Tuesday, March 13, 2007

Vang Vieng

It was great to get out of Vientiane finally. Vang Vieng feels like a world away from the capital city. This place was really beautiful. While Lyndsay was concentrating on all the practical things, like how to find our guest house, I was just spinning around in circles going , "WOW."

We stayed at Maylyn Guest House across the river from the main part of the town. They had a partnership with Mut Mee in Nong Khai and had the same system of doing a lot of things. They took us to our private bungalow and I immediately sat down to enjoy the hammock and the wonderful view.

That night we got to see how weird of a place Vang Vieng is. The city abounds with restaurants that all have the same food. I mean, exactly the same food--they photocopied their neighbor's menu. Most of the restaurants also had TVs and cushions and pillows. During the day they all showed episodes of Friends, and at night they showed different movies. A few of the shadier looking places served things like "happy pizza" and "happy tea." We caught a pretty awesome sunset on the way to dinner that first night.

The next morning (after eating an amazing banana pancake at the guest house) we rented mountain bikes and rode 13 km to go see some caves in the Tham Sang triangle. The view on the way was great.

It was a lot of fun riding through the town because everyone was very friendly and all the kids waved at us and said "hello" to which we replied "sabaidee." We payed a lady to watch our bikes and crossed over a small stream to go check out the caves. First we went to Tham Sang, or elephant cave. It was named this because of a stalactite that is supposed to look like an elephant head. This cave also had a Buddha footprint, but was very small.

Then a guide too us to Tham Hoi, which means snail cave.

The guide took us on a 3km hike inside this limestone cavern. Lyndsay had a big flashlight that he let her borrow and I just had a little LED light on my pocket knife. It was a lot of fun. Nothing was protected in any way. We climbed all over limestone formations, played drums on stalactites, and swam for a little at the end even.

Next we went to Tham Loup with a different guide. This cave was smaller with about 4 rooms. I think one of them was pretty large and impressive.

Finally we went to Tham Nam, the water cave. To get into this cave, you have to get into an inner tube in the water and pull yourself in on a rope. Then you park your tube and crawl around the rest of the way. We had to get on our hands and knees and fit through some really tight spaces. It was worth it though, because we saw cave crickets and a big cave spider.

We got back on our bikes and rode about halfway back to a restaurant at an organic farm. They also have a restaurant in town that we had been to. They were out of the mulberries they are famous for, so no mulberry shakes for us. Instead we tried this beer made with palm nectar or something like that. It didn't really taste that much like beer, but it was very good.

We ate pumpkin soup and some noodles with stir fried vegetables (including mulberry leaves) with fish. It was going to be dark soon, so we headed back to town.

The next day, we had planned on going inner tubing down the Nam Song, but Lyndsay wasn't feeling so well, so I did it on my own, just to see what it was all about. Tubing is probably the most popular tourist attraction in Vang Vieng because it is basically a pub-crawl on a river. They let you in and you float at your pace past make shift bars with people yelling "Bia Lao!" and fishing tourists out of the water with a bamboo pole attached to a rope. It looked like it would have been a lot of fun if I had been there with friends. There were a few really big river side bar areas and they all offered free volleyball and a free rope swing. The rope swings were huge!

When I got back from tubing, Lyndsay and I went for a sunset walk towards some other caves. About five minutes into the walk, a couple of kids started following us and asking to be our guides. We told them no a million times and that we weren't going to the caves. We even tried stopping to skip stones and going down side paths to show them that we didn't really care where we went. They still wouldn't leave us alone, so we just had to turn around and go back. That night we went back to town and ate dinner while watching some awful Ben Affleck movie.

The next morning we took a minibus back to Vientiane where we hung out at the market near the bus station fighting off tuk tuk drivers for an hour or two before we took a bus to the airport and headed off to Hanoi.

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