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An Art Therapist Abroad

Dance Your Cares Away Down at Thakhek Rock

LAOS | Wednesday, 15 January 2014 | Views [736]

One of the only problems with visiting places slightly off the beaten trail is that they're generally easier to get to than to get away from. I got up for the 7am bus out of Ban Nahin - the ONLY bus out of Ban Nahin -which goes to Vientiane. Noi, my guesthouse owner, asked for the driver to stop in the small town of Viengkham, which is just outside Nahin but located along the main road instead of in the middle of beautiful nowhere. From Viengkham I was instructed to cross the street and flag down any bus going the opposite direction (south) to Shavannakhet, which I was told run hourly. Luckily I wasn't the only one doing this, so I didn't have to stand alone at the random gas station where we were dropped. After getting a southbound bus to stop, which involved lots of running and frantic waving, I let the driver know I only needed to go as far as Thakhek and settled in for the ride.

From the Thakhek bus station I grabbed a tuk-tuk to the center of town. I couldn't believe it - the sun was shining, there wasn't a cloud in the sky, and I was WARM for the first time since Cat Ba, Vietnam. At that point I couldn't have cared less about finding accommodation and instead found a cafe and just sat outside in the sun for several hours. In shorts!

Eventually I got up and found a place to stay before heading out for a walk along the Mekong. Like many places in Laos, the Mekong is the only thing that physically separates Laos from Thailand, but looking across the water it was apparent that many other things distinguish one country from the other.

(Yup, that's Thailand!)

After my stroll I walked back to the main street and found a nice local spot for dinner.

At this point, let me explain why I chose to stop in Thakhek, a relatively un-touristy place which most people just pause in to see a few caves or rent motorbikes to do the well known 450 km (280 mile) "Loop" of the area. The other, less common reason travelers visit Thakhek, is to climb the stunning limestone crags that blanket the province.

Mariana, who I met in Hue, Vietnam and traveled with through Hanoi, was spending several weeks in Thakhek doing just that. It was my hope that she and I could meet up for some climbing and celebrate New Year's Eve together. We had been in contact but so far I hadn't heard from her since I arrived that morning, which I knew was because she had undoubtedly been dangling from a rock somewhere all day.

After my meal, for some reason, I felt inclined to walk back past the river, in the opposite direction of my guesthouse. I wasn't sure why but I decided just to go with it. As I walked I passed a big group of people having dinner, and who should I spy sitting among them but Mariana! After a joyful reunion and introductions to some of her new climbing buddies, it was decided that I would meet up with everyone for climbing the next day - the last day of the year. The moral of the story is: follow your intuition, even if it doesn't make sense.

In the morning, Mari and her friend Lucas, also from Brazil, met me after breakfast to rent motorbikes for the ride out to the climbing area. The ride was stunning and as a passenger I got to marvel the entire way.

Once we got out to the climbers' area and met up with Javier, from Mexico, I borrowed shoes and a harness and we set out to climb.

Throughout the day I did a bit more watching than climbing, although I did finish one route no one expected (including me!) up to the tippy top of that red rope,

but that was fine as the people I was with were pretty hardcore and amazing to watch.

(Sideways and kind of a where's Waldo but you get it.)

Plus I had a birthday card to make for a friend back home which I've decided to count as artwork since I've been failing massively at creating anything on this trip. (Shocking.)

Towards the end of the day a few people in the group had a small accident but thankfully no one was seriously hurt. Still, we decided to call it a day and headed back to the climbers' spot for some beers.

Then it was time for the New Year's festivities to begin! We rode back to town and pre-gamed a bit before heading out for dinner and drinks. As the evening dwindled and midnight approached, local parties began to spring up around us in front of homes and business, so we left the restaurant and joined in! American and Laos pop music blasted from speakers while beer flowed all around and glowing embers were tossed back and forth between the bravest (or most foolish) partiers.

We danced the rest of 2013 away and as the year ended cries of, "To the Mekong!" filled the air. We raced to the river shore and with firework displays sent off from Thailand in the background everyone embraced for a big group hug.

The members of the group from Austria introduced the rest of us to an interesting New Year's tradition of melting small lumps of tin over a fire and then casting the liquid metal into water to form abstract shapes that predict your future for the next year. Most of the interpretations were pretty humorous.

The next morning I decided to hit the road again, although I was very tempted to stay and climb for a few more days. Mariana and I said goodbye again (though hopefully not for the last time) and I went to the bus station to see how far south I could get that day, with Champasak as my ideal destination.

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