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An Art Therapist Abroad

When the Weather Is High You Can Stretch Right Up and Touch the Sky

LAOS | Friday, 10 January 2014 | Views [1853]

I started my first day in Vang Vieng the best way possible - by sleeping in! After getting up I went to find some breakfast and ended up at one of the restaurants along the Nam Song river which notoriously screen American TV shows non-stop. Look down on me if you will, but I thoroughly enjoyed my breakfast of Eggs Benedict and Friends. While lounging I was befriended by three amazing people from the Isle of Man: Lucy and Will (a couple) and their friend Ed. Although I had fully intended to spend the day being as lazy as possible, the trio invited me instead to join them mountain biking (not motorbiking) to several nearby sites, all of which were on my "to do in Vang Vieng" list, so of course I accepted. After renting the bikes we rode for several miles along rocky dirt paths surrounded by the beautiful mountain sceney Vang Vieng is revered for, stopping along the way for various photo ops. Like this picturesque pond

or this view of the mountains and locals

or this cows traffic jam (and Ed).

The first site we visited was the Blue Lagoon - a large pool known for its stunning color - where we spent some time swimming and jumping into the water from trees

while obeying this sign

 

as these strangers made art

 

The second site, the Tham Phu Kham cave, was located in the same area up a pretty steep climb, but it was worth the hike. The front of the cave houses a shrine

(and Will) but the rest is empty and free to explore as you wish. No trails. No lights. No safety rails. (Try finding that in the good ol' US of A, lawsuit capital of the known universe.) We roamed around for a while, deciding to head back before we got completely lost, and rode back to town. There, Lucy, Will and Ed took me to a great bar complete with a "Happy Bucket" menu: mushroom shakes, opium joints, etc... No I did not partake. But I did have an awesome time with the bartender/owner, a super fun guy who loved to do bar tricks and give out free shots while his tiny son robbed people blind by playing pool against them for money. (And at some point I might have ended up doing an upside down beer bong which there may or may not be video footage of.) From the bar we headed out to find some good Laos food for dinner and after that mission was accomplished it was time for bed. It turned out my three new friends had an extra bed in their shared room which they offered to me. I decided to take them up on it... after one more night in my own big, comfy bed!

The next day I moved my stuff into Lucy, Will, and Ed's room and Lucy and I spent the morning in a cafe while the boys did some more mountain biking. In the afternoon she and I decided to live it up and participate in the event Vang Vieng is best known for: drunken tubing down the Nam Song

surrounded by stunning views!

It was Christmas eve after all. Debauchery ensued

and we had so much fun drifting down the river from bar to bar, drinking, dancing, making friends, and limbo-ing under poles of fire.

I think these photos sum everything up pretty well, especially since they are upside down. Yeah... FP.

After that it was time for a nap. In the evening the owners of the guesthouse threw a huge, semi- traditional Korean barbeque dinner for everyone staying there, which was so sweet and generous of them. The four of us called it an early night in preparation for our sunrise adventure the next day...

That's right, hot air ballooning on Christmas morning! It was a bit of a splurge for me but undeniably much less expensive than it would be in the states (even with a Groupon or Living Social deal) and totally worth it. The views were gorgeous

 

and the experience itself was pretty thrilling.

 

Including when we landed in the trees.

Obviously, having watched the sun rise, we all went back to bed afterwards. Then Lucy and I went in search of some ibuprofen and wound up in the ER of the local hospital, which I am so grateful to have seen. Having just been in Phonsavan learning about the UXOs, it was invaluable to see the type of care many people ride hours in the back of tractors, suffering from crippling burns and with severed limbs, to receive. The building itself was a far cry from sanitary by western standards, and the equipment might have been considered "new" a few decades ago. As I sat beside the ancient oxygen tank, my eyes drifting from the mold on the walls to the surgical trays which resembled old barbeque grills, and I struggled to imagine this place as my only hope for survival after encountering a bombie. Merry Christmas indeed.

(I will say that the capital city of Vientiane does have a hospital that is much better equipped and serves as the main surgical center for UXO victims who need advanced medical care, provided they survive the period immediately following their encounter. However, this is only ONE hospital for an entire country and if a westerner gets gravely injured in Laos they are typically medi-vaced??? to the superior hospitals in Bangkok, so clearly even the Vientiane hospital isn't up to our standards for care [which we take so very much for granted]. Yet it is the best they have to treat the multiple, daily, life-threatening injuries that occur due to UXOs. Alright, now I'm done laying some perspective on your ass.)

After a lazy day split between beds and cafés, we all went out for Christmas dinner and found a Laos restaurant serving a massive holiday buffet including shots of whiskey. Done and done. On top of that, a local was celebrating his birthday at the same place and we ended up being treated to beers and partying the night away with him and a group of his friends. I think Lucy had the most fun.

As wonderful a time as I was having in Vang Vieng it was time to move on, so the next morning I said "goodbye" to Lucy, Will, and Ed and boarded a bus to Vientiane.

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