Sunday, November 22, 2009

Kayaking the Nam Song River

The elephant cave is so-called because of the stalagmite that looks like a small pachyderm that stands on a ledge in a cave. Two kiwis were lost in this cave for two days; they walked in without a guide and locals thought they were lost forever. At the cave entrance is a bell fashioned from a missile head.

Nearby, is the starting point for a kayaking trip down the Nam Song river back to Vang Vieng, Laos’ adventure and drinking capital. I stepped into the kayak, lost my balance and immediately fell in; giggles all round from the Lao and other tourists. I was soaked to start with so didn’t need to worry about the upcoming rapids, I thought. Eighteen kilometres on the Nam Song back to Vang Vieng and a Beer Lao - no sweat.

The Nam Song outside of the rainy season is a pretty welcoming river. The rapids were enjoyable, not in the least bit challenging, but the kayaking was hard work as the river was sluggish. The sun was intense but as the afternoon wore on, the line of jagged karst mountains blotted out the sun. The intense green of the river banks and trees drinking at the river’s edge gave way to a monochrome view as shade was cast over the valley. This made the kayaking easier and we could slow a little and watch the locals cast for fish in the shallows.

Around four kilometres north of Vang Vieng, the peace is shattered by the start of the tubing run. Almost everyone that comes to Vang Vieng floats down the river in a giant tractor inner tube while drinking and swinging on huge ropes from the river bars that line the routes. Suddenly, the verdant peace of the valley was transformed into the Costa del Nam Song as tourists danced on bamboo platforms and glugged booze for this rite of passage. If you hadn’t heard of tubing the Nam Song you would have thought you’d unwittingly ordered a ‘happy’ pizza on coming across this river orgy. Gliding past the tubers we swapped ‘sabaidees’ and then tried to avoid being jumped on by tourists hurling themselves across the water on the flying fox swings.

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