Following our good start in VV, Laos, we had a few ups and downs. The ups began the following day with a trip to the “Blue Lagoon” and its associated cave. We jumped on the motorbike we had rented for a few days and begun the journey out of town, deciding that if we hit the lagoon, cool, if not, no worries.
After about 30 minutes on a dusty, rocky road, with my testes firmly riding up into my stomach, we passed a sign for said lagoon and followed it to its end point. A few thousand kip here and there and we were parking up next to an insanely blue bit of water, the overhanging tree with swings and branch diving boards, extreme clarity of the water and loads of fish made it quite a surreal little area. I was definitely going for a swim, but first, to the bat cave!
After an unexpectedly steep ascent to the cave (damn that last smoke!) we reached the entrance and were assured by a hippie at the entrance that it was worth the climb (I guess my disheveled huffing and puffing appearance implied a difficult time reaching the entrance).
“Yeah whatever hippy freak.” I replied,
Actually it was more like, “Really, cool, thanks, looking forward to it”.
Now I am a fan of caves, not sure why, maybe it’s the caveman in me finally returning home, I like to think it is finding something outside of mans creation that has such magnitude and required such force and time to come into being, but it’s probably the caveman thing.
This cave has to be my favorite so far, it is enormous, goes on for miles and has deep cracks and crevasses in unseen and unmarked places, just waiting for the unwary caver to fall into. That’s one of the things I love about places like Asia, if you hurt yourself, bad luck, but no hand holding here.
So I wondered into the recesses of this ancient seabed, with Sarah firmly bored while trying to act like she didn’t mind looking at another hidden corner. “Yeah babe, wow, that is cool….yawn”. An hour or 2 later, hot, sweaty and completely out of superlative descriptions, we headed back down to the spooky blue water for a swim.
Icy cool water washed away the cave muck and refreshed my boggled mind, luvverly.
Unfortunately the following couple days were not quite as splendid. Sleeping on our concrete slab was taking its tole and we were both pretty tired. Add to that a dodgy tour operator and we were ready to leave Vang Vieng. The guy from Ham Burger Tours (I realize the name should have made me more cautious) seemed friendly enough, and was somehow affiliated with our guest house. Sarah had wanted to tube, but away from the louts, so when he offered us a tubing experience away from the party, for a discounted price (they all say that), we thought, why the hell not.
In his sales pitch he had said the experience would be half a day, as we got closer to the event however, it went down to 3 hours, then 2, so that by the time we were actually getting in the river with our tube, he was saying 1 and a half hours (he also provided only 1 tube, saying it was more romantic, actually I dont think he had another tube), so we thought what the hell, we have paid and at least we get to see some scenery.
As it turned out we were on a shallow portion of the river so a lot of the time we got stuck on the floor, or the river wasnt flowing and we just sat, doing nothing. Well not really doing nothing, we got to watch the guy walking alongside the river and shouting out every few steps “Beautiful huh?”. 20 minutes after we got in he was shouting, “you finished now?” Man I wanted to thump this absolute bastard. I am also pretty sure that when we bought our bus tickets from him (purchased same time as “tubing experience”, otherwise I would not have come back), that he used a slight of hand to steal 50 000 and then claim I hadnt given him enough, being unsure myself I gave him another 50k. You may be wondering why I didnt make a scene or get my money back etc. Thing is we are in Laos, he lives here and knows the ropes, chances are if I made a scene I would just get shafted for everything.
This pretty much soured things for me and I just wanted out, I was starting to notice a pattern in Laos, every bastard involved in tourism seems sour, greedy, corrupt and full of false niceties. I don’t think tourism itself is the problem, I just think tourism brings out all the thieving, chip on their shoulder ‘I deserve your money’ wankers.
As you can tell I was not happy, and it took all my will not to thump this bastard, especially the following day when a run down piece of shit minibus picked us up for our 7 hour journey (he had promised a new van with high roof and lots of leg room, even showing a picture of the luxury vehicle), man was I pissed, luckily our driver couldn’t be bothered making the journey with so few people so ended up depositing us in someone else’s van, which was slightly better.
That is HAM BURGER TOURS in Vang Vieng, stay away!
SO it wasn’t a great ending to VV, but these things happen, and now that I have had a bit of a rant, I feel better, and after the next rant, I hope to feel better still. I have been thinking a lot about the touristy thing. You often hear people talking about how tourism ruins these areas, in fact I talk about it occasionally. I have however mostly thought of it as the tourists being the problem. After VV and some time in Luang Prabang, I am leaning more towards it being the locals who are the problem, at least the locals who want to participate in tourism.
Fact is, if you didn’t cater towards certain types of tourism, those people wouldn’t come, and you could make your tourism industry into what you want it to be. As for telling me how poor you are, well yes, by western standards you probably are, but then why are you sitting in a restaurant for westerners doing fuck all and acting like my presence offends you. If you don’t like it here, go back to the fields and villages that seem to supply an abundance of food and housing, buy a motorbike and live the traditional life still available to you.
In the west I no longer have that option, if I was still working and living in the west, I would have to work and kiss arse day and night to have the life I do, you have the choice to continue to do so, or not. People keep telling me how poor people are in Laos, I don’t see it. Again, by western standards maybe, but then don’t live by western standards. I see fewer hobbos in Laos than I did in any Australian city, I also see fewer people working than I have in any western city.
Maybe I am ignorant of the facts, I don’t know for sure, what I do know is what I see, and so far in Laos, that has been a lot of money hungry, chip on their shoulder, poor me rip off merchants. Life can be hard, people everywhere have difficult times at some point, go plant some rice and deal with it.
Anyone reading this may be thinking, “That’s easy for you to say, you’re traveling the world, having a great time”, My reply to that would be that yes life’s good now, but even I have had my share of hard times, no one gave me a hand out, I made my life what it is today, and rather than expecting people to do it for me, I got myself to where I am today. Very few people in the world don’t have the option to change their lot in life (obviously this doesn’t hold in the more extreme situations, certain dictatorships and the like). But thinking the world owes you is not the way to do it. All humans have the right to liberty, the only other right we have is to do whatever it takes to improve your lot in life, we aren’t owed anything, you are born into a situation, the outcome is what you are willing to make of it.
If a taxi driver in Australia tried to rip you off, you would be livvid. If someone moaned that their life was hard, but hadn’t bothered to try and change it, you wouldn’t have sympathy. Move that over to a less developed part of the world and suddenly it is excusable, I say bollocks to that. Put the effort in, stop bitching about how hard your life is, and lets see what happens then.
In Cambodia the people were just as “poor” and yet somehow still managed to be civil, if you smiled at someone in Cambodia and said hello, you got the same back. Maybe I shouldn’t lump a whole country into the same basket, but so far 90% of the locals I have met, have had the same attitude. I also realize that I don’t have an automatic right to civility or decency, but it would be nice.
So anyway, Laos, it has a lot of dirt, some really nice scenery, the occasional friendly person, a lot of whiney little bitches and mostly shit food ( I haven’t even mentioned the gizzard kebabs we got off some locals). It’s not that I don’t like it, it’s just that I like other places in Asia a lot more.
So now we are in Luang Prabang, Laos, so far the people are the same, the food is the same, but the room we have is good (after leaving our last because of, you guessed it, bed bugs). I am quite content here for the moment, Sarah and I are both over the whole sight seeing thing for now, so aside from walking around the very picturesque little town, we havent really bothered going to more waterfalls and caves. Bring on Chiang Mai!
The idea is to grab a slow boat up the river (2 days) until we hit a little border town (I forget the name), crossover and jump on a bus to Chiang Mai. Once there we will find a nice apartment and settle down for a month or 2. In that time we both plan on doing the things we always wanted to, but never had time for in Perth. I want to learn the guitar, create some art, exercise, and if my courage holds out, take Muay Thai lessons.
And in case you were wondering, I am having a good time, but life and it’s little issues don’t stop when you leave, they just become less serious and more manageable, because they are topped off with some really cool shit!