Vang Vieng : Bike rides, caves and countrysides.

Vang Vieng Travel Blog

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Super bike!!! :)

Yesterday segues into today practically without sleep.  It’s early morning.  Real early morning.  Again.  There are an awful lot of those on The Road you soon learn.  I caught the night bus from Luang Prabang last night and travelled down towards next stop Vang Vieng.  The bus deposited me - only me - besides the abandoned air strip at the towns periphery at 3.00am.  Nowhere to stay.  Nowhere to go and hardly any bearings to speak of.  I stumble across the night-obscured gravel and grass fusion of the old runway towards the nearest significant source of light.

  A rather up market looking guesthouse with all its external lights blazing through the night.  Good to be travelling solo again at this stage ‘cos it means I can take the decision to properly slum it.  Which I do.  Hunkering down in the lighted driveway like a hobo, using my oversize backpack for support.  I doze fitfully for an hour or so and then later take to reading until dawn.  I think it’s only when you go through a night entire in this fashion that you begin to tap into those ancient, ancestral fears that Tomorrow may never come.  The feeling of the potential for unending night.  Such as those beliefs of the Egyptians.  Would Ra triumph one more time through the hours of night to raise the orb of the sun one more time again?  Maybe.
The limestone karsts of Vang Vieng
  Maybe not. 

Sat against my bag I stare into the distance a far off lightening storm offers a dramatic introduction to my new surroundings by revealing the silhouette portraits of the mountains all around.  Momentary brooding glimpses before everything returns to uniform, flat black night.  It’s some hours before a more permanent source of light begins to waver up behind those same hills and reveal the landscape to me.  I pick myself up, and dust my trampy self down before relocating to the front porch of the guesthouse I wish to stay in here.  Pan’s Place.  The proprietress Pan, I think is quite surprised to be greeted by me when at 7.00am she lifts the iron shutters up from within and stares at this orange-haired dawn apparition through bleary eyes in her nightie and flip-flops.

 

A room is later made available for me.  This turns out to be Neil’s ‘spare’ room.  Neil being the New Zealand born husband of Pan.  I am privileged to be in his male bolt hole.  Two framed family photos reveal this to be the case along with a third, tastefully framed ‘artsy’ colour nude portrait of (I think?) the rather attractive Pan herself.  His wife.  I couldn’t say for 100% but I’m pretty certain.  And no, I didn’t ask.  Hmm?  Friendly bunch at Pan’s Place!

Breakfast down me and surprisingly awake I hire one of the guest houses mountain bikes (20,000 Kip/ $2.50) to take myself out to some of the fabulous countryside and mountainous scenery that looms over the rice and corn fields of Vang Vieng.

Cave art.
  Back in the saddle again!  I wobble my way down the roads and cross the Nam Song river that flows through the length of the town.  This gentle, shallow rover being the reason and venue for the infamous Vang Vieng ‘Tubing’ insanity that so many people participate in here, but more of that another time.  The main bridge across the river is fee paying.  I forget how much, but quite a hit for a two way ticket for you and your bike.  I now know that you can cycle just 5 minutes north along the bank of the Nam Song and there you can wheel your bike across a rickety bamboo bridge for free.  Take note.

Once across, you are entering the agricultural territory of the local Lao people.  Large flat expanses of agricultural land, sparsely populated by livestock spread north, south and west.

Drive through snack anyone? :)
  This patchwork scenery is enclosed by stunning limestone karst mountain scenery.  Large single thrusts or ranges of erosion-carved limestone pinnacles.  Very reminiscent of those I have scene in Krabi/ Railay Beaches in Thailand.   These cliff formations are riddled with stone galleries and caves of varying size, interest and renown. 

Whilst I have a couple of key destinations in mind it’s hard to keep the mental map (that’s all I have today) accurate.  The most famous in the area I will be in today is Tham Phu Kham with its accompanying Blue Lagoon.  Pretty much any old hole in the wall around here though will be signposted and flagged as a major site of interest and once you reach the conclusion of the particular cycle path there will invariably be some kids or an old man needing 10,000 Kip ($1.

20) before you can ascend and explore.  So don’t go to the wrong cave too many times.  It could get costly.  It goes without saying that you should take a good flashlight/ torch or headlamp with you if you wish to undertake cave viewing.  None of them have electric here.

Clambering down from my first cave of misdirection I am lucky though to have happened upon some cycle buddies for the day, all of whom had trudged to the same cave.  Ian and Brad (aka ‘Baskets’) from Canada and Mark and Nicole from New Zealand.  We cycle along the bumpy, pebble strewn roads through little Lao villages.  Kids and animals playing in the fields.  By the road sides.  Our progress accompanied by the usual little retail outposts that seem to survive, no matter how far out in areas where tourists are known to drift.

Ian gets ready to take the plunge.
  Despite the fact I’m sure we’re not the 7km out required to have arrived at Tham Phu Kham after much discussion another cave-tout convinces us through the mysterious powers of Language Barrier that we are where we want to be.  “Blue Lagoon?!”.  “Yes. Yes. Same same.”.  Oh that ol’ turkey.  Same same.  That humorous,  ubiquitous, mischievous phrase that covers a multitude of conversational sins, misinterpretations and misunderstandings throughout your travels in Southeast Asia.  Either way, despite the soon evident fact that 10,000 Kip each to the lighter we are still not where we desired to be, it’s a go easy, chill out kinda day and we don’t particularly care.
The so-called 'Blue Lagoon'
  There is an empty, tree-fringed pond here, if not quite a ‘Blue Lagoon’.  A handy rope swing has been provided for us to clown around with.  Somersaulting, screaming, spinning, dropping, bombing and splashing repeatedly into the turquoise waters.  Ian is the master of the reverse flip.  Baskets of screaming like and idiot and waggling his legs comedically.  Me of some kind of cack-handed side-ways aborted-somersault smack into the water. All good fun.

We do eventually arrive at Tham Phu Kham.  “Another 10,000 Kip thank you very much!”.  And once climbed up to (quite hard work!) it is an impressively large cave.  My headlamp to our aid and a few candles snatched by Ian and Mark from a Buddha shrine (“Naughty boys!”) and we’re off into the dark depths.

The reclining Buddha housed inside Tham Phu Kham
  We slip, scramble and jump our way around this rather ominous hollowed mount for quite some time, all taking care to shed as much light around each other as possible.  I’m definitely more in the ‘play it safe guys’ camp with Nicole.  45 minutes or so, thankfully, we are returned to daylight after eerily having separated into two slightly lost groups within the caves bowels.  All that’s left to do now is to refresh ourselves by rope swinging, diving and swimming into the cold waters of the so-called Blue Lagoon (basically a local, Clearwater river stream) before cycling back to town with the sun set bursting over the mountains now over our shoulder.  The ride back is most painful in my case as I have become incredibly saddle-sore as the day’s worn on.
Vang Vieng sundown.
  I can hardly rest my arse upon the bike for the wince-inducing agony this promises, so hard work cycling most of the 10km back, up off the pedals.

Back in town.  Bike returned “Thank f**k!”.  I join the gang a little ways up the road from Pan’s Place where two ladies around sunset every night stand and barbeque pork ribs that are beyond compare in their succulent, gorgeousness in all of my gastronomic experience.  Priced generously by the weight and chopped into plastic bags with an optional sachet of tasty crushed chilly dressing this is one of my number one favourite meals of my entire travels to date.  Couldn’t be simpler.  Couldn’t taste better.  They don’t have much produce each night and when it’s gone it’s gone so get there in good time people.  It’s a knockout with the locals too.  Just about 200 yards north from Pan’s Place on the same Luang Prabang Road.  I will sleep H.A.P.P.Y. tonight!

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Super bike!!! :)
Super bike!!! :)
The limestone karsts of Vang Vieng
The limestone karsts of Vang Vieng
Cave art.
Cave art.
Drive through snack anyone? :)
Drive through snack anyone? :)
Ian gets ready to take the plunge.
Ian gets ready to take the plunge.
The so-called Blue Lagoon
The so-called 'Blue Lagoon'
The reclining Buddha housed inside…
The reclining Buddha housed insid…
Vang Vieng sundown.
Vang Vieng sundown.
Proof positive in these ancient ca…
Proof positive in these ancient c…
Weeeeeeeeee!
"Weeeeeeeeee!"
Inside Tham Phu Kham
Inside Tham Phu Kham
The lads descend into Tham Phu Kham
The lads descend into Tham Phu Kham
Last of the suns rays reach out ac…
Last of the suns rays reach out a…
Vang Vieng
photo by: razorriome