Laos: Kayaking to Vientiane

After today, everyone in our group is splitting up and we’re all moving on to different places in the world. However, we all still need to get south to Vientiane, (capital city of Laos) to connect to our next destinations, so we decide to try and stick together a little longer. There are busses and vans available for very cheap that can get you there in 3 hours, which is a piece of cake. Originally that was our plan, to just take a simple bus in the morning to arrive there by early afternoon, but then I hear one of the boys talking about kayaking to the city, which I think sounds awesome. I put it out of my mind because I know that kayaking the distance of a 3 hour car ride could be pretty intense and I would maybe die.
I don’t know how or when but somehow everyone else heard about the kayaking too, and also felt intrigued so when the girls suggest to me that we do the kayak I decide to go for it. The itinerary says that we would leave at 9am and arrive to the city at 6pm that night, with a stop for lunch in between, so in my mind I’m gearing up for a 7 or 8 hour kayak, but I think I can do it. We book the trip, for about three times as much money than a bus would have been (still only $20) and all plan to leave together in the morning.

We all get up and pack our things, which are spread into a huge mess all over the room, (ahhhhh backpacking) and go downstairs for a quick breakfast. There are 17 people from our little group who decided to kayak to Vientiane, and then 3 solo travelers who are staying in the same guesthouse as we are. We toss our full backpacks into the back of two larger-sized tuk tuks, and get in with them. It’s a tight fit to have 10 people and 10 backpacks all in one tuk tuk but I don’t think it matters because the drive can’t be that long. Wrong. The drive is an hour before we reach the water where we get in the kayaks. They are two person kayaks and most of the girls have been so smart and asked the strongest boys to be their partners so they wouldn’t be stuck at the back. I consider myself a pretty experienced paddler, in a canoe though, and I’ve kayaked before but it really doesn’t feel that different, so I’m not too concerned about getting the strongest partner. I get paired with a guy in our group who is a lot older than I am, but he’s still a man so I assume he can paddle. I ask him if he’s kayaked before and he tells me he has so I offer to let him steer if he’d like but mention that I feel comfortable doing it as well. He prefers to take the back seat and steer the boat, which is cool because it’s less work for me and I’m not fully confident in my kayak steering skills, especially in a two person kayak.
We paddle down the river for about 20 minutes before hitting our first rapid. Our kayak guide tests them out first and encourages us to follow along. It’s not an insane amount of white water, just a little bit so I don’t feel too concerned. We all make it through without a problem. I have brought my trusty water proof camera with me so I can take pictures of the beautiful scenery around me as well as everyone in their kayaks.
The next set of rapids we hit are a little more intense. A faster current with a longer stretch of rocks, as opposed to the last one which took about 2 seconds to cross. Our boat has not been steering as straight as I’d like it to, so I’m slightly more concerned about these rapids and tie my camera around my ankle, just in case. We go down into the rapids, (which we are supposed to hit straight on) at a diagonal angle, which flips our kayak. We go plunging into the river where I am swept under for what seems like forever by the strong current. I finally resurface and manage to grab a hold of our kayak so I can float out to the flat water. My first instinct is to grab for the camera that had been looped around my ankle, which is now missing. I know that even after our lucky find in the river while tubing, I will never ever find my camera at the bottom of a stream of rapids. I am so mad at myself for not tying it to the kayak but it just seemed like a better idea at the time to have it on my body. Ughhhh.
I like to think that 20 years from now, when technology has advanced and the earth is running low on drinking water, or a giant natural disaster displaces the water in this river, that someone will find my waterproof camera and be able to access all my photos and be like wow, she had such a cool life.

We get back into the kayak, and I ask if I can steer this time. I’m much more comfortable in the back of the kayak, but back here I can see what my paddling partner is doing…which isn’t much of anything. He can’t get comfortable, so sits with his feet dangling in the water on either side of the kayak and holding his paddle still across his lap. He paddles every now and then, but it almost makes it worse because I’ve come to find a rhythm in which I can paddle hard enough to keep our boat straight as well as close to the rest of the group. When he paddles it throws me off because the strokes are not even. It’s hard NOT to get annoyed with your paddling partner, especially in the hot sun after losing a camera, so I do try my very best to stay calm. I just refrain from speaking about anything at all unless it’s necessary. We almost tip over a couple more times as he tries to settle in and find a comfortable seating arrangement for himself. I will have everyone note that we did not tip the kayak through the rapids when I was steering. What uppp!?

After what feels like forever, we reach our lunch point. This means we tie our kayaks to some rocks along the shore, and climb up onto a big rock where there is space to build a fire and grill chicken for the group. Our guides prepare the meal for us, while we climb up onto different sized boulders and up onto cliffs and jump into the river. I climb over to one rock and jump off, but I don’t have the guts to cliff dive as high as some of people in the group, who climb up to the top of a rocky wall that must be 50 feet high, and plunge down into the quick moving current of the river. It keeps us entertained until our food is ready, which is two chicken and vegetable skewers atop some fried rice and a baguette (they love baguettes in Laos).

When we’re finished eating we get back to our kayaks to do the second stretch of paddling for the day. I am again, paddling a 37 year old man down a river basically all on my own, but I love being on the water and in the sun, and I’ve always enjoyed paddling so I am surprisingly less angry than I would have expected myself to be. We make it to the shore, when I slip up and say “mine” so I have to do 10 press ups on the rocky beach. My upper body is going to be in so much pain tomorrow and I know it.

We are told to throw our bags onto the roof of a tuk tuk, which will be taking us to Vientiane. I was under the impression that we would have two tuk tuks, like we had on the way to the river, but this time they plan to cram 20 of us into one vehicle and have our bags on top. It is not a comfortable journey, and the sun has tired me out but I can’t sleep with all of the bumps on the road. We drive for an hour and a half through farm country before reaching the city, which I was not expecting. I was under the impression that I would be kayaking for 7 hours today, not kayaking for 2 hours and driving around in a tuk tuk for the rest of it. However, being in the tuk tuk gives my arm a nice break from paddling and press ups.
Our trip ends up being a long day of driving in a tuk tuk, instead of the kayak adventure we had all envisioned. And technically we could have taken a bus and been there 6 hours earlier… But the kayak thing was a nice change from a boring old car.

We arrive in Vientiane which is a nice city, but not as nice as Luang Prabang, which is my favourite place I’ve visited so far, I think. There are lots more lights and restaurants in the city, which makes sense because it is the capital after all. The tuk tuk driver drops us off on a random street instead of at a guest house so we start walking. Again, finding space for 20 people is difficult and when we start being told that most guest houses are full at this time of the year, and it’s already 6pm, everyone gets a little panicky and we all split up without telling each other where we’re going or agreeing on a time to meet back up. Communication is key when you’re in a foreign country without a cell phone. I am still grouped with 5 other people, and we walk around looking for a place to stay but can’t find anything that we like or that can hold as many of us as we’d like. We finally make contact with some other people in the group when we sit down at a cafe and get wifi. The other 20 people with us have found a hostel with enough space for all of them, and one more double room. That isn’t exactly ideal for 6 people so we make adjustments. We end up cramming 3 people into 2 person rooms for a couple reasons, mostly just that there is nothing else around that is affordable and still has space. We’re just here for one night so no one minds sleeping on the floor, though I am lucky and get a double room with just me and one other girl.

We all shower after a long day in the heat. I am convinced my “tan” is strictly dirt caked onto my skin but after my shower I am still quite dark, but only on my front side and mostly on my shoulders. It is not a even tan, but it’s something!

We meet for dinner down the street at a restaurant called the Full Moon Café to start celebrating our last night as a group! I order a rum and coke to drink, and take a shot in the dark and order a pulled pork sandwich for dinner which I figure could be awesome or be absolutely terrible. The waiter takes me order but comes back a few minutes later and says “I’m sorry sir, we don’t have rum and coke”. A) I am not a sir. B) I can see a bottle of Bacardi on the bar right beside me. I let the sir thing go because I obviously know it’s a language barrier thing (I hope) and I think it’s adorable, and I just point at the bottle of rum to get my point across. They come back with a glass filled half way up with rum, and a can of coke. I ask for two glasses so I can mix a proper drink and not die from drinking what looks like 3oz of rum in one glass. The pulled pork sandwich arrives and is probably the best decision I’ve ever made in my life, because it’s fantastic. It’s a nice little taste of home. I mean, I’ve had better pulled pork in my life, but this sandwich doesn’t disappoint, especially considering I am in Laos. I have to explain what it is to some British people at the table who have never heard of it before, poor Europe.

There are 20 of us at the table so when our bill comes, the total is ONE MILLION kip. It looks so badass so I take a picture. But the total in Canadian dollars is about $138 so it’s not reaaaally that bad ass. In fact, $138 for 20 people is a sick deal! I could pay for everyone if I wanted too…but I certainly don’t.

We go out to a bar to celebrate our last night together and while we’re all chatting we figure out that no one has anything booked to leave Vientiane the next day, and almost all of us will be staying another night… So this isn’t our last night together after all. It continues! We’re all excited to find out that we still have a bit of time together, we really all don’t want to go, but traveling in such a large group is seriously impossible, and most importantly everyone has a different idea of where they want to go and what they want to do next so it could never really work out anyway. It’s nice to spend the time we have together though!


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