After a relaxing few days of minimal activitiy in Vientiane we were ready for some excitement, Vang Vieng was next on our journey through Laos and provided the outdoor adventure we craved with scenic river tubing and crawling through caves.
Vang Vieng has a cozy and welcoming small town feel, there are many shops and the restaurants have pillows and short benches in place of conventional tables and chairs. Its location next to the river has made it famous for tubing, so we rented two large inner tubes for the day which included a tuk tuk ride to the designated drop-off spot upstream to slowly float back to town. It was currently the dry season so the ride started very slow; we layed back and soaked up the sun as we lazily drifted and swirled down the cool river.
Shortly after beginning our ride we heard a young local woman on the shore inticing us with offers of cheap beer at a riverside bar. Using a long thin bamboo pole she fished us out of the river and we enjoyed a few beverages and a game of pingpong with other travellers who had also opted for a drink at the bar. The river used to be lined with dozens of bars but the combination of liquer, drugs, and quick moving water in the wet seasons resulted in a handful of deaths and all but a few bars were shut down. We responsibly had a few drinks and proceeded to float down the river.
Tall and lush karst mountains lined one side of the river making it seem as if we were floating through a post card. The dry season provided us with a shallow river only a few feet deep but occasionally the pace would pick up as we would approach a bend in the river rippling with tiny rapids. Large jagged rocks in the river would scrape and poke our bottoms and occasionally our tubes would run aground, prompting us to stand up and take a few sidesteps. The entire tube ride was four to five hours back to town, and as relaxing and beautiful as it was we arrived back exhausted, hungry, and with a slight belly burn.
Another popular activity in the Vang Vieng area is caving, something that we both recently discovered an interest in. We rented bicycles (treating ourselves to mountain bikes for the first time) and headed out of town. The sun beat down on us in the 40 degrees Celsius heat as we poured sweat and peddled down the dusty roads. At the first cave we were greeted by a group of kids that collected the entrance fee and accompanied us to the cave, our two guides were 11 and 12 year old boys equiped with flashlights.
Inside the cave we ducked under stalactites and turned sharp tight corners, following the kids with our head lamps. The youngest boy picked up a small rock and gently knocked it on a curving stalactite, this produced a hollow sounding noise of a certain pitch and the next thing we knew he was making music on the walls! Each curve in the rocks made a different sound and could be used to compose a little cave song. We were impressed with the music but were about to be blown away; as we neared what we assumed was the end of the cave the youngest boy points down to a small hole and asks if it’s okay to continue… Excited and admittedly a little nervous we were definitely okay to continue and got down on our hands and knees to follow this little boy through the hole. Even as a small person I grunted and squirmed my way through the narrow tunnel, ignoring any feelings of claustrophobia. There was approximately 150ft of tunnel that we crawled though on our hands and knees, sometimes forced to lay flat on our stomchs and drag ourselves through the damp clay. Luckily the tunnel was one way and we popped out the other side to enthusiastically thanked our guides, we never would have considered such a path without a knowledgeable guide.
We visited another cave on our ride back to town that wasn’t quite as thrilling (how can you beat squeezing through child sized tunnels) but had its own element of charm with bamboo ladders and bridges. We explored this cave on our own and we were thankful for the slightly cooler temperature and temporary relief from the scortching heat outside.
Perhaps it was the delightful guesthouse we stayed at (run by a local 21 year old who took great pride and care of his establishment), the enchanting town, or maybe the thoroughly enjoyable surrounding activities of Vang Vieng, but either way I would highly recommend this city to any travelers planning to visit Laos.