Posts Tagged ‘karst’

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… πŸ˜› 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. πŸ™‚ 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 beΒ  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… πŸ™‚ 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… πŸ˜€ 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 theΒ  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… πŸ˜› 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,Β  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.

Stunning scenery in Ninh Binh

Tuesday, April 21st, 2009

We arrived in Ninh Binh last night at 9.30. We decided to take an early night, in order to get up early, and botched miserably as usual… After our usual breakfast pho, we headed off on a rented moped around 11am. The destination was Tam Coc, where there are karst formations of the same kind as in Ha Long Bay. The limestone has been thrust up from the old seabed and then been withered by wind and water in much the same way, but the difference is that here Rowing with feetthey are on land. A slow river meanders between the rice paddies, and curls around the jutting karst spires, except where the water has cut a hole straight through them. We hired a flat bottomed sampan, and were rowed up the river, and through three of the caves. The lady rowing, alternated between using her arms and using her legs to push the oars! We even put our strength to use with a paddle ourselves, when we got bored of just sitting and looking.

Our timing turned out to be as perfect as could be, since we had the river to ourselves almost all the way. Only at the very end did the next bus loads of day trippers from Hanoi start moving rank and file up the river, with only a few meters between each sampan. The best moment on our whole 2 hour boat trip, was when our rower stopped rowing in a narrow, uninhabited valley, and the silence was so intense we could hear our own breath… That’s a first in Vietnam, even for Annikken who has spent months here earlier!

After the boat trip, we headed further into the karst scenery on our moped, until the road ran out… There we were befriended by a deaf road construction worker, who insisted on showing Gjerulf a small, deserted valley over a low ridge. It was a short trip in dense jungle, but it was like entering a different world! With his communicative sign language, he explained that the valley was home to both monkeys and huge snakes. Meanwhile, Annikken helped a Vietnamese family build the foundation for a new house… She lifted heavy rocks, tried her hand at chiseling a rock, and helped apply the mortar. At first they were making fun, and pointed to a big rock they wanted to have carried over. Their faces changed rapidly when she just smiled, picked up the big rock, and asked where they wanted it… When she lifted her arms and flexed her muscles to show how strong a Norwegian woman is, they lauged happily at her antics.

After lunch, we just drove around for a while, until the sun set between the limestone towers. As we write this, we are waiting for the sleeper bus to come and take us to Hue and on to Hoi An.

Ha Long Bay

Monday, April 20th, 2009

On Wednesday we bought tickets to go to Ha Long Bay, and Thursday morning we were picked up outside our hotel by the travel agent. After a four hour drive, we arrived in Ha Long City, where we transferred to our boat. As we started out from the tourist pier, we were served lunch on the restaurant deck, and we soon reached an island where there were a couple of really nice caves. When we headed out to sea again, we checked into our cabin, and headed out on the sun deck on the third and top floor. The type of boats that take tourists out on the bay are called Junks, but it still looks a bit strange when a boat proudly displays “Paradise Junk” or “Junk Tours…”
Cruising around between the striking karst formations sticking out of the water, Pia, a danish woman who was travelling with her daughter, voiced a question of whether they could be called islands. They were certainly big enough, but they were basicly just huge rocks with vegetation clinging to the tops and sides. We never did find out what the definition of an island really is. πŸ™‚

In the afternoon some of our group were dropped off at Cat Ba Island to go trekking and stay at a hotel, while we continued to where we’d stay the night, in the boat. We had a beautiful sunset, and Gjerulf had a little swim in the ocean once we stopped. The next morning we also started with a dip, before going kayakking. The islands or rocks or whatever are just as magnificent up close. The formations are beyond description, the way they just rise abruptly out of the water, with their sharp ridges and sheer walls flecked with clinging trees and bushes.

After kayakking we had breakfast, while waiting for a couple of vietnamese girls who’d lost track of time while kayakking. Our guide set out to look for them, but they got back from another direction immediately after he left, so then the whole Junk set out after the guide. πŸ˜› The rest of the trip we spent on the sun deck. Annikken suggested Gjerulf should put on some sun screen. He thought it sounded like a good idea, and then immediately forgot about it. He now sports a fancy sunburn where the shorts and T-shirt didn’t cover him.

Yesterday we were invited to spend the day at a pool in a nice hotel, with Gautier, the Frenchman we met last Saturday. He’s been teaching English here in Hanoi for a year and a half, and has taken Annikken sightseeing on his moped, and shown us nice places to eat and to watch football. Gjerulf was particularly happy about Finnegan’s, the Irish pub where you could get a REAL Irish stew, and where Annikken got to watch footie both Saturday and Sunday nights. πŸ™‚

Today we’ve checked out of our hotel, and we’re taking the bus back south to Hoi An. The plan is to stay where the weather is sunny, and a beach is within reach… πŸ˜‰ The weather forecast says Thursday onwards is going to be rainy again, and we might head further south to look for better weather. Nothing’s for sure, though, we just go where we feel like, when we feel like it.