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Published: March 22nd 2010
A four hour bus trip along winding mountain roads took us to the tourist town of Vang Vieng, an area renowned for its' limestone karsts and the beautiful scenery surounding the River Namsong. It was a very pretty place! The town itself has a bad reputation and we were constantly warned by locals from other areas of Laos not to visit it. Tourism has bought a thriving drug scene to the region and one of the main attractions of the town is to tube (in tyre inner tubes) down the river, stopping to drink and party at the many bars which line the river bank. We did see quite a few drunken tourists but as we stayed away from the main bar area it didn't particularly affect us. Most of the activities in the town are centred around the river - it certainly was a stunning area to kayak in. Many people kayak from here down the river to Vietienne.
We found a very comfortable hotel and set off to explore. The town was booming - there were dozens of 'Friends' cafes (all playing non stop reruns of the Friends TV series) - and all with menus offering 'magic mushroom' pizzas
and such! A lot of dust was in the air as roads were being widened and bitumened around the cafe area. There were many guesthouses (and many more being built) and travel agencies! It wasn't until next day that we discovered the main tourist area - a very long street of bars, internet cafes and tourist shops a couple of blocks from the river bank. The local population have moved their commercial area further north from the tourist spots - and have built a whole new town there.
We watched the sun set from a cafe on the riverbank and decided to extend our time in Vang Vieng - it was too pretty to leave. We had been planning to continue to Luang Prabang the next day. After enjoying breakfast next morning whilst watching the mist lift over the dozens of sharp peaks which are characteristic of limestone karsts we decided to hire a motorcycle for a day of exploring. We headed 15 kilometres up the highway, where, after crossing the river via a bamboo bridge we hired a guide to take us to some of the many caves within the karsts. We visited Elephant Cave which had the usual
temple, Buddhas and a stone which resembled an elephant. From there we walked through the dry rice stubble where our guide led us into the very dark, dank tunnel of Hoy Cave. After slipping and sliding and not seing anything - it was pitch dark - with only a tiny torch for light I decided I didn't really want to be there! I was beginning to feel quite claustrophobic. Jerry didn't need much encouragement to leave....
We decided we didn't need to see any more caves so after wandering the village again we headed back towards Vang Vieng. Enroute we stopped at the Mulberry Farm where we enjoyed one of the best milk shakes I've ever had! We had considered staying there - they had a guest house - but the previous day it had seemed too hard to find so decided not to. Thank heavens we didn't as the first stop in the 'tubing' trip was just down the river and all we could hear was blaring music and drunken shouts. It certainly spoiled the 'peaceful' atmosphere that the guide books advertised.
Crossing the river we spent the rest of the day driving between the mountains and through many
tiny villages, all with houses built from palm leaves. It was a dusty, hot and rough trip but we both thoroughly enjoyed it. However we had sore butts at the end of the day - though mine was more numb then sore! A welcome shower and a drink on a deck over the river ended a near perfect day!
We were very pleased we had extended our time in Vang Vieng. The guest house (Vilay Vang) we stayed in was very comfortable and secure - we were to hear about some robberies during the time we spent in the town from other guest houses upon our arrival in Luang Prabang. One lady left her room for a short time and had her luggage cut open and a camera and cash stolen whilst she was away. I guess many tourists leave their possessions for a long time whilst they are spending their time on the river so are targets because of this. Next morning we headed off to Luang Prabang - a city I've been looking forward to visiting for a long time.
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