Monday, May 4, 2009

Vang Vieng: My New Favorite Place

We were exhausted after our day of travelling on less-than-ideal roads when we arrived in Vang Vieng, so we got a cheap hotel and just chilled out for a bit.  For dinner, we discovered our new favorite hangout, a restaurant we dubbed “The Friends Café” because they had three big screen TVs that constantly played episodes of the TV show “Friends.”  We ended up eating there multiple times during our stay and befriended a couple of the waiters.  We explored some of our options for activities for the next couple of days and decided to go tubing on the Nam Song river, which runs parallel to the town.  So the next morning, we grabbed breakfast (and I had my millionth fruit shake) at a local café and took a tuk tuk down to the river.  The only problem is, you’re supposed to rent the tubes BEFORE you head down to the river.  So, we sent the boys in (naturally) to go rent six tubes for us while we bathed in the sun and chatted it up with the locals by the river.  Tubing along the Nam Song is very popular because the locals have built cool tiki bars that line the shores on either side of the river.  They serve Laotian beer, free shots, and have cool rope swings to swing out into the river on.  The atmosphere was really fun, and we had a great time stopping at bars along the way and meeting backpackers from all over the world.

The next day, we decided to rent scooters and go explore the caves around the area.  After some troubles finding the actual roads that lead to a couple of the caves (“Legitimate” roads look like dirt tracks and maps are not drawn to scale. Perfect.), we came upon a deserted cave that apparently had a Buddha statue in it.  Using only our cell phone lights and the hand-holding system, we ventured into the cave to find the Buddha.  Luckily, it wasn’t too far into the cave!  We grabbed some pictures, went swinging on some vines, and ventured on to find the next cave, Tham Phu Kham.  The trip to Tham Phu Kham led us on a bumpy dirt road through a couple of villages and herds of cattle on the road.  However, the best part of the trip was the absolutely breathtaking scenery we encountered!  We were surrounded by gorgeous mountains and pristine fields.

Once we got to the cave, we were surprised by the amount of people there!  We found out they were having a New Year celebration, complete with a live band and lots and lots of vendors selling suspicious looking meat products.  We rented a light to explore the cave with and started the extremely treacherous hike through the woods up to the cave. (The path was nearly vertical, I swear.)  The inside of the cave was cool and cavernous and we spent the next hour or so exploring it.  The cave had no definite pathways or lights, so it was up to you to find your own way.  My friend and I started following a guy who looked like he knew what he was doing (and he had a light… a definite plus), but we found out too late that he actually had no idea where he was going.  We ended up on the wrong side of a large ravine and had to go through some painful (and slightly scary!) measures in order to be able to get out of the cave.  A couple of foot cuts, some dirty clothes, and a pair of ripped shorts later, we finally got out of there!

At the bottom of the path leading up to the cave, there is a lagoon that all of the local children were swimming in.  It was the perfect way to cool down, and we had fun jumping out of trees and swinging on the rope swings with the locals.  That night, we returned our scooters and checked out a local restaurant owned by an Australian man.  We had fun chatting it up with him and enjoyed the Thai/Australian food.  The next day, we shopped for souvenirs and reluctantly hopped on a bus back to Vientiane.

Here are the links to my Facebook photo albums of Bangkok and Laos:

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