Our day started at Sunset Restaurant located in the Thavonsouk Resort. We took our favorite spot on the deck outside overlooking the Nam Song River with the beautiful karst lime stone Pedang Mountains in the background. The air is crisp and cool that we need to wear our sweaters. Many boat drivers are busy preparing their boats, pulling their engines in carts to their two-passenger taxi boats.
As we begin to eat our breakfast that includes an assortment of eggs (fried, scrambled, sunny-side, etc.), baguettes and freshly squeezed orange juice, the fog begins to clear and sun breaks through creating mirror reflections of the majestic mountains in the calm river. What an amazing site! If we did not have a tour of the river planned, we would have been content to sit by the river and enjoy the view all day.
After a short 10 kilometer bus ride in the back of a truck through the dusty roads of Vang Vieng we arrived at our starting point of our 8 kilometer kayaking tour. Our guide’s was Lam, a local young man who was born and raised in Vang Vieng who spoke excellent English! We took this opportunity to learn as much as we could about Vang Vieng and the Lao culture.
According to Lam, just a short 8 years ago all Lao people were very generous towards each other. If you were hungry, you could knock on anyone’s door and they would provide you with food. Today, 8 years after Laos opened its doors to the world the generosity may have turned to greed … or is it just a taste of the modern world? Now, you will be expected to pay … no more open hands. Regardless, both Heidi and I agree that Lao people are even friendlier than the Thai (extremely kind)!
When Lam was a child his parents warned him about falangs (foreigners). They told him and all of their children to never look at a falang because they will shoot you or blow you up with a bomb. This may seem incredibly hard to comprehend for a westerner as most of us are oblivious to the atrocities caused by the western world. In fact, to this day, everyday Lao people are killed by cluster bombs (UXO – unexploded ordnance) that failed to explode on contact. The U.S. dropped millions of tons of bombs in Laos, so it is best to stay on a path when trekking or just exploring … better be safe than sorry. We are ashamed for what our country has done and the least it should do is clean up the UXO.
Today is a different story as Lam discovered that tourists are actually friendly and it is from them that he learned to speak English so well and it is tourism that is helping many Laos to a better life… or is it?
He loves his job, but also sad to see the destruction to the natural beauty along the river due to uncontrolled building and obliteration of the forest and its species.
Vang Vieng is a small town with mostly dirt roads and in the Nam Song River the water buffalo enjoy a cool relaxing swim until we happen to cross their path. Understandable that they want to protect their calves.
With tourism comes the bars and in Vang Vieng it is Tubing! What is tubing? Well, rent a tube at a number of places in town and they will take you up river a few kilometers where there is a little current. Then you just float down river until you come across a makeshift bar along the river to stop and have a drink … or seven. Then get back on your tube until you come across another bar or if you have a good buzz you might decide to jump off one of these swings into the river! This jump is a lot higher than it looks and I didn’t have a buzz when I jumped. I have to admit that It was scary the first time, but hey, I had to jump if Lam did 😉
After you get past all of the bars the river returns to a beautiful oasis of gentle rapids and sometimes still water. One thing I realized after jumping is that the river has a solid rock bottom, which explains why the river is clear (I think?). Soon we came across a group of women who were harvesting river weed from the rocks on the bottom and groups of young boys fishing. The river weed is eaten by the locals and also sold to fine-dining restaurants while the fish is certainly for their own consumption.
After 8 kilometers our short journey came to an end, but we wished that we could continue for at least another 8. The Nam Song River is truly a beautiful natural wonder that should be preserved and enjoyed the way it has for generations so please be responsible and happy exploring!
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