I’m glad I trusted my instincts. You will remember that my dutch friend warned strongly against kayaking but it turned out to be exceptional day. As Michael and Julia, the friendly young German couple living in Berne commented at our lunchtime stop, it’s the people they’ve met while travelling through Thailand, Myanmar and Laos over the past two months that have made it so special. I’m the first to agree, and today is no exception – he tangata, he tangata, he tangata.
Michael’s shares his dreams of sailing and cycling, Julia wishes to settle near family and friends, and with two months more travelling ahead of them, they are hoping that they can come to agreement on where to settle. They are a positive couple and I have faith they will work things through, though I can see the longing in Michael as I describe sailing in the Pacific…
The real highlight of the day alongside kayaking down lazy rapids backdropped with towering limestone karst mountain sides, and trekking up to a summit to don headlamps before jouneying down through a cool damp cave before wading out of the darkness via a stream, is to hear our guide, Sayee sharing his story. The only child of elderly parents, rural Khmu farmers who live an 8 hour jouney north, he had the good fortune in his youth to meet 2 Americans who sponsored him through high school. University studies in Vientiane towards a bachelor of education followed. However after completing the first of four university years, during which he also studied English at evening classes which explains his current proficiency, his parents apparently need him.
In May, having earned sufficient funds from acting as a tour guide, Sayee will head home. He’d like to find a way to return to finish his studies. However, his first loyalty is to his parents, while the village that raised him want Sayee to become the local teacher, and are attempting to build a classroom so that the young children of his community will no longer have to be weekly borders in town. Sayee exhibits an intriguing combination of the Buddhist ’what will be will be’ philosophy alongside a passion to create better opportunities for local children. He talks about his time as a monk – 3 months after high school at his parents request, as here in Laos becoming a monk for a time is expected – but found the early 4am starts and long days of collecting alms, prayer, meditation and reading, listening to teachers and more prayer just to0 disciplined, too hard. Although Sayee would prefer to be fully qualified before starting teaching, he knows that already he has enough knowledge and experience to start that local school. Meantime he’s just come back from a three day ziplining/trekking trip taking tourists, offering with a grin the challenge of the new breed of Korean tourist, who like eating so much that its almost beyond the guide’s strength to carry enough food.
Day two in Vang Vieng provides a chance for some bike repair and maintenance as I plan to press on towards the hills tomorrow. I amaze myself – with essential help from Youtube – in re-angling the left brake/gear on the handlebars, and also in adjusting the cable so I can now get into top gear ( not sure how that will help but it feels good to have achieved it. A quick wash in the shower, followed by cleaning and oiling of the chain, and Rafiki is ready to go.
I decide on a test run to the Blue Lagoon 10 kms away along a bumpy unsealed road. It costs $2 to visit the ‘lagoon’ which turns out to be a swimming hole overrun with under-dressed cringe-inducing backpackers, but the entry fee also includes entry to a cave. It’s a 200m steep clamber up un-OSH approved slippery boulders. There’s no lighting,no escorts, no guides, so I’m glad of my headlamp as I clamber down to see the stalactites. There are signs up warning about being careful not to get lost. Its Gollum’s sort of place but I don’t venture too far underground – being alone in a dark cave with no safety barriers fails to tempt even my adventurous spirit.
As I cycle back towards town, there’s a sign stating bats can be seen flying out in swarms between 5 and 6.30pm. Now I like the idea of viewing caves from a distance, so head through the bush to where several cave entrances are visable high up the on the mountain cliff. The german-speaking ladies from Zurich perching with me on a narrow wooden viewing bench describe the bat house on their roof at home, a conservation measure for local species. We wait for almost an hour but there’s not a bat to be seen. Its getting dark and I need to get back on my bike. I’ve spent a happy hour in conversation with the Swiss bat enthusiasts but I’ve chosen to keep silent about my recent bbq breakfast.
Banana stems -perfect float ‘noodles’