Dec 21st, 2014
There is a city in Laos. A New Zealand newspaper said that was how it would look like if teenagers ruled the world. The city is called Vang Vieng. If you complain that Luang Prabang is purely built for tourists, you should go to Vang Vieng. That’s a city really TOTALLY built for tourists, containing nothing but those to accommodate and serve the tourists. Most notable of all, that’s where one can do tubing, a dangerous and exciting water sport. It was done without much safety measures there. Many tourists died. Drugs, alcohol, one can find everything there. I heard from people who were there earlier that many tourists simply drowned in the river after doing drugs and getting drunk. It’s reported that in 2011 in just one river 22 tourists died. Not long ago the government took some measures to rectify the situation, so I heard it was somehow better now but still the safety was a big concern there. Vang Vieng — That’s my next destination. I could not stay in Luang Prabang any longer, otherwise I would rot and be forgotten by the road! 😀 I do not drink alcohol, not interested in drugs and not planning to do tubing. The attraction for me there was the Karst topography in the surroundings, the mountains. Also between Luang Prabang and the capital Vientiane, Vang Vieng happened to be the only big city where one could make a stop.
I woke up early in the morning, in the hope to catch the sunrise and best light for photography, but no, it was cloudy and cold. Soon I learned that since Luang Prabang was so near the rivers, it was always wet and cloudy in the morning. I went along the Mekong river. There were a lot of super long Laotian boats in it. On the pier, there were people coming to the market from the countryside, carrying roosters, pigs and rice.
I returned to the guest house to check out. There were some books lying there in public places of the guest house for the customers to read. I stole 2 of them, The Fifth Business and The Sorrows of Young Werther. I read books on the way, especially when I can not communicate with the driver. Books are heavy to carry, so normally I give finished books to the guest houses where I stay and take some new ones from there. The book I just finished was The Old Curiosity Shop by Charles Dickens. Unfortunately it was already given to a tuk-tuk driver I drove with on the way to Luang Prabang…… He accepted ti although he did not speak a word of English……
At about noon I set off. The original plan was to hike a waterfall which was just a few kilometers away from the guest house and then hitchhike to Vang Vieng from there. However, the waterfall turned out to be further than people said and the hiking along the national road was not pleasant, so after about two hours of walking, I was tired. The ruthless sunshine of noon was grilling me. I was consuming enormous amount of water. I decided to start hitchhiking right away, stopping at the waterfall or not.
The traffic was sparse, mostly some scooters. I put up my sign, written in both Laotian and Chinese languages. Many scooter drivers looked back at me when they passed but they did not stop. When there was no traffic, I simply walked on, to change the scenery and to keep moving, otherwise I would be bored.
On the road side there were trees, tall trees that could cover villages and cities. The heat was stifling as there was hardy any wind. The sunshine was different than in Europe. It was not warm or hot, it was penetrating and spicy. Sweat was trailing down my cheeks and arms. The backpack was becoming heavier and heavier. From time to time I had to jump to adjust its position to keep myself comfortable. The side of it touching my back was totally wet and my shirt also. It became sticky, soon smelly. “A ride, a ride, please!!!” After 20 minutes I was already praying to the “Goddess of Hitchhiking”, frowning.
After a while, a car, a white car, looking really new, stopped. I was so glad that I could have jumped to the top of the trees and shouted “Yeah”, if not because of the heavy backpack. This car did not have a license plate, no number… Well, that was not uncommon in Laos. I got in the copilot seat and the air-conditioning immediately cooled me down and actually made me feel cold. The guy spoke some English. I thanked him with big smiles. I wanted to confirm that he was not running a taxi, so I said “I dont have money” in both English and Lao in the beginning of our conversation. He did not say anything against that. So I thought it was cool! He was going to Vang Vieng as I understood. Since it was so hot and the waterfall I was planning to visit required both a paid ferry to cross the river to reach it and an entrance fee which was said to be hard to escape, I decided to go with him all the way to Vang Vieng, no stop.
We soon drove into the mountains again. That was perhaps the most scenic part of my journey in Laos. Those mountains, patched by different shades of green, embraced each other, far and near. They looked so calm. The road here was pretty good. After experiencing the WORST road ever from Muang Xai to Luang Prabang, every road looked pretty good to me now. The road was smooth, walled by tall grass with flowers of all colors, and beautiful trees waving their leaves like saluting. The dust was not much. The sky was not boringly empty — there were clouds piling up in various corners.
When I was just chilling in the lovely car and dissolving my mind in this view, he started to tell me that he was a taxi driver in Vientiane and when I was there I could call him to have a tour, then he gave me his business card. “So it’s a taxi after all…” I realized. Perhaps some misunderstanding had occurred and he was expecting me to pay. I was waiting for the right moment to tell him again that I did not have money. A few minutes later, we went on a very scenic uphill route, I told him again that I did not have money, in Chinese, Lao and body language. This time he finally understood. He was shocked and put on a disappointed face. He was hesitating whether to stop or not. The Laotian folk is a gentle people and he was not gonna kick me out as would happen in many other countries in Europe and Middle East. I asked him to stop and just leave me there, in the middle of the mountains, where every 10 minutes one vehicle would pass. He did. Therefore, I ended up in the middle of nowhere again. I stood there for a couple of minutes and stared around, breathed the air, which was fresh like spring water. I looked further down the hill — There was no sign of any human existence for tens of kilometers. The only sign of animate life there was insects, jumping in the grass, making all kinds of small noises or buzzing in the air while flying by me.
I was happy like a child (I have always been a child actually)! climbing up the hill, slowly hiking downhill, tunneling in the forest of grass, shouting to the mountains far away. There was nobody, f..king NOBODY around me!!
Soon I saw a string of spring water falling off the hill, just like those the naked people showed with on my way to Luang Prabang. People put a piece of tube under the spring water to guide it further. The device looked primitive and there was the smell of urine around it. Obviously it had become a natural toilet, with 24 running water!!! 😀
After half an hour walking on this quiet road, I finally saw human beings — 2 little girls obviously going to the fields. When they saw me they looked so frightened……
I walked and walked. The scenery did not change much… as walking was much slower than driving. Soon I became tired of it and was craving for a ride. “No cars, no cars.” … “Coming! Something is coming!” A big, no, huge and super slow construction vehicle passed and did not stop…… 😀
When you wait on the road, it feels like no car will stop and time starts to become “endless” to you. That’s something special about hitchhiking — either there is or there is totally not. Before a car stops for you, you never know what will happen. Maybe you will have to wait for hours, or simply no car will stop for the whole day. You feel suspended, uncertain about the next minutes. Trust me, it is actually this unpredictability that makes hitchhiking such a fun thing. Predictable things can be so boring, no surprise, no excitement and surprise and excitement are the “trademark” of hitchhiking.
When I was just reflecting on this philosophical bullshit on this steep downhill road . A big truck came. It was driving slowly, so slowly that I could talk to the driver while walking fast.
The driver, a young guy, dark skinned and with a gentle and polite look on his face, looked at my sign and said:”You, you want to go to Vang Vieng?”
–“Yes!! Can I go with you?!”
–“Yes.” He did not hesitate and immediately asked his wife to leave the copilot seat for me. I got in happily. His wife moved to a small space behind his seat. They looked young to me. The guy spoke some English. They were a Laotian couple living in Vientiane, which was their destination. They were in their late thirties and had two children, a boy and a girl. The guy was a bit stout while his wife was skinny like a monkey. She was quiet while he was more active. They were lovely people, very nice to me and very polite. Although his wife did not speak a word of English, they were both smiling to me all the time. That would do. Smiles from strangers were the best prize for a hitchhiker, sometimes even better than the lift itself. 🙂
That was the first Laotian truck I ever hitchhiked. How was it? It was WOWO! in an amazingly bad condition! 😀 Smeared by oil, ashes and dust everywhere. Many parts were alrady gone. It moved at an amazingly slow speed and the window glasses of both sides were broken. The glass on my side was actually still complete, but since the device to put it up and down was totally gone, the glass simply fell inside the trough, with a little part above the edge of the trough. As the truck slowly trudging through the jungle, it got colder and when the sun started to set, which happened much earlier than in the plain, it got chilly. I put on my jumper, then my jacket. Still it was cold. The driver noticed it and stopped the truck. He jumped out of the truck, walked to the outside of the glass window beside me, fished out the glass and put it up as near to the top of the frame as possible. At the same time to support it, he stuck 2 screwdrivers into the trudge. WOWO! It could work like this! 😀 I was delighted and started to laugh! They saw me and both laughed also. That was far from the worst road I experienced, but still from time to time the bumping happened. There was no safety belt. Everytime when the bumpy road threw me (guess I was too tall… especially in Laos) upwards and my head “BANG”! hit the roof of the truck. I would shout “Aaaou!” and then all 3 of us would laugh loudly.
Although he did not receive much education, I could clearly see and feel that the driver was an intelligent guy. He understood what I meant even if I did not express it in a way which was intelligible to him. After 2 hours of slow moving, it was half dark already and the truck broke down. We stopped in a small village in the mountains. This small village had about 4 families (Yes, FOUR!) all together, simply living along the road. I was first sitting in the truck while the couple was fixing the truck.
–“How about hitchhike another vehicle? It would get dark soon!” You might say.
–“No way! Every half an hour one vehicle would pass and most of the time some agricultural vehicles which probably did not head for Vang Vieng.” I would answer.
I guess I somehow looked foreign and the locals could see it, especially when I took out my camera. Out of curiosity, some villagers came up to look at me. I was bored waiting inside the driver’s cab and decided to return their friendliness by visiting the “huge” village. I got out of the truck and within ONE SECOND I saw the WHOLE village…… 😛 😀
The first family was cooking some sticky rice. The steam rose up in the quiet and cold air. It was quiet. I even did not remember hearing any bird. They did not speak a word of English. They just looked at me, or better to say stared at me. I did not mind that at all. 🙂 I simply stared back and smiled. They did not smile back but still stared at me. In this family there were an old couple and 3 young women, the youngest was knitting a carpet-like thing with some colorful threads while the other two were cooking. The other two women were quite pretty actually. I felt that the beauty of Laotian women was so different from in China. One could not feel a single bit of arrogance or roughness of any kind in their beauty while in China it’s totally different. Their beauty was like the water from a forest crook, smooth, quiet, soft and never flamboyant. One of them was in traditional Laotian clothes, a very nice long skirt and holding a baby. The other was in modern clothes and she had beautiful big eyes. They were laughing at seeing me and were talking to each other while pointing at me. We tried to communicate. As I understood they were sisters, both in their early twenties, married and the baby was the child of the women in modern clothes. Soon she started to feed her baby with her breast just in front of everybody. I supposed that it was not so proper for me to look at, so I left them to see other families.
Finally the truck was fixed! 😀 We went on with our journey while I waved to the families.
It’s dark now. We were moving even more slowly. I was reading a book on my smartphone but soon I gave up because the road was too bumpy.
After ages we finally got down the mountains and sped up. At about 10pm we stopped at a small restaurant on the roadside and had dinner together. The driver told me with his smiles that the next city would be Vang Vieng, one hour away. When we finished the meal the driver paid for all of us without telling me and when I wanted to pay him back. He laughed and said:”No no no, no problem. It is a little money.” Then he smiled. WOWO! How lovely!!! 😀
At midnight, some lousy music from a local karaoke, loud as thunder, thrusted into my ears. The driver stopped the truck. — I arrived!