Destinations, Laos, Travel log

Vang Vieng – Mountains, caves and river

It's starting to be beautiful!

Next stop: Vang Vieng

For many years Vang Vieng was the hotspot for backpackers looking for a remote place to party. One of the main activity in town is actually tubing down the river and stopping at the bars on the way. After many lethal accidents a few years ago, the government took the drastic decision to shut down all these bars, and to increase the overall safety. The town slowly reopened to tourists of different ages and travel styles, in a more organized and controlled manner… to now let place to Chinese and Korean investors! The 2 different kind of tourism somehow expands side by side and the locals struggle to find the right balance in the middle. All in all, Vang Vieng city is still not developing for the better, which is sad because the landscape and the location is just … AMAZING.

Surrounded by limestones mountains, Vang Vieng offers many activities for nature lovers: kayaking, cycling, motorbiking, cave exploration, waterfalls, climbing and even hang-gliding, hot air balloon, and paramotoring. The problem is that you need to find your way in the middle of the big touristic groups…

We arrived in Vang Vieng at the beginning of the afternoon … in crazy heat. The road was pretty OK apart from a small traffic jam caused by an accident on the way. After finding the guesthouse we had booked the day before we decided to enjoy the A/C a bit! Towards the end of the afternoon we finally went out by the river to admire a beautiful sunset behind the mountains. Silviu took the opportunity to have a swim. Since we had our laundry day, the only outfit he could wear was the swimwear! Lucky him, we, girls, were condemned to watch him with envy… until we realized that it was pretty cold water and strong (but fun) current!

We did the mistake earlier to notice that there was a highly rated Italian restaurant close to our guesthouse. The prices were actually very decent. We could not resist! Again, the luck of being 3 travelers: we can actually select 3 pizzas, share and enjoy!

The next day we had booked a tour. After some research we realized that the easiest way to explore the area was to go on a kayak tour. We pre-booked a tuk-tuk and off to kayaking. The prices were relatively low, approx. 100K/$12 per person for a day of activities, which included the transfer, a tour in the Water Cave, lunch and kayaking down the Nam Song River. We ended being just the 3 of us and 2 other Thai girls in our group, perfect.

Before the trip, we went to grab a breakfast in one of the places around; they more or less all offer the same for the tourists in town: pancakes, sandwiches and juices/ shakes. We decided to order a shake and a pancake each. But it took so long that I had to rush out with only 2 pancakes done and have it as take-away to eat in the tuk-tuk. In the end we were happy we got only 2 pancakes. Although they were pretty good, they contained a lot of oil and sugar! Yes… we are trying to lose some weight… It is working pretty well as you can see.

Tham Nam (Water cave) visit

We then arrived to our first stop. After crossing another bridge we walked a bit in the (dry) rice fields to soon arrive to the so-called Water Cave. This cave is normally filled up with water. We are here during the dry season, which is the right moment to visit it. They found a really cool way to explore the cave: tubing through the cave by holding onto a rope and lighting your way with a frontal lamp. The tour inside is about 30-40 minutes. When the water gets too low you need to walk a bit carrying your “tube”. To be honest it’s a pretty funny experience but spoiled by all the touristic groups… We had lunch next to the entrance and it was pretty funny to watch the groups, especially Koreans (no offense, but they are cute), getting in and out … I can tell you we had our portion of laughter.

River Kayaking

On our way to the kayaking river tour, we briefly visited the Elephant cave, which is a cave with a rock shaped like an elephant. Back to the tuk-tuk, we had to drive for 10 minutes to get to the kayaking platform. This is also the place where the tubing starts (a.k.a. tubing-drinking), so we were a bit afraid of having all those bars with loud music on the way. Surprisingly, their number really did reduced and we were able to enjoy some very peaceful parts. The landscape is really beautiful in that region.

There are a few rapids on the river, with quite a steep slope, but good enough for beginners like us. Of course we collided with others, we got stuck on the rocks and got a bit of sunburn on the way, but it was well worth it.

Afterwards we went back to our hotel for a shower. Berit had to leave the next day to Luang Prabang. Silviu and I decided to stay one more day and try to go around the area by bicycle. In the evening we went to get Lao food in a restaurant with a beautiful view. The rain invited itself but we were lucky and it stayed light.

Tham Phu Kham Cave and Blue Lagoon

The next day we said goodbye to Berit and Silviu worked in the morning. Internet was slow so it took him longer than expected. After renting mountain bikes we ended up biking just around noon, as usual. Bad idea, but it turned out to be a good thing because there are not many people around that time (guess why), so we were able to enjoy the famous Blue Lagoon! This lagoon is a super touristic trap; so much that they now gave the same name to all the cave ponds in the area! But with this heat and the lagoon not being too crowded we were very happy to enjoy a refreshing bath!

Afterwards we climbed up to the entrance of the cave behind. Although the blue lagoon is super touristic as many groups stop there, the cave behind, Tham Phu Kham Cave, is completely forgotten or ignored by most tourists! We spent about 1 hour exploring it and met about 10 tourists all in all? Many don’t want to go the steep climb up and if they do, they would not go further than the first “room” as it is quite slippery to walk around and also it is getting completely dark. But we had so much fun getting lost in it, climbing and trying to find a way! And the best part is that the cave temperature is so much cooler than outside!

Thanks to Bogdan and George we have really cool and powerful headlamp and flashlight. 🙂 The two were very helpful to see the immensity of the cave.

When we headed out we were hesitating about going for another bath but in the meantime groups started to arrive so it was getting very crowded with Koreans wearing their life jackets, phone and wallets around their necks, etc. Much less appealing, so we skipped it.

As usual, our coffee stop

Afterwards we went to a nice coffee place we spotted on our way. It is actually part of a project to support free education and local economy. Although the place itself was very nice, it was full of “volunteers” that were not particularly friendly with neither visitors nor between themselves; not saying hi, not speaking with each other…  it felt weird. But not the good kind of weird (like us) 🙂

Pha Ngeun viewpoint, near Vang Vieng

We then headed to a viewpoint. A 350m high hill that is reachable after you climb the 650m trail. It seems easy said like that… but it was quite steep for flip-flops and very warm. We ended up drinking all the water that we had … well, the temperature was around 40 degrees! However the view on top was great despite the heat craziness! Unfortunately we couldn’t afford to wait for the sunset as we needed to bike back to the city. Of course, when we descended we went for an … ice-cream!

After dropping our bikes we headed to the river for a last bath at sunset. Trying to swim and walk again the strong current is both funny and hard! But the best is how fast it is to let you float back to your departure point!

In the evening we couldn’t resist another pizza! Yummy. 🙂

Off to ... Luang Prabang

The next day we had managed to organize a departure at 6:30 AM to go to Luang Prabang by minivan. In the morning the bus was late, of course, so we had time to take some pictures of the morning market (in the street). Most importantly Silviu played tic-tac-toe with locals in a cute little bar next door!

The trip was quite long but went well. We had very beautiful scenery and big mountains. We arrived to our destination around lunch time. Luang Prabang, here we are!!

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