After an English-style breakfast with poached eggs I shamefully ate knowing once again how much better I could prepare if I had a kitchen for the first time in ages, I took the three hour bus ride (a loose estimation that I can never trust) to Vang Vieng which is famous for its drug-laden heyday that had thankfully been toned down after enough accumulation of foreigner deaths due to drowning while tubing or even leaping off bridges believing they had grown a spare pair of wings. My intention was never to partake in that but to explore the surrounding areas filled with caving, kayaking, rock climbing, and enjoying the limestone karst jungle scenery. The ride was relatively straightforward besides the numerous switchbacks that our minibus driver curved violently around in his successful, daring attempts to bypass traffic with no such guarantee as far as what may lay on the other side. I guess with a larger vehicle at his fingertips he had the ability to put our lives in the balance but I wasn’t comfortable with someone seemingly content with the prospects of ending his life at any moment or roll of the steering wheel. We did manage to arrive in Vang Vieng despite my twisted, churned up stomach ready to unleash itself on the unexpecting occupants of the minibus. I checked into a hostel/backpacker with a room that can most accurately be described as a toolshed large enough to fit three mattresses lying on the floor nearly side by side with enough requisite space to walk in and throw down your bag. All in all it could be worse and I shouldn’t exactly complain when I am paying $3.50 for a night. Thus, the reason I can manage to last so long out here. This shit is not science. If you can manage to live like a borderline hobo for months on end, the world is yours (or at least Asia is). I walked across the river to get a feel for the area with the daylight I had left to explore under. On this side of the river, limestone karst rocks shoot up out of almost nowhere with sheets of green trees covering them in a disordered random array. However on the opposite side of the river further away from the city and the action of life, jungled hills roll and hump on and on but devoid of any limestone as far as my eye can tell. How can nature be so obscure? The geography is greatly varied and divided sharing no likeness to one another. Going off the main track on my walk with no necessary direction, I found a handmade sign with amateur English advertising a cave with white flags directing me through dry farmland over to the limestone rock. Nearing the cave, I began getting guided by a boy to the cave. I realized immediately this was a ploy for money in the form of a tip but having been through this charade many a times, I know I have no obligation to pay a cent. When I paid for entrance fee to a middle aged guy which had a ticket printed with the price (just another random dude hanging around charging for something he has no right to charge for is another scam), I made it very clear I was not going to tip the kid because they love to guilt you after the fact. Rule number one in any situation that could potentially involve money: always ask the price beforehand and stick to that fairly negotiated price. I can’t emphasize that enough. I had my head lamp but the kid insisted on me using his. The cave wasn’t that special since it had no large caverns but it appealed to me by the simple fact that I felt like I was the first one exploring the cave. The wooden ladders and bridges through this small and fully dark pitch black cave were an accident waiting to happen. I was barely led through the narrow gaps ducking and squeezing my body to progress forward. I will admit it I felt a tad bit more comfortable knowing someone else was in the cave to give me a hand. Then again my mind immediately went to thinking this all was a plot to kill the foreigner and run off with whatever valuables I had on me. After leaving the cave I felt very generous and was prepared to give the kid a 2,000 kip (25 cent) tip even though I had no obligation to give him anything but the cheeky 15 year old bastard wanted 50,000 kip (6 USD) from me. You may be thinking I am a heartless son of a bitch for not parting with more money but in this Asian reality I am a saint for giving him what I did. I tried to tell him this was a lesson to be learned about arranging a price and not trying to manipulate me into feeling bad but I doubt one iota of knowledge entered those foreigner leaching ears of his. Then, I went off the path again looking for a track that supposedly led to a peak climb according to my own map but nothing turned up. This still didn’t stop me from having interactions with locals attempting to direct me the right way and feeling the quiet solitude of the otherworldly landscape around me. I worked my way back to the hostel and chilled in the lounge/hammock area with other backpackers but I couldn’t help feeling distant from the conversation and the mindset since I had no desire to drink or partake in the awaited revelry of tomorrow in their plans to liquor up on the river in their tubes. I know how to distance myself from influences that I don’t see fit but I can’t quite work out a way to not feel isolated. I guess choosing to be different and avoid the pressure of others (as nice as they may seem their values don’t align with mine) is never easy but when I have been traveling for so long on my own I yearn for some sort of human connection despite being a content one wolf back home. The next skill to learn is to be a more vocal leader, to gather other like minded people around me and rally the voice. As one of the motivational videos I have been watching a lot lately says whenever wifi connects, you have to cut the losers out of your life otherwise you can never go anywhere and reach the goals you aspire to with them sucking and killing your energy that gives you purpose. It is all easier said than done but it doesn’t mean I won’t try.
Now in Laos Day 199: Vang Vieng