Easy rider. Yeeeeah. Eeeeasy rider, baby. Flying down the freeway with the wind in my hair. Lone wolf. That's me there on my hog. Watch me speed by at the speed of awesome. Well, maybe that's not the whole truth. But that's exactly how I saw it in my head.
The reality: ambling down muddy dirt roads and sliding on loose rocks, bugs flying into my hair, riding with my two new friends, and I'm on a scooter. But I AM going at the speed of awesome. Cuz that can be any speed at all as long as you're driving in Laos.
In the backpacker Mecca of Van Vieng, you either love it or hate it. It's packed to the gills with loaded frat boy and sorority girl wanna bes, all wasted on cheap liquor and potent mushroom milkshakes. Staggering around town in their skivvies carrying massive inner tubes, they are almost a cartoon character of the decadent backpacker. But there's another side of Vang Vieng. Just across the river it's another world. One of nights filled with the chirps of crickets and the random splash of a fisherman casting his net hoping to catch dinner. There are karsts in the close distance, sometimes shrouded in mists, other times clear as the river water. There are also spiders on the way to the outdoor bathroom that I try to catch with the glare of my flashlight. This is the Vang Vieng I love. This is where I'm staying. Paradise for $6 a night.
There are loads to do here on a sunny day: kayaking, tubing, rock climbing. And on a not-so-sunny day (of which I have been plagued): renting a motorbike and driving to the caves and lagoons (too numerous to count) and sampling massages from the plethora of bare bones "spas" that are here. Yesterday was a two massage kind of day. Today was a biking day. My friends and I met up and rented bikes again and set off on a different course today. There are many loops that you can do, all of which involve karsts, dirt roads and villages. The loop we took today was a more mountainous road with the red dirt ribbon twisting through vibrant green undulating hills. It was a challenge to ride the roads because they were muddy and slippery with loads of big loose rocks and potholes that come quick. The scenery was like a hot stripper, the road was like my wife. I had a hard time keeping my eyes on my wife. It seemed like every time she caught me gazing at the jungly hills for too long, I would slam into a pothole.
The hills, at times, were literally breathtaking. We would stop on the side of the road (or even the middle, there were no cars and barely any other bikes on the road) and just take it all in. As I rode over the hills I was so happy I had my friends with me. It was great seeing them gaze back at me and grin wildly, snapping pictures and trying to capture the fleeting moment. There are times when traveling alone that I really wish I had someone to share a moment with. This was that moment and I was blessed to have two amazing women to share it with.
One of our stops was a waterfall. This wasn't the most amazing waterfall that I've ever seen but it had its own charms. Water fell from a high platform in a narrow stream, the rock face gently breaking its power and forcing the drizzle to puddle in a shallow rock pool at the bottom. This is where you can wade in and stand directly under its natural shower. Bliss. Paradise was lost soon after when a pack of Lao adolescents came through smoking weed. We left shortly after.
Vang Vieng is definitely polarizing but I really think it has everything to do with where you stay and what you're after. The only time I go into "town" is when I want to eat or get a massage. I'd rather just chill at my bungalow or ride the roads away from it all. This is what it's like living at the speed of awesome.