Monday, November 21, 2011

Day 38 - 41: Rock Climbing, Caving and Kayaking to Vientiane

We had never done rock climbing before. So when we found out we could do a full day for less than thirteen quid each, we thought "Why not?". We weren't disappointed. In the morning we did four climbs ranging from 4a to 5c. Unfortunately the first one was 5b and was a baptism of fire. Nothing like easing you in gently. On the plus side, the three subsequent climbs were a relative doddle. After a lunch of rice and a baguette, we tackled three more climbs all at grade 6: two at 6a and one at 6a+. I was only able to get to the top of one of the 6a climbs; I was completely knackered after that and the 6a+ climb was crazily tough. However, I really enjoyed the day and will certainly consider climbing when we get back as an activity.

The next day we took a half day trip out to 3 caves - Elephant Cave (basically a hole in a cliff, completely uninteresting), Snail Cave (more like it - a decent trek underground), and Water Cave (as it sounds - we got on a tube and pulled ourselves under and into the cave which was pretty much flooded). I'd not been in a cave since a schooltrip to Wales, and forgotten how much I enjoyed it. In the afternoon we grabbed a surprisingly good chicken burger at Gary's Irish Pub back in Vang Vieng and in the evening ate a fantastic meal at Arena, a restaurant that looked upmarket but had excellent Thai food at reasonable prices. The evening soured a little when two English guys wearing just swimming shorts staggered in, completely pissed, and went straight to the toilet...together. Clearly from the way they were looking around, their plan was to take some drugs. The owner was understandably furious and hammered on the door. They came out swearing at him, and he stood his ground and ordered them to leave. I thought it might get violent but thankfully they managed to get back out without falling over or punching anything, whilst the owner shouted at them telling them they were an embarrassment to English people, which was completely true and I felt embarrassed for my nation. Vang Vieng, we realised, was not a place we wanted to hang around in for any length of time.

Yesterday we took a trip to Vientiane by kayak. At least, that's how the package was sold, in reality it was about 1.5 hours kayaking, a hearty lunch by the river of freshly cooked skewers of chicken and vegetables with the obligatory baguette, then another 30 minutes of kayaking, then a stupidly uncomfortable truck ride to Vientiane. I envy fat people sometimes, they won't experience the lack of "natural padding" which makes a ride in a rattlebucket with zero suspension so utterly miserable for me. The kayaking itself was fun though, even if I did have a slightly scary moment whe we capsized going through a rapid and I didn't manage to hang on to the kayak so got washed downstream in a surprisingly quick current, clutching my oar and bobbing around helplessly. Fortunately the guides knew what they were doing and kayaked over to grab me whilst Gilly (who sensibly held on) was helped by the other guide.

To call Vientiane a quiet city would be an understatement. It's more like a business capital, with government buildings taking up most roads, and guesthouses and restaurants in the minority. We wandered around and found Youth Inn - one of the few budget places with spaces left - and got a room before heading out. We ate at Taj Mahal, an Indian recommended in the guidebook which was actually pretty good and cheap to boot. I watched the first half of the Liverpool match before the Laos curfew kicked in, then went back to the room. Whilst not quite as bad as Green House in Bangkok, it stank of sewage in the bathroom which permeated throughout the room, the bed was barely comfortable and the reception couldn't provide an extra pillow. Still, we managed to just about get a night's sleep thanks to being completely knackered and this morning checked out, happy to leave the place behind.

We moved next door, literally, to Mixay Paradise. This was twice the price (£10 a night) but included breakfast, and had a lovely soft bed and a clean, nice-smelling room. Considering some of the dives on offer for similar prices, it was a steal. It also made us realise that as we are coming into the high season, we may have to start booking ahead. This has been an alien concept to us so far, as we've been able to just turn up in a town and get somewhere. I think as we approach Christmas, that will be increasingly unlikely.

We wandered around the city today, looked at a couple more wats and the main shopping mall, and found a place we may be able to get a netbook from depending on price. We also put our passports into the Vietnamese embassy to get a visa for November 29th which means that if we stay a full 30 days we will have Christmas in Vietnam, most likely Ho Chi Minh city. Not sure if we want to do that or move to Cambodia. Might have to look into it a bit and also get some accommodation booked in. In the afternoon we both went for an hour-long aromatherapy massage which was fantastic and helped sort out the ache from yesterday's trip. We also went to the night market and I picked up the obligatory BeerLao t-shirt for £1.60. It's a win-win-win, the beer company gets free advertising, the seller makes a profit and smelly backpackers get dirt cheap clothing. Might get a couple more as a few of my t-shirts are looking somewhat frayed.

We went to La Terrasse for dinner and had a great steak, which was followed by a trip to Swensen's for some ice cream dessert. It would never take off in the UK; we just don't have the climate for it.

Tomorrow we are going to get a bus to Buddha Park (it's a park full of Buddhas. No, really) and I am going to attempt to get my haircut at a place recommended by the massage parlour owner. Hopefully I will still have some hair at the end of it.

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