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Published: December 8th 2006
Tubing area of Veng Vieng
You had to cross these ricketty little bridges over the river where people were tubing. They were made from bamboo and the sort of bits of wood that your dad keeps in the garage/shed "because they might come in useful". They dont seem very sturdy to begin with, and then someone drives over behind you on a motorbike.
VIP Coaching: Luxury on wheels Kris
When we decided to move on from Luang Prabang we thought - What the heck, let's book one of those lovely VIP coaches and enjoy a bit of luxury. So early on our morning of departure we sprang aboard a tuk tuk bound for the bus station and our pre-booked "Very Importnat Person" coach..with a toilet and lunch included on the 5 hour journey to Vang Vieng our next port of call. Things never really go to plan though do they? First of all, a bloke at the station tried to put us on the standard class coach and I had to chase him around the bus to retrieve our ticket and take up our rightful place on the posh one. Then, on the winding journey through the mountains there was the toilet door affair.
We sat just behind the toilet and had full view of the drama as it unfolded. 1st off, the door wouldn't close. On every bend it swung open and started to really annoy the bloke in front of us, who repeatedly slammed it...then it started opening when people went in to relieve themselves, embarressing everyone concerned. Then
Sunset over the river
It really was very beautiful. If you ignored the sound of wooping in the background.
the bloke in front lost his rag completely and managed to lock the door shut somehow from the inside when he slammed it really hard. Shortly after this point the girl sat next to him revealed she really wanted a wee...so he started hacking at the lock with every accessory he had on his Swiss Army knife. We winced as we watched, imagining he was about to sever a finger as the bus rolled from side to side.
Anyway, he got it open and everything was fine - but that toilet door provided some excellent in-coach entertainment as I sat there with headphones on, content in the fact that I had an empty bladder and didn't need to face the stress of it all....
First impressions of Vang Vieng were that it was really beautiful. It's a tiny little town, nestled at one side of a river with incredible mountains shooting straight up vertically out of the ground on the other. We took a room in a quiet little guesthouse on the other side of the river to the main town (Maylyn Guesthouse). It was very rural and beautiful to look at with friendly hosts
Our lovely little guesthouse
Our room opened onto this balcony.
and even friendlier dogs and cats. Then there was the 1st indication that all is not quite as it seems...
On our 1st night there we ate in the guesthouse and met a friendly Swiss guy. We began chatting and I asked him how long he'd been there. He said he couldn't remember. A few days maybe. Maybe a few weeks...
I asked where he'd been before there. Somewhere in Thailand. He couldn't remember where.
It was a bit spooky.
Further exploration of the sleepy little town revealed more strange things. It's a proper back-packer hangout and everyone comes here to go tubing down the river. This basically involves being crammed into a tuk tuk, taken up river and then being chucked into the water in a tracktor tyre inner-tube where you float lazily along to a series of bars and drink lots of Beerlao en route. Hopefully by the end, someone manages to hook you into safety before you disappear off into another country.
A load of bars in Veng Vieng sell "happy" food. Ranging from pizzas to fruit shakes. This basically means it's got cannabis in it. It's quite comical seeing
The sign to the caves....
No mention of a death-defying pot-holing swim into pitch black icy waters there then...
the big blatant signs outside advertising happy pizza. Yet apparently the unwary backpacker can still get done for around a $500 on the stop fine if he or she is caught with a tiny bit of the stuff.
Side-by-side with the happy food bars (and perhaps as a direct response to..) there are these weird TV bars. As you walk down the street you can see these bars with rows and rows of chairs pointed at a tv showing Friends and The Simpsons predominantly. So there you are surrounded by this amazing natural scenery and there're all these people sat looking at CHannel 4/Sky reruns. Quite odd again.
I'm not even going to get into the Whitney Houston kareoke bars at night and the excessive wooping.
Clearly I'm getting old...
One of the things Vang Vieng is famous for is caves under those amazing mountains, some of which were within easy walking distance from our guesthouse. One even had a lagoon where you could go swimming. "Cool!" I thought, being particularly sweaty at the time. So we set off to 2 caves in the hillside.
We had a "guide" take us
The caves were under here...and a the elusive swimming lagoon I expect.
up to the 1st cave entrance. He scrambled up the rock face like a mountain goat, leaving me and Kate panting in his wake. When we reached the cave entrance he took us really deep into the mountain. It was really impressive - if a bit of a tight squeeze. Apparently these very caves had been used by people as bomb shelters during the war.
But where was this cave lagoon we could swim in...?
The next cave obviously. He sent us one our way through the woods following signs until we reached a little girl of about 6 standing barefoot outside another gloomy cave entrance. She was our guide into the depths. Her dad appeared briefly to give us a torch then the little lass scampered off into the cave with no torch and no shoes...
We clambered up and down bamboo ladders and over slippery floors and through very small gaps for what seemed like an hour. I figured the cave must open out into an incredible lagoon at any second...
Then we slid down some more bamboo stairs into a chamber the size of maybe 2 telephone boxes. It was a dead end. On the
floor of the cavern was a small puddle at one side. The little girl tried to explain - to get to the beautiful big lagoon we have to hold our breath, jump under the water and swim in pitch dark water with solid rock above us until we pop up in it. Hmm. I figured if I got stuck she wasn't going to pull me out. I turned off my torch to see if there was any light coming through the water but it was completely dark.
We declined the offer and she seemed disappointed.
I wondered if a lagoon existed at all or infact, all that lurked in the water down there was actually the remains of several backpackers who thought it was a good idea to follow the potholing advice of a small girl after a HAPPY pepperoni pizza. I guess she reckoned the lagoon was lovely as no one ever came back to complain...........
On to Vientiane...
So after 2 days of soaking up the scenery in Veng Vieng (and being woken every morning at around 3.30 by several roosters - yeah, isn't the countryside so peaceful..??) we decided it was about time to visit the big bad city. We caught a bus to the capital - Vientiane. Again we went for the VIP bus, no toilet this time, which was lucky because they filled the bus full of people and then packed all the bags down the aisle so you couldnt get off. Ah luxury.....
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