon Mun. We went down to about 17 meters, and wished we had an under water camera! The colours of the corals weren’t quite as breathtaking as we might’ve fantasized about, but the fishes were really nice. Being on the seaward side of the island, the swells could actually be felt as deep as 10 meters, pushing us forward, then pulling us back gently. Having turned around to head back, we swam through a little tunnel under a big rock, where the swell was felt particularly strongly. As we headed up through the cave, the water was literally teeming with fish! They were everywhere, in bright yellows and blues! Annikken also saw a Murene, but Gjerulf didn’t see it, as it was hiding under a small overhanging coral. The fish were small to medium, some flat, some long, some round, some with a funny looking beak, all the shapes of fish we’ve only seen in pictures before!
As we came back to the boat and started to ascend, we both got burnt a little by some jellyfish threads or something, but the stinging subsided rather quickly when treated with normal vinegar. The first dive was 40 minutes. The boat left Hon Rom, and headed a couple hundred meters up to the Northern Reef divesite, also known as DeRice Bay on Hon Mun. While we were waiting for our second dive, Annikken was enjoying the sun on the sun deck, while Gjerulf did a little snorkeling.

Unfortunately Annikken experienced a little trouble with pressure compensation, and sat out the second dive, while Gjerulf went in alone with our Divemaster, Bâng. The second dive started about 10.30, lasted 48 minutes, and went to 14 meters. Being a reef this time, the corals were more impressive in size and colour but the fish were smaller and a bit more scarce, and mainly flitted in and out of the corals. On this dive Gjerulf also got to see a Murene lurking under a rock, and a couple of the more decent size fish had colourings that looked as if God had just done a splatter image with the most intense colours on his palette! Back on board, we started to head back to shore again. Bâng’s English was not as good as he would’ve liked it to be, and he was studying to learn more. On the way back, he brought out his English text book, and recruited Annikken as a tutor! The lesson of the day was practicing the use of “to lend.” 🙂 Back at the dive store, the lunch that was included in the price was waiting for us.(!) There was a LOT of food, just for the two of us, and we hadn’t even gotten particularly hungry yet, so we ate a polite amount, and headed back for a surf on the net, and a bit of a rest and refreshing at the Guest House.

In the evening we hit the town with the other backpackers, at the Red Apple Club. It was a nice little place, with dancing going on, and other travellers out to have a good time. Gjerulf got to talking to a group of British beach bums, and a Norwegian backpacker couple, while Annikken met a couple of Swedish/Norwegian firefighters, with whom we, like almost everyone else, headed over to the Sailing Club, a night club at the beach, where they had a beach party going on. There was good music, dancing on the sand, and loads and loads of people, and we didn’t head home till past 2 in the am! All night, Annikken’s poison of choice was only Tiger beer, and she enjoyed it! (Imagine the looks on our faces, when we were getting our first drink for the night, and Annikken orders beer, and Gjerulf a Mojito…)

This morning we slept long, and woke up glad that neither of us drank much last night. We met up with the Swedes at the beach, rented some beach beds, and stayed there till the sun started to set. For tonight, Gjerulf has his eyes set on a place with music and atmosphere very much to his own taste, while Annikken is headed back to the Red Apple Club with our Swedish friends.