We arrived in Vang Vieng as the sun was setting over the mountains. We immediately fell in love with the city and the surrounding area. It was a nice change from the busy, less interesting, city of Vientiane. We had read about a place called Maylyn Guesthouse, a quiet place with little bungalows across the river from the main touristy area. We headed that way on foot and found a quaint place with a bunch of different options for every budget. They didn’t have a lot of rooms left since it was the end of the day, so we chose a comfortable little room for $10 a night. Thus far, we were not really impressed with Laos food (although, considering it’s neighbors are Thailand and Vietnam, Laos doesn’t have much of a chance in the food competition), but we did have a really great meal at the restaurant at our guesthouse.
The next day, we rented a motorbike (surprise!), which was more of a scooter mixed with a dirt bike, and cruised along the dirt road behind our hotel to a watery oasis known as the Blue Lagoon. It was over 100 degrees F outside, so we were thrilled when we saw clear blue water in the middle of the jungle. Before getting in, we opted to hike up to a famous cave (Tham Phu Kham) next to the lagoon. As we started on our way up the mountain, we saw a sign telling us that headlamps are absolutely necessary in the cave. We had one with us and we rented another.
The entrance to the cave was stunning and we started exploring the outer area with only about three other people in sight. As we continued into the cave, we were impressed by the absolute magnitude of this thing. It was HUGE! After about thirty minutes of exploring, we found ourselves in a massive chamber that was completely dark. We were all by ourselves in this monster. We continued to explore for two more hours, enchanted by crystalline stalactites and stalagmites. It was like nothing I had ever seen before. We forced ourselves to stop wandering around after two hours because we were afraid we would get lost! I’m not sure how much deeper that cave went, but it was really impressive. To John’s delight, we found a giant huntsman spider inside the cave (about 6 inches in diameter!), just hanging out on one of the rocks. I wasn’t thrilled, although I was prepared to see one since we were in a cave…in Laos. It was the biggest spider I had ever seen although not quite as big as the one that ran by John near the shower in Fiji (luckily I missed that one).
The cave exploration was amazing and definitely a highlight of our Southeast Asian adventures. What came next also was pretty awesome: we lounged by the Blue Lagoon, sipped on Beer Lao, and took turns jumping from tree tops and rope swings into the water. This had to be the most refreshing body of water we ever swam in…or maybe it was just because it was 100+ degrees.
We enjoyed the laid back nature of Vang Vieng and decided to stay an extra day. The next morning, we took the motorbike on a failed attempt to see another cave (we got lost and the motorbike decided to break down temporarily), and then ventured out into the nearby villages. The scenery was amazing! As we approached the first village, we were greeted by a group of kids who threw a giant bucket of water on us while we were on the motorbike! It was our first taste of Songkran (or Pi Mai or Pi Mai Lao…or any other variation we heard), the Laos New Year, which is celebrated by throwing water on one another for good luck. It wouldn’t officially start for two more days, but the locals start as soon as they can and tourists are not exempt from being drenched! We actually welcomed the dousing since the heat of the day was so intense.
We explored as far into the countryside as a half a tank of gas would allow and then (sadly) headed back (you just can’t ever explore enough on one tank of gas!). On the way, we stopped in one of the villages and ate some really good noodle and rice dishes while we hung out with the family who owned the small food stand. We learned how to say Happy Laos New Year (Sa bai dee Pi Mai Lao) and enjoyed some homemade popsicles (one was which was coffee and the other was some other flavor we couldn’t quite pinpoint) before saying goodbye.
We spent the evening having some dinner in town and doing what every tourist does in Vang Vieng – watching Friends episodes at the local bar. It is very strange how many restaurants and bars play rerun after rerun of Friends episodes. Oh yea, we also ran into Alex! This was getting crazy! We weren’t even in Vietnam anymore, but we were still running into him. We grabbed a beer and caught up for a bit before heading back across the river.
Vang Vieng was awesome and we wanted to stay longer (as usual), but we headed out the next morning to Luang Prabang to celebrate the Laos New Year!