Sunday, January 4

Day 129-Vang Vien

Rounding yet another bend on this tortuous mountain road, the girl next to me assuredme she would not vomit, only that she feel quite bad. Just minutes earlier we were chatting away, she was excitedly filling me in on various nuances of the Laos culture, and for my part I was delighted to have finally made a personal connection with a local. We were southbound out of Luang Prabang, passing through settlements so rustic, barely a stitch of metal or concrete could be seen, the material of choice for the construction of their village-bamboo, thatch and woven slats, all easily found in the mountain jungle surrounding. As we topped out on the pass, we were greeted with the sight of Bu Khun, Equal Mountain, more a citadel or tower, which in more temperate climes would have been a dramatic crag of sheer rock, here even the vertical faces were carpeted in foliage. It was a preview of what was to follow down the road.

Arriving in Vang Vien, I immediately elected it as one of the most desirable places I had ever visited. The air temperature a perfect 72 degrees, a bit of breeze, a bright warming sun bathing a dramatic karst limestone scenery. A cool, clear and inviting river flowed through the valley of rice fields now in stubble, groups of crude houses sheltering young vegetable gardens. The town itself was a backpackers paradise, loads of internet shops, bars and restaurants that offered beds rather than seats, the easier to enjoy the endless reruns of American sitcoms. The outlying caves, cliffs, trails and rivers attract a young and active crowd, often scantily clad as they emerge from their tube bourne booze cruise down the Nam Song. It is all incredibly scenic, the Lao must find it obscene, a bit, and I am happy to have seen it.

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