Monday, June 23, 2008
Good Morning Vietnam
After a few lazy and beautiful weeks, I had to say a sad farewell to Laos yesterday as I hopped on an airplane and headed east to Vietnam (after my last long distance bus journey, as enjoyable as it was, I opted for the 55 minute flight to Hanoi as opposed to the 2 day bus trip).
So my last week in laos was by far the best yet! After my wonderful experience on the overnight local bus i caught a few hours sleep once I checked into a Houy Xai guesthouse (as did my valium infused fellow bus riders...argh!). Early Monday morning I met up with about 12 other people at the Gibbon Experience head office and we sat through a "Safety First" video (ya right-i can say this now that i left the country but there are ABSOLUTELY NO safety standards in Laos!) outlining the plans for the next few days and what we were to expect. As we sat through this, a huge Land Cruiser pulled up outside offloading the saddest, most tired, smelly, bruised, battered and spent group of people I have come across yet......they had just finished the Gibbon Experience. Not so reassuring. We pelted them with questions and managed to get a few grunts and groans back, but to be honest at the point all that was running through my head was if my money was refundable?
Needless to say it wasn't. So off we went headed for the jungle. The ride felt like I was a passenger in a Nascar Rally Race (Dad- you would have paid money to have a go at roads like this in the machine that we were driving). Most of the time you felt like you were in a roller coaster going in slow motion, climbing huge hills and then plumeting over the top into unknown territory . We actually drove through a river and managed unbelievably not to get stuck (we found out later the previous group got stuck both on the way in AND out and had to leave the truck and trek an extra 5 hours....one of the reason for their long and tired faces upon arrival) .
We made it in and did a 2 hour trek up mountains through the jungle to get to the first hut. We strapped on zip line harnesses that stayed on for most of the next 3 days. We were then split into 3 groups and taken by guides who had little more grasp of the English language than I do of the Laos language and off we went.
Our first zip was just under 400 metres long, soaring through the tree tops of the Laos jungle......absolutley AMAZING!!!!! We managed a few zips around the jungle before getting to our tree house, which was home for the next few days. Once at the tree house our guides took off and we were left to our devices in the jungle........it was pretty crazy, a mixture of utter freedom and appreciation for where we were and sheer terror as to how remote and far away from ANYONE and ANYTHING civilised we were! The only time you caught up with the guides is when you would hear your tree house rumbling and they would zip in with a bag of food for our meals (meals were rice 3 times a day and other unidentifiable food which was suprisingly tasty). The tree houses were probably about 5 or 6 stories high above the ground and the view was breath taking. Most of the few days there were spent at these heights. So scary and so exhilirating!
We woke up the first morning to the call of the Gibbons and it was the like being front and centre stage to an orchestra starting off with just one instrument and then climaxing to the LOUDEST most ear piercing sound of the monkeys singing to eachother...so wild! Out of the 3 treehouses we were the only ones that managed to spot the little Gibbons. We actually found a group of little babies and they hung around 2 trees just swinging back and forth and , uh, well....monkeying around!
So after 3 days of leaches, giant squirrels (they were over a metre high!!!!) rats, spiders, monkeys, barking deer (i swear!!!!), a plethora of creepy crawley insects and countless clocked hours zipping through the forest we headed back to civilisation (I use that word VERY loosley!) to Houy Xai with a really group of friends.
I hooked up with a Dutch girl (Jay- there are so many people I have met so far from The Netherlands!) named Liesbeth and she looked and acted exactly like Daphne from Scooby Doo! Super fun girl. I spent most of the rest of the week traveling with the whole group that did the Gibbon X. After celebrating a safe arrival back from the jungle and doing a tally of all the injuries- and there were LOTS (me almost at the top of the list-but that is a whole different story!) it was time to head out of Houy Xai.
A handleful of us opted for a slow boat down the Mekong River to get back to Luang Prabang. Although it took 2 days to get there, it was some of the most enjoyable traveling I've ever done. We had a fun group and laid all of our bags and stuff out on the floor and spent 2 days floating down the river chatting, napping, reading, playing cards and just taking in the most incredible scenery! I have LOADs of photos from the trip, but I havent down loaded any yet....
Well, to wrap it up, we made it eventually back to Luang Prabang and spent another few days in 40 degree heat jut trying to stay cool. One afternoon, I went for what I thought was going to be a leisure bike ride to a near by waterfall for a swim. But it turned out I was with a fit French man (and SO easy on the eyes!), and "Daphne", who revealed to me she used to be on the European swim team...so in the mid day sun we got lost outside of Luang Prabang and i think I must sweat out 10 lbs before finally finding some remote water to cool down in with all the locals which actually led to a different much prettier waterfall! So it was worth the trip and I made it back.
I said farewell to all my travel companions sadly and hopped on a plane (with prayers that plane travel was going to be a step up from bus travel) yesterday to Vietnam.
And here I am. Good morning Vietnam. It is now just 9am and I have a day ahead of me trying to stay cool and make sense of this bustling city (without being nailed by a motorcycle) and make plans for what to do and where to go next!