A Travellerspoint blog

Laos

Zipping and Tubing through Laos


View 11 months around the world on geldere's travel map.

After some great experiences in Thailand, we headed east to Laos. Prior to visiting Laos, I knew almost nothing about the country. And apparently pronounced "Laoww" by the locals and not like "louse". From our guide book, we learned that Laos is a communist nation and one of the 20 poorest countries on Earth.

After crossing into Huay Xai, Laos, we stayed the night in the border town and signed up for the Gibbon Experience. The Gibbon Experience is a zip line course through the nearby Bokeo Nature Preserve and includes one or two nights of sleeping in tree houses inside the preserve. The next morning, after a safety briefing on how not to die and meeting the seven other travelers in our group, we drove out to the preserve and hiked up the mountain for about an hour (I’m always reminded of how out of shape I am) to our first zip line. I generally don’t enjoy heights, so I was definitely nervous about flying over the jungle on a cable that I was attached to by a carbineer, two-foot section of rope and harness. Despite my fear, I am glad to report that we survived and it was one of the most amazing experiences of our trip! Some of the zip-lines were upwards of a ¼ mile long and 500 feet high! Each of the dozen plus zips was an adrenaline rush and the experience of soaring over and through the jungle canopy was pure magic. We even had to zip into our Swiss Family Robinson like tree house for the night which was 200 feet in the air! It was by far the most unique place I have ever slept and included a rainwater shower with the most amazing view. Our guides zipped in with dinner made at a nearby camp - sticky rice and veggies- classic Laos fare. We ate with our fellow travelers while watching the sun set over the jungle and swapping travel stories. We hit a slight snag in the evening when I discovered a rat in our tent/mosquito net - it is the jungle I suppose. The boys all banded together and were able to scare it out, but in the end I felt worse for the rat - it looked absolutely terrified. When we woke up the next morning, we were greeted by fog and rain showers, which made the zipping even crazier. The rain is like Crisco on the wire, so you go faster and have to brake earlier. The long and short of it was that we had just as much fun zipping out of the preserve as we did getting in the day before. We didn’t see any of the Gibbons (a type of monkey) which the preserve is known for, but the amount of fun we had zipping more than made up for it! I feel like video really gives a better idea of what it was like so below you can click on the links to see some zipping fun!
To check out some videos of us zipping through the Bokeo Jungle click here and here
IMG_1751.jpg Zipping through the jungle
IMG_1773.jpg Our treehouse hotel
IMG_1779.jpg The stunning view from our treehouse
IMG_1870.jpg Jeff trying out the zipline
6IMG_1894.jpg Our zipping crew and our guides

We parted ways with our zipping friends and headed off to Luang Prabang in north-central Laos. We heard that the roads in Laos were windy and bumpy (to put it mildly), and, as a result, were not surprised to see barf bags in the bus seat pockets (not sure if there is a nicer way to say that). Yes, the roads live up to their reputation and at least one local had to make use of his bag on our overnight bus to Luang Prabang. It’s always an experience! After a short “jumbo” ride from the bus station (a motorcycle, pickup truck hybrid), we arrived at our hostel, Merry Villas 1, which was one of the nicest and cleanest places I’ve ever stayed for $20. They even provided robes, wireless internet, bottled water, tea, coffee and bananas- I mean, come on!
Luang Prabang is a charming, former French colonial town that attracts all of the tourists in northern Laos (you would be surprised how many there are). We enjoyed strolling around town, visiting several Buddhist temples, a boat trip upriver, and eating at very “Americanized” cafes. We found one, Jo Ma Café that served a “Thanksgiving Sandwich” and played Christmas music. I’ve had very few moments on the trip where I felt homesick, but that combination was a perfect storm - the holidays are definitely my favorite time of year after all! We were also in town for the kick-off of the second annual Luang Prabang Film Festival. All of the films at the festival are about Southeast Asia. The film we watched was a documentary called “On Safer Ground” and it is about the first Laos youth soccer team that gets to go to Sweden for the Gothia Cup, the largest youth soccer tournament in the world. It was a very inspirational story and, at the end of the movie, as a surprise, the whole team came out on stage. In addition to the soccer story line, the movie also highlights the issue of UXO (unexploded ordnance) in Laos. During what's referred to as the "Secret War", between 1964 and 1973, in order to combat communism, the US apparently dropped two million tons of bombs over Laos, but 30% of the bombs failed to detonate on impact. There are now thousands of bombs buried in the ground and, unfortunately, they sometimes go off when disturbed, even 30+ years later. Thousands of people have been killed by UXOs since the end of the war, mostly farmers and children. Many others have been blinded or lost limbs. It’s something I’d never heard of before- I just had no idea. For more information you can check out COPE, an organization that provides rehabiliation and prostheses to victims and UXO LAO which aims to clear affected areas of UXO.
IMG_1929.jpg The Mekong River in Louang Prabang
IMG_1940.jpg From the hilltop Temple
IMG_1954.jpg Jeff in front of one of the town Temples
IMG_1958.jpg The French colonial feel- with a throwback to the 50's
IMG_2001.jpg After the viewing of the film- the soccer team featured in the documentary
IMG_2058.jpg A view of the rural village around Louang Prabang
IMG_2084.jpg On our slowboat ride up the Mekong
IMG_2105.jpg A stop off in a small town after our slowboat ride
IMG_2107.jpg Getting ready to hit the road

We then made our way south to a town called Vang Vieng. Its huge draw is tubing down the Mekong River, which sounds fun but unremarkable, yet it now has a cult following. Over the years, the river bank has been taken over by bars and the atmosphere is less nature and more “spring break”. The basic concept is that you rent a tube, then a tuk tuk drops you off several miles upstream, and finally you float back to town past a dozen plus bars over the course of several hours. Many of the bars along the river have a gimmick (e.g., swing, water slide, zipline, free shot) to get you in and they throw you a rope to pull you over with the hope that you buy a few drinks and attract others to partake in the fun. While getting our tubes, we met up with a large group of fellow travelers and they invited us to join them for the day. While we generally don’t consider ourselves to be crazy spring breakers, this is just one of those situations where you have to give in. So, at 11 am on a Tuesday, we were drinking beer and mojitos with hundreds of other Westerners in the middle of Laos. Jeff was his adventurous self and tried out all the slides and rope swings along the way, while I opted for just the biggest slide. After several hours, we eventually floated back to town with our new friends. By then, the sun was going down and the temperature cooling off, so we were all excited to get out of the water and take hot showers. We polished off the day at one of the many restaurants in town that play episodes of Friends or Family Guy back to back from morning till night. It was a crazy day - one of those things you couldn’t make up if you tried.
IMG_2120.jpg On our ride up to Vang Vieng
IMG_2162.jpg The riverside bars
IMG_2174.jpg Tubing down the Mekong
IMG_2192.jpg Kids on their way to school in VV

With “I Love Lao” still spray painted on my arm, we headed to central Laos and the Kong Lo Cave. We stopped overnight in the capital, Vientiane, for a break from the windy roads and for another “Thanksgiving Sandwich” at a Jo Ma Café (just as delicious as the first). The next morning we headed on to a small town several hours further south called Ban Khoun Kham. The town itself is fairly unremarkable, but it gets some tourists because of its proximity to the Kong Lo Cave. From the town, we rode in a “sawngthaew” (a pick-up truck with two benches in a covered bed) for about an hour to the river and hired the two cutest old men for guides. The river runs through the cave for about five miles and, with the exception of a short, lit walking trail to check out some of the awesome stalagmites and stalactites up-close, the only light inside the cave is from our guides’ headlamps. It is a surreal and spooky ride down the river in the dark!
ent.jpgA photo of the cave entrace
ent2.jpg Inside the mouth of the cave
int.jpg Inside the cave where they've lit some of the stalagcites/stalagmites

Laos was full of surprises and fun experiences, thanks in no small part to the incredibly cheap prices. Moreover, the people are laid back and there’s very little hassling. After ten busy, fun-filled days, we are heading to Vietnam. We’ll write more soon!

Posted by geldere 18:12 Archived in Laos Comments (0)

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