Monday, July 16, 2007

Kayaking to Vientiane.

One day in Vang Vieng was enough for me. The fog shrouded limestone karsts that surrounded the town, looking like mountains from a Chinese watercolor, were certainly incredible. And the shallow brown river that curved below them, perfect for a day of inner-tubing, created a relaxing atmosphere. But Vang Vieng itself was a bit dire. Walking down the dusty main street at night, we were often assaulted by the canned laughter of three or more different restaurants playing Friends dvds, trying to lure in customers.

Rather than taking the bus out of Vang Vieng, Bordeaux and I decided to take a kayaking trip. We wouldn't be able to kayak the whole way down to Vientiane, but a number of companies offered a day trip, featuring several hours kayaking, followed by a bus transfer to the capital. After comparing a few of the tour companies in town (which all have exactly the same information and, within two or three dollars, the same prices) we signed up with Riverside Tours.
After a winding, speeding journey down the curvy mountain roads out of Vang Vieng, we were dropped off in a small town on the Nam Lik river. Altogether there were only nine of us on the tour, led by three guides. After a short introduction, we got into our helmets and life-vests and pushed off into the water. Fairly early into the trip we encountered some small rapids- the splash of waves helped to cool off the already baking sun. Further on we encountered grade 3 rapids, with larger waves and whirpools that first pulled us in and then quickly shot us out. Past the jagged rocks and white water the river calmed, and we were able to more fully enjoy the forest around us. It was amazing how pristine the area looked- aside from the occasional bamboo fishing pole left at the riverside, we felt completely isolated in the forest.

After about an hour of kayaking, we stopped to rest and have lunch. Two of the guides cooked while the rest of us swam in the river. The temperature of the river was perfect, a nice relief from the warm air and beating sun. Lunch was served on slices of banana leaves. For having carried all of the food with them in their kayak, the guides produced an impressive lunch- grilled chicken and beef skewers with vegetables, fried rice, and a baguette, which is practically obligatory in Laos. A small rainstorm settled on us as we finished lunch, soaking us just after we'd been able to dry off. When the blue finally appeared over us again, we quickly got back into our kayaks and started off on our last leg of the trip.
The final hour of kayaking was on the open, calm waters of the river as it widened out. Without any rapids or rocks, we could study the jungle that surrounded us. There were truly massive trees, with thick curtains of leafy green vines hanging from their limbs, and muscular roots gripping onto the rocky shore. Dragonflies hovered over the surface of the water, before settling onto the abandoned bamboo fishing rods that littered the shore. We ended our trip at a rocky beach, where a group of kids were busy sharing an orange.

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