Laos Part Two: caves, lagoons and rubber rings

12-13 September 2011

With a 9am start, we got a bit of a lie-in this morning before we left Vientiane for Vang Vieng and, after quite a bumpy ride, we arrived early afternoon.  We checked into the Inthira hotel and went straight back out again to find food down by the river. Many of the restaurants had TVs playing shows I recognised and we settled on a place showing Friends. Who doesn’t love a bit of Friends (in fact I’m actually watching it right now whilst I’m writing this). Sadly, we sat outside so I couldn’t actually see the screen but I suppose I was here to be sociable. There were no chairs so we all squeezed around a little table, cross-legged. Our guide recommended the baked potatoes but sadly they turned out peeled, halved and under-cooked, with only a little bit of cheese, a few beans and something that claimed to be tomato sauce.

We had two choices for our afternoon activity: biking down to a nearby lagoon or the infamous tubing. Since one of our party wasn’t feeling well, we went biking and left tubing for the next day when he was better. The rest of the group set off down one of the muddiest, bumpiest tracks I have ever seen (and I grew up on country roads and farm tracks), with potholes big enough to swallow our bikes. He had to dodge children, chickens, cows and water buffalo as we drove (or, in my case, wobbled) along. I’d been excited to go biking, as I hadn’t been since that one time I went in Australia, but I was slightly terrified on that road. There were big rocks hidden under the water-logged potholes, it was slippy and you couldn’t exactly ignore the waving kids, so I had to ride one-handed as I waved back.

Thankfully, the lagoon was more than worth it. The water was turquoise – albeit quite cold – and there was a big tree branch that ran over it, from which a couple of swings hung. After psyching myself up for the temperature, I eased myself in and had a bit of a swim before being ready to start jumping off the big branch. There was a nearby cave ripe for exploring but none of us fancied it so with that we hopped on the bikes for the return slide back to the hotel.

Back in town, I went out for some stash shopping. Many of the shops sold tubing merchandise and I wanted some. I went for a fitted vest top and shorts that I thought would be perfect for the gym back home. Not that I go to the gym. But if I did then they would be worth it. (It turned out that I couldn’t bring myself to ever wear a matching tubing outfit, for fear of looking far too ‘gap yah’).

In the evening, we went for dinner at a posher branch of our hotel, where I got a free Lao Lao (Laos’ own whiskey) and banana cocktail to go with my stir fry. We then headed to Q bar. Apparently, Laos’ curfew isn’t quite so stringent in Vang Vieng – the “party town” of Laos – but we still weren’t out too late before it was time for pancakes and bed.

The next morning, after breakfast, a group of us went out for an excursion before tubing in the afternoon. We headed for the rather over-hyped two-headed coconut tree before squelching in the rain across the river towards the Poukham cave, which sat at the top of some very steep steps. Sadly we still got rained on even when made it inside. We explored for a little while and then headed back to meet for tubing. I grabbed some chicken pad thai at the hotel but, as tasty as it was, I couldn’t eat much as I was starting to feel ill. That was bad timing.

For anyone not familiar with the concept of tubing, basically you sit in the middle of a big rubber ring and float down a river lined with about lots of bars. People then throw ropes out and drag you in for some drinks before you move on to the next one. Needless to say, things can get messy. We had heard some horror stories about tubing so we decided to steer clear of the slippery zip-wires, swings and slides on offer. (Apparently since my visit the bars have been closed so now its just the floating rings).

At the tubing base, we were loaded into the back of a tuk tuk, with our rubber rings strapped to the roof and, once at the river, we were boated across to Q bar’s river branch, where we stayed for a little while before deciding to move on to two other places (there were more than a dozen but we didn’t have time for them all unless we were constantly moving along). After a mud fight, a game of volleyball and some body paint, as well as a chance meeting with someone from my old school back in England, we were all floating down the river in our rings back to the town, having had a lot of fun but not really that much to drink, relatively speaking.

Towards the end, we were boarded by some local children who tried to lead us ashore, which made me feel rather awkward as I lay there, splayed out in my ring while the children shivered but, in the middle of the river, saying “no thanks” wasn’t really an option. Unfortunately, I had also got separated from my friend who had my cash so I had to try and mime that I needed to find her before I could give them a tip. Finally, we were all reunited and we dropped off our rings, picked up our deposits and went to bed.

Read about the rest of my trip:

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