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The Flood!

Vientiane, Laos

In Kong Lon caves area

Arrived here by a 7 hour bus ride from Vientiane yesterday and it started raining when we arrived and still hasn't stopped for 22 hours.

I came to see the cave and ride a boat 6.5 k thru them, but the water is too high and fast so the caves are closed. My guesthouse is about a kilometer from the park where the cave is and on my way to check it out I ran into most of the other westerners playing cards at a coffee place and they told me the bad news. My guesthouse loaned me an umbrella and a flashlight optimistically, but I think they knew there was no chance of going into the cave.

I had coffee and played Blackjack with Sonya from my hostel in Vientiane and a German guy she knew and a Belgian couple who had come from Cambodia and were leaving for a beach town there. They were all catching an 11 am bus out of town to a main road where they could get a bus back to Vientiane.

After playing awhile it was time for a walk and I headed down the tarmac road to the Park entrance and into the park. It was completely deserted! Many tarp covered areas, but no one in attendance. I walked to the boat launch and other was almost completely underwater and the boats were jammed together at the top of the banks of the full river. I hiked up some old stone stairs, but they petered put at the river again going nowhere.

I hung out under one of the tarp areas on a plastic chair and enjoyed the solitude there, it truly is a beautiful place, green and lush like Portland with different plants and temperature!

When I left to return to my guesthouse i passed a porch/store with a couple of men sitting at a table having a beer. The woman proprietor called to me, " Beer Lao?" and motioned me to come over. At first I said,."No", and made a show of checking my watch because I thought it was too early to have a beer, but I saw it was 1:10 pm and realized that a beer would be fine! Time to socialize!

I sat at the table and was quickly given a glass and one of the men poured from the bottle and we all toasted each other and clinked glasses and drank up. When that bottle ran dry the shorter man ordered another and poured that off. Their generosity was touching and I thought snacks were in order so I bought two bags of chips and opened them for the table. Now we were starting to draw a crowd as three women with various aged toddlers sat down and I ordered beer and glasses for everyone and pretty soon we were all toasting and laughing and drinking up. Then a truck pulled up with three buddies of the guys and the owners husband and I ordered more 2 more beers and now ten people were drinking these off. It was becoming a blowout in the middle of nowhere Laos! PARTY!!!

But everything was.very cool, only one guy ( the shortest of course) got a little obnoxious to my eyes with one of his buddies, but I don't know the relationships, so who am I to judge. The women had a large loom there and I asked them to show me the work and it was so great, brilliant colors of peacock feathers were being woven together in a basic pattern with even brighter versions of some of the colors as inserts in the pattern, very cool.

After buying a whole 4 beers and creating a party for 1/2 the neighborhood I headed back to my guesthouse for a well deserved nap.

About 6 pm the power went out. It was still raining very hard at times and I went downstairs for a candle, with the continuous rain it was kind of gloomy and I thought the candle would brighten my mood. The guesthouse owner told me the power had been shut off due to flooding and the bus could not reach the village any more. He said he would try to drive me to the road a 6:30 am so I could catch the 7 am bus. I thanked him because I felt this,was a very generous offer! Off to bed and an early night's sleep to the sound of the rain drumming on the roof.

The next morning I was downstairs early anticipating an eventful day and I was not wrong! When we tried to drive to the main road we ran through many areas where the road was underwater and we drove slowly and picked our way around potholes my driver knew. He owned an SUV so our clearance was good. We also had to slow and stop for livestock that were all over the road. When the area floods the people drive their cattle and pigs onto the road for safety so many times the path was blocked by cattle or goats and we slalommed past them continuing down the road until we reached a place where it was too deep. You couldn't even tell a road was there, it was water as far as the eye could see!

We turned around and headed back to the guesthouse and my host booked a fast boat which would leave in two hours and take us 30 k by the river to a place where the bus could pick us up and take me to the main road for a bus back to Vientiane. He said it was 500,000 kip to get the boat and we would split it 4 ways since he was bringing his wife and little boy as well as a bunch of bags of food that would spoil without refrigeration. I had breakfast and found a travel book about Thailand and dug in for the wait.

An hour and a half later we loaded into the SUV and drove down the tarmac road towards the Park, but we turned off onto a dirt road that led into a more residential area with stilt houses and people fishing with drop nets that are mesh squares a little over a meter on a side supported by a light bamboo framework and attached to a bamboo pole by a line so the user could dip the net under the water and then pull it up trapping whatever swam or crawled over it. I was told they catch small fish that are crushed and mixed with chilis, garlic and herbs to make a pungent fish sauce for cooking and occasionally they get frogs or bigger fish to eat.

After about 10 minutes of winding through the houses we came to the riverside and our boat. The boat looked like a dugout canoe to me even though it was plank construction, about 5 meters long and maybe a meter and a quarter at the widest point in the middle. It had a 10 horsepower Honda motor with the prop at the end of a 3 meter pole that acted as a power tiller as well. No rudder. There are five 1 x 4 planks for seats that are rigged canoe style with an open area in the middle for cargo. The boat was painted a bright blue, but the sun and other elements had begun stripping the paint and dulling its luster so the wood beneath showed through the paint in long strips.
Our boat pilot was a leathery looking local with a gold tooth and a pirate's grin who looked like he had lived on this river his entire life (which he probably had). I felt pretty confident in his skills to get us where we need to be and could easily imagine him carting big pigs to market in his boat, so how hard would I be to haul around?

It was still raining as we pulled away from the riverbank.and I had a raincoat on and a plastic poncho pulled over me and my pack was wrapped in a plastic garbage bag for protection. The boatman provided PFD's which I wore over the poncho. The PFD had a whistle attached which he demonstrated practically in my left ear and which worked very well! So, partially deaf I met the full brunt of the flooded river.

The river was the exact color of milk chocolate and I was reminded of the movie, 'Willie Wonka'- I was being motored upstream by a Laotian Umppa Loompa pirate on the Chocolate River!
One of the exciting things on the ride was ducking under the wires that had been strung across the river and we're now either in it or hanging very low above it.
I was in the back of the boat facing the pilot in the stern so I could not see what was coming. I got to where I understood it was time to duck by watching the pilot- when he slowed and started weaving in the channel I knew it was time to get at least as low as he was. He was wearing a motorcycle helmet for any rogue wire encounters and he grinned and showed off that gold tooth and pointed at the helmet when we passed under a very low wire letting me know he was prepared of anyone was!

On my right side we passed spectacular limestone cliffs covered in trees and plants and averaging between 300 and 350 mmeters high. Some area looked like rock climbers might enjoy them while others were so covered in bush you would have a very hard time finding a safe route. On the left side were trees and occasional open areas where the flooded river was all you could see to the horizon, it was a huge amount of water and this would be headline news in the US, but here they are pretty well prepared for it with the houses on stilts and crops,that depend on a lot of water. Even rice can be flooded though so I hope that my new Laos drinking buddies come through this unscathed.

We were over two hours on that river and pur pilot knew it well; I was reminded of my favorite Mark Twain book, 'Life on the Mississippi' where Twain describes the Mississippi as a living thing always changing and how a river pilot must learn to recognize the channels of the river at all stages from low to flood. I was sure our pilot had that kind of knowledge and confidence as he took us along the dark waters.

Finally we came to a place where you could see some tarmac with water and we tied up to a guardrail and started to offload the boat wading into the lukewarm water with the rain still pelting us. After 10 minutes a covered pickup bus came for us and we loaded on. The driver hauled us about 15 k and then we transferred to another pickup bus for a 40 minute ride to a town on the main highway. There was a German couple on this bus when I got on and we were all heading to Vientiane. The girl part of the couple went to find a restroom and before she could return a double decker sleeper bus pulled up to get us. All told I paid about 250,000 kip to get back to Vientiane. I took a berth on the upper deck sharing with a local man. The seats are like lounge seats that you can raise the head of but the feet are always straight out in front . In this way I rode through the evening home to my hostel.

permalink written by  Mike_Veine on August 25, 2013 from Vientiane, Laos
from the travel blog: Laos, Thailand and Beyond!
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Hey, your posts are very nice. I read so many posts by you and found them so interesting. You put the right content with beautiful photographs that is very nice.Keep sharing!

permalink written by  vivek on August 30, 2013

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