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7th - 12th March

Vang Vieng - famed for its dramatic karst limestone scenery with cliffs, caves and lagoons. Great for rock climbing and the Nam Song River - tubing and kayaking. Afternoon trip to Pha Poak Hill and cave for a little workout on a chill out day. Sweating buckets as I climb up the bamboo ladders and over jagged rocks. Like a mini Pinnacles (in Sarawak) - see pages 256-257 of my book.

Great view over the rice paddies and the town. Shame about not getting the peak to myself. I have to admit I have a bit of a phobia with lots of people standing on cliff tops. It's not the safest place in the world. I was very uncomfortable on Wayna Picchu for example. I expect Seiji remembers that.

I didn't recognise the town of Vang Vieng at all. A lot of new construction work going on - building sites everywhere. Now for the exciting bit. Firstly tubing in the Tham Nam Cave, about 500 metres long by torchlight. That was fun, but would be even better in the wet season. Then a trip to the Elephant Cave - Tham Sang with a stalactite shaped like an elephant and some Buddha images.

Then finally tubing down the Nam Song and the main event - the rope swings, consisting of a trapeze which propels you over the river - and then you drop at the appropriate moment. Looked quite daunting, but after a couple of Beer Lao I gave it a go.

There were various acrobatic displays, one guy hanging onto another's ankles, hanging by the legs, somersaults and some unhappy landings. The structure you climb up is very rickety and unstable - I was fourth in the queue, when one of the rope supports snapped. A little disconcerting - not much in the way of H & S here.

I also think I was the oldest person doing the swing. But when that guitar riff from 'Zombie' came blaring out from a nearby bar, I just had to do it. It was certainly something different. And very different to when I was here 8 years ago. No bars here then, or swings, or indeed the loud music and huge volumes of people. And definitely not the water slide. I did give that a miss. Didn't want to do my back in or crash into somebody else. Must be getting old!!! But all in all a pretty good day.

Next day, a bit quieter with a walk in the nearby countryside, swimming in a lagoon and some caves - one of which I will call the Phallus Cave, because it had a massive stalactite hanging down at the entrance - never seen one so big. Well Hung. Actually, I think it was called Tiger Cave.

To Vientiane by Mini Bus - a few skids, scrapes and near misses to say the least, but the roads are a bit better than they were a few years ago. Not so sure about the driving. Get my lodgings just opposite the Hare and Hounds, British Pub.

Patuxai Monument and Park. Like Arc de Triomphe in Paris, but with four archways. Built 1960s, but is now in a state of some disrepair. The concrete used in the construction was meant for a new airport - hence the nickname vertical runway. Surrounded by a well maintained park and a Chinese donated musical fountain.

Humidity increasing along with the temperature as the hot season grows closer. Xieng Khuan - Spirit City or Buddha Park. Buddhist and Hindu Sculptures designed and built 1958, all in concrete, but again unfortunately crumbling away - must be the tropical climate. The best sculpture is the pumpkin shaped representation of hell, earth and heaven on three levels, connected by interior stairways.

Pha That Luang or Sacred Stupa - the wat is the most important national monument in Laos. Has been compared to a gilded missile cluster. Originally constructed 16th century, but restored several times.

Wat Si Muang - Home of Guardian Spirit of Vientiane. It was certainly home to a stork, that had made its nest there and cicadas - the noise was deafening. The Wat is famous for being the site of the laying of the city pillar ( in the shape of a phallus), which was dropped onto a pregnant woman laying beneath, thus sanctifying the site. In pre-Buddhist times when human sacrifice was practiced.

The call from tuk tuk drivers in Laos - tuk tuk, boat ( most towns are on a river), then hash, weed, opium and if all that fails...lady, or even a ladyboy. and there were plenty of ladyboys on the streets tonight. 13th March - to Savannakhet and Pakse.


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