Bike ride to Tham Poukham with a couple unplanned detours and the obligatory tubing down the river

Vang Vieng Travel Blog

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Where I parked my bike while being lost
After a very unrestfu sleep, I decided I'd have one full day in Vang Vieng and then head north to Luang Prabang. Since there is a lot to see, I had to pick a couple things I really wanted to do.

According to my guidebook, the way to get to Tham Poukham and its giant cave and refreshing "blue lagoon", was to walk or bike about 7km over a bridge on the other side of the river. Had I known that motorbiking was an option, it's what I would have chosen especially when I discovered that "unsealed" meant incredibly bumpy, covered in rocks. I rented a "town cruising" bike from my hotel for 10,000. Along the way through town to the bridge I saw mountain bikes for rent. Ah well, it was too late by then and something I wish I had known 10 minutes earlier.
Reclining Buddah in the cave


The hand drawn map I was given showed that you were to cross over the bridge, head straight for 7km and you're magically there. However, as soon as you cross the bridge there's a T intersection. My guess was to follow a sign that mentioned waterfall and head left. I should have known by the condition of the road and the fact that it eventually turned into a cow pasture, that I had gone to wrong way. I eventually came across a pond and a woman asking for entrance fee to the caves. It didn't seem right so I turned around and headed back to the bridge. This time I turned right and saw a sign a few metres in advertising for tuk tuk rides to the "Blue Lagoon" cave. Phew, I was finally going in the right direction.

I had started this journey at about 9:30, so fortunately it wasn't too hot out yet.
Swimming spot at the cave
I continued on this road for about 3km before my chain fell off for the first time. It wasn't only off, but wedged against the frame of my bike. After pulling and poking at it with everything I could find, I got it unwedged. But then I realized i had no idea how to get it back on. Fortunately, a guy (smartly) driving a motorbike stopped and got it back on for me. A further way along, a man came out to warn me that as a solo female on a bike, I should be mindful of guys on bikes driving by and snatching my backpack from me. From then on, I was very cautious every time I head a bike coming!

I came to another fork in the road and saw what I thought was a sign for the cave. A few kilometres along, my chain fell off but not far from a cave entrance. This ended up being the wrong cave so I had bike 2 extra kilometres for nothing but at least a man there put my chain back on.
At the start of the tubing
Getting back to the intersection, at this point starting to feel deyhdrated from the heat and tired from pushing a single geared bike along the bumpy road, I went the other way and saw a sign for the cave. Another kilometre along and I was finally there. Phew!

There's a climb up to the cave which consists of rocks acting as steps. At the cave entrance I spoke to a few people who were stupid enough to rent the road bikes but not dumb enough to go the wrong way twice. After checking out the cave, which was really big inside and had a sleeping Buddah statue inside, I went to the river where there's a rope swing and a tree you can climb and jump off. A 300ish pound German man climbed the tree and jumped off covering me and everything in a 10 metre radius in water.
bars and music blasting everywhere


The water was very cool and refreshing and helped make up for the bike ride out there. For the 10,000 entrance fee, you get access to the river, cave and huts along the river where you can sit and relax in the shade. They looked inviting, but all full, and I had to get back to town to get in some tubing.

On the way back, I didn't get lost again but my chain came off five more times. Once, it got jammed again and a small local boy on a bike stopped and got it unwedged by pounding it was a stick and a rock. Very ingenius and it rocked right away. Apparently the kids around here get handy at a very young age. Before he was out of eye sight my chain fell off again, but this time I was able to fix it myself.

I was back by 1pm and went off to rent a tube.
For 55,000 kip you get a ride in a (very crowded) tuk tuk to the river and a tube. When we were dropped off we were accosted by westerners making us each take a shot of some really disgusting booze. They then handed us each flyers advertising a bar for the evening.

From where you're dropped off, you can see four or five bars. Each bar blasts dance music, sells drinks and have swings to propel you over the water below. It sounds like a fantastic idea but apparently people die there every year due to a mix of booze, heights and a river. As I was floating down, a guy came at me from one of those swings and almost knocked me out with his feet. The bar staff also throw full water bottles attached to ropes at tubers to pull you into their bar.

Once i was out of the bar area it was much more peaceful, although a very slow tube ride.
views along the river away from the drunken debauchery
There were a few rapids but I ended up paddling to get down the river faster. If you do the river as many people do, you get drunk and float down, stopping at various bars along the way. I was by myself, thus not drinking, so it was definitely a different kind of experience. It was very relaxing, although the last 30 - 45 minutes dragged on for a bit.

In the evening I ate dinner at a restaurant with a view of the river and the mountains in the background to watch the sunset. I overheard two guys talking behind me about a stream of bats flying out of a distant cave that you could see from the restaurant. I looked over and there must have been thousands of them forming a giant stream. From where we were it looked like smoke but sure enough, it was lots of bats.
views along the river away from the drunken debauchery
I found out later that girls sitting behind them had read in their guidebook that if you're really lucky, you'll see them around sunset.

I met up with those two guys later on at the Bucket Bar which gives away free buckets for part of the night. From what I could tell, they are a potent mix of cheap whisky (it's cheaper than cola), small amounts of cola and whatever else they decide to throw in. I stuck with the BeerLao.

The bar open aired with wooden "huts" without walls, raised off the ground. The bar is lined with these and somme have hammocks, which is where I spent a couple hours. A guy walked over with a kitten , which he said he found wandering around and wanted someone to take it for some chill out time. So for those couple hours I had a sleeping kitten on my lap. Inside the ring of huts are wooden platforms for dancing and a couple bonfires. The bar had a pretty cool vibe and lots of people when I left at midnight.
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Where I parked my bike while being…
Where I parked my bike while bein…
Reclining Buddah in the cave
Reclining Buddah in the cave
Swimming spot at the cave
Swimming spot at the cave
At the start of the tubing
At the start of the tubing
bars and music blasting everywhere
bars and music blasting everywhere
views along the river away from th…
views along the river away from t…
views along the river away from th…
views along the river away from t…
water buffalo
water buffalo
Vang Vieng
photo by: razorriome