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Vang Vieng - Vientiane

High as a kite, dam tummy trouble and tasty cockroaches.

sunny 36 °C
View Footloose in Laos 2012 on Grete Howard's travel map.

Despite having no intention of getting high in Vang Vieng, we also found ourselves high as kites this morning, floating 1000 feet above the beautiful karst scenery in a hot air balloon. To our surprise, the balloon basket had a door, making entry way easier than usual, and with just five passengers and the pilot, there was plenty of room to move around the basket for photography and views. Taking off from the airport runway in the centre of town ate 06:30, we flew over the built up area and along the river towards yesterday's cave as the sun was rising above the mist and the stunning tree-covered peaks. The whole scene was eerie and magical, and well worth getting up early for. Hardly a word was spoken, which may have as much to do with the fact that the five passengers comprised of five different nationalities as much as the awesome scenery.

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500 photos later, we'd crossed the river and skimmed across the bizarre jagged pinnacles and were looking for somewhere to land. Not easy when the plains below are shrouded in early morning mist, but the Chinese pilot seemed to know what he was doing. Expertly avoiding a tree, we touched down gently in a field, much to the surprise of the lady working the land. She looked bemused and puzzled, pointing to the balloon and making gestures with her hands and shaking her head in disbelief.

With the mist obscuring all surrounding landmarks, we were effectively temporarily geographically misplaced. In other words, the back-up team had no idea where we were or how to find us. Even the pilot seemed unaware of our location and asked the local farm worker if she would explain our position to the team via the walkie-talkie. Clearly another new experience for the elderly peasant, she was initially somewhat overwhelmed by the technology, but embraced it well and was soon shouting her instructions to the rest of the balloon team.

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Eventually, after nearly 3/4 hour, we heard shouting, and the helpers appeared from the bushes. The next problem, of course, was how the passengers would find their way back to the road and the vehicle. A trek through dense undergrowth and thick jungle ensued, wading knee-high across a river, before crossing paddy fields and paths. The thought did cross my mind that maybe, just possibly, it wasn't such a great idea in an area littered with unexploded ordnance...?

As we boarded the mini bus, we were told that Khamseng had been very worried about us, and had phoned the balloon office to find out where we were, as he'd been told we'd be back by 07:30, and it was now past 08:30!

After a quick change out of the soaking wet jeans and shoes, and a speedy breakfast, we left Vang Vieng behind for another long day on the road and more adventures to follow. I really would have liked to have had one more day here to be able to indulge in the tubing the town is famous for (besides drugs).

At Ban Houay Mor, we stopped to have a look at their famous goods – row after row of dried fish of every shape and size. They didn't, however, have the type of fish Khamseng was after for his grandmother, but Mr Tong (our driver) brought some to take back to his wife.

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Having ordered our lunch at a small restaurant in Phon Hong, I went to photograph the kitchen, commenting to David “it will be a miracle if we don't get ill after this”. As soon as we got back in the vehicle after eating, I realised that the said miracle would not be happening. The road on the way to Nam Ngom Lake was narrow, with very few places suitable for a bush stop, so when nature could take no more, I crouched behind a large rock. Great timing, as I was just walking back to the car when two large buses filled with Thai tourists appeared around the bend.

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The lunchtime kitchen

The dam was built by the Japanese in the 1970s, and not only provides most of the electricity to Laos, but 80% of the power they produce is exported to Thailand. The area is being built up as a tourist resort, with much construction going on, and with such stunning scenery I can see it will become very popular in the future.

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Nam Ngom Lake

At Ban Keun we stopped to look at a huge area for the production of salt. Saline underground water is pumped up by a large organisation, with the water sold to local families to extract the salt. Large vats of boiling water creates lumps of the white stuff after about an hour, after which it is shovelled into huge baskets and steamed for a further hour. The baskets are dried out and the salt sold back to the company for 400 kip per kilo (ca US$ 0.05). Each family can produce three baskets of salt in one hot, hard working day, with each basket yielding 70 kg. Most of the labourers here are migrant workers from poorer areas in northern Laos.

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Khamseng knew how keen I was to see the insect market, so he took me to several stalls at Don Makai to try the various delicacies on offer. Although illegal, bushmeat is popular in the countryside, but as soon as we approached they covered the meat up and wouldn't let us take photos. Insects, however, seemed to be OK, and I was not only allowed to take pictures of them, I could sample the little critters too. Of the cockroaches, worms, crickets, grasshoppers, cicadas and dung beetles I tried, the bamboo worms were my favourite. To be honest, they tasted very much like any other deep fried snack – slightly salty and greasy.

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The Green Park Boutique Hotel in Vientiane is nothing short of stunning. With only 34 rooms set around a central area with the swimming pool, flower gardens and an ornamental pond, it's the attention to detail that sets it apart from other hotels. The bathroom has a large double bath with a raised bench aiding your entry, and the wall behind it being a complete window to a small enclosed courtyard with plants and lighting. The grounds are dotted with candles and the service is superb. One of the things I have really enjoyed all throughout this trip is the fact that we are expected everywhere we go, and have not yet had to check in as far as giving our names or a voucher goes. We have been greeted by name everywhere we've been.

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Posted by Grete Howard 03:56 Archived in Laos

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Comments

amazing indeed!
Will always be left wishing I could've done the hot air balloon over the Masai Mara but, alas, my fear won out.

So sorry to hear about the tummy troubles. I can just imagine how horrible that must've been.
Did you get any more pics of you guys eating the insects? I probably could've gone an eternity w/out knowing about the
roaches however...one of my phobias...)

by Homer

Amazing! (the balloon ride, not the tummy troubles)

by Helen

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