0039 Cliffs, Caves, Kayaks and Kick-volleyball (Laos 002—new)

Vang Vieng Travel Blog

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Day 025: 16 hours, 5.0 kms

Looking at the map, there just don’t seem to be a whole lot of cities here in Laos.  My first thought is to slowly make my way towards Vietnam, stopping at towns along the way--  but it seems like the few buses heading that way just go straight through…

So, since I’m on a pretty tight schedule, I opt for a short trip to Vang Vieng

OK, I snuck a peek into David’s guidebook and saw that Vang Vieng is a popular hangout for backpackers.   I’m definitely not looking for a backpacker ghetto to explore.  But there just don’t seem to be a lot of places to explore right near Vientiene--  I don’t want to take a 6 hour trip and end up in a tiny village with no lodging… So Vang Vieng it is…

I have two choices:  the cheap bus which will probably make lots of stops along the way, or the  slightly more expensive tourist bus that will probably go straight through.  I really don’t want to waste time, so I decide to make an exception and take the touristy bus…

We cross the countryside dotted with tiny little hamlet and lush greenery and finally reach Vang Vieng… with stunning, rugged cliff, a rushing river with a rickety suspension bridge… and beautiful, untamed landscape as far as the eye can see…

Laos is suddenly my new favourite country… Well, I guess they’re all my favourite countries just in different ways… Malaysia for it’s jungle/cosmopolitan feel… Thailand for its temples… and Laos for its nature and peaceful vibe…

The bus stops at a backpacker lodge--  2 dollars a night for an unlit little hut I find irresistible…

Not only that, but you can rent a bike for 1 dollar a day… I almost feel guilty about that one… I mean, I’m sure I’m going to do more than one dollar’s worth of damage to this bike in one day…

So I hop on my little girly bike and speed off to explore the region.  I guess backpacker ghetto’s have their big pluses too--  Two dollar lodges and being able to rent a bike to explore the entire area is a huge plus…

Where do I start?  How about cross that suspension bridge and see what’s on the other side?  A sign says there are caves over there… so I’m going to have to go find out…

I have to pay a small “toll” to cross the bridge and head on my way up a rocky dirt road past umbrella carrying schoolkids heading home for lunch, majestic cliffs rising on either side… An unforgettable feeling…

I reach a little handwritten sign that points to a dry creekbed, it says that the cave is that way… I carry my bike on for a ways, determined to fulfil my quest.

I come across a couple of fellows squatting under a palm frond shelter who offer to be my “guides”.   I guess I kind of sympathize with a guy who sits there all day hoping for a tourist to come along to visit this very off the beaten path cave, so I decide to accept. 

Good thing.  For one thing, this way I had can park my bike there with the other guy.  For another thing, I don’t have a flashlight…

We continue on up the creekbed a while, scale up a cliff and reach the entrance to the cave and go inside.

It’s not the coolest cave in the world--  but the Buddha statue inside, and the feeling of discovery and adventure of this whole place puts it way up there on my list of coolest cave experiences…

I pay my guide and head on back… Across the raging river and off towards town.

There’s not much substance to the town itself… mainly just rows of cheap hotels and eateries catering to backpackers as well as multiple little agencies that can book for you all sorts of adventure tours in the area.  Definitely not the kind of place to immerse yourself in Laotian culture.

I continue on down the road a little ways--  and then decide to turn back and do the famous Vang Vieng inner tube ride… Yeah, yeah… not exactly an original adventure--  but I figure I can make an exception just this once and follow the backpacker crowd…

Unfortunately I’m told that the last tour has just left… So no inner tubing today…

No worries--  I decide to head on down the road on my little girly bike and see how much of the countryside I can explore before dark.

Thus begins perhaps the most memorable bicycle journey of my life so far…

The artificial atmosphere of the backpacker compound quickly left behind, I find myself suddenly in real Laos. 

On my left are endless rugged cliffs and rock formation that look like a storybook come to life.  Pressed against them are clusters of thick jungle interrupted by hardy little rice paddies.  Down below is the rushing river.  Along the road are dreamy little hamlets--  each with its own monastery with mystical red clad monks ambling about.

I pass a school where young fellows challenge each other to a game of kick volleyball--  sort of like normal volleyball, except you can only use your feet!  The whole area has a feel of being completely disconnected from the rest of the planet.  So alive, and yet so peaceful.  You get the feeling that in the rest of the world civilization might come to an end and these people would be the last to know about it.  Folks out tending to their rice paddies… young boys driving water buffalo across the road.

It’s hard to believe that just a few decades ago this country was engaged in a brutal war--  a Laotian war sounds like a complete oxymoron…

And so my journey continues… Until I pass a stunning jungle butte shooting up  out of the greenery  and reach a bridge that crosses the river to yet one more village on the other side. There I decide to walk up a path to explore a little monastery.  The monks have their own volleyball court--  the fellows look cheerful and happy as they go about their various monastic duties

Reluctantly I turn back.  Unfortunately I didn’t bring my guitar with me, so this village won’t be able to be counted… Yet it will always be remembered as one of my coolest little discoveries…

But it’s now getting dark… I must go back now… Someday I’ll have to come back and really immerse myself in the beauty, simplicity and purity of this land…

It’s after dark when I reach Vang Vieng, where I run into David again (the guy I met in Vientienne) while I’m grabbing something to something to eat.  I wander around town a bit and then decide to call it a day…

Next Day… The Kayak trip…

                (Day 026: 16 hours)

 I generally turn up my nose at package adventure tours--  but this one I just can’t resist:  Instead of taking the bus back to Vientienne, I can kayak  back to the city!  My first question is, well what about my guitar? They tell me, no worries, a truck will haul all my luggage for me… all for a mere 5 dollars…

And so I forego the inner tube ride, and opt for the kayak adventure instead.

I climb into the back of a typical Laotian mini-truck with about 9 other tourists--  mostly rowdy New Zealand college age kids who I don’t find I had a whole lot in common with.  I do strike up a conversation with a Peruvian fellow who organizes adventure tours himself--  and now he’s on vacation while checking out new territory…  Pretty cool to meet a Peruvian in these parts of the world…

We share a kayak together--  it’s an open top kayak that looks like it would flip over really easily… Our guide gives us some quick instructions:  first rapids stay on the left, second rapids stay on the right, third rapids stay on the left--  otherwise we might be sucked into a whirlpool.  Whatever.  If fat Kiwi college girls are doing this, it must be a piece of cake….

So we set on down the river.  Nothing but jungle on either side.  Destination:  Vientienne.  Yeah, I have to admit it is a pretty cool adventure--  even has a flair of authenticity, despite the fact that it’s a guided package tour…

We reach the first rapids… and we flip… No worries--  so do a couple of the others… after all it is my first time riding rapids in a narrow boat...  We clamber back on and continue on down the river. 

We continue on for an idyllic, peaceful jungle stretch.  A couple of natives waving from the shore and you can almost convince yourself that you’re on a 19thcentury expedition…

Then come the second set of rapids.  This time we manage not to flip… looks like I’m getting the hang of this…


We continue on down… Soon we reach the third set of rapids… looks like we might make it through… but were veering awfully close to the right... I remember our guide’s warning…

And then we flip… and I’m in the water… then I’m under water…

I’ll never forget the next question I ask myself… “Hey… I’m wearing a life jacket… why I’m I not coming to the surface?...”

Oh, that’s right… whirlpool…

I stay underwater for a couple of very long seconds before finally popping up to the surface again… So that’s what being sucked into the eye of a whirlpool feels like…

I make my way to shore, not sure if I should feel scared, grateful to be alive, or just embarrassed that the fat Kiwi girls cruised right through the rapids and I got sucked into the whirlpool…

No one seems to have noticed the predicament I was in… and I don’t really feel like talking about it.  Frankly, I was glad that that was our last set of rapids… That’s quite enough for today…


We rest on the shore for a bit while our guide prepares a typical Laotian meal for us over an open fire… Then we continue on down another lazy stretch where I jump into the water to enjoy a nice, pleasant swim…


Finally we reach the pick up point where the mini-truck with our luggage picks us up and takes us the rest of the way to Vientienne…

It’s been a really cool day, whirlpool and all… Very different from my typical adventures of wandering freestyle from town to town with my guitar--  but no regrets for signing up for a five dollar guided package tour.  You’ve got to make exceptions from time to time…

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photo by: razorriome