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Published: January 31st 2017
Vang Vieng was once known for its hedonistic nightlife, drug fuelled raves and drunken backpackers drifting along from bar to bar sitting precariously on inflated inner tubes as they float down the river. Perhaps 20 years ago that image might have been a bit more attractive but luckily for us the town has worked hard to change its character and it definitely has a more sedate tone today. The change continues though, and the building of large hotels for rich tour groups may yet signal the end for the meagre backpacker.
We ended up staying for four nights on the edge of town, far away from the few noisy bars which still operate until the "curfew" at 11pm. We started in the Laos Haven whose small swimming pool provided a place to cool off in the heat in the afternoons. They were full for the weekend so we moved just over the road to the Vang Vieng Boutique Hotel where, for just $5 a night more we got air conditioning which worked properly and a good breakfast.
On our first full day we hiked out across the dried paddy fields. Presumably during the wet season they are lush and
green, brimming with crops, but at the moment they are brown and barren. A rickety wooden bridge carries both foot passengers and motorbikes over the river and then within minutes you find yourself in the countryside with few, if any, fellow travellers for company.
It was a hot walk across open fields for a kilometre or so before we retreated into the shade of the woods. The plan had been to climb up to the craggy viewpoint and then walk further on to the cave with a possibility of swimming inside. That's what the signs had suggested anyway! The climb was soon beyond Trish and she waited patiently in the shade while Russ made his way to the summit using bamboo ladders which were definitely not fit for purpose! Once the ladders had finished it was sheer rock with some hand holds cut to help and an awful lot of over stretching. Only three other intrepid explorers made it to the top, all Americans, and all four bemoaned the fact that their footwear was inadequate!! The reward was the magnificent view all around and a serious sense of achievement.
Back at the bottom with some relief it was
then a couple of kilometres to the cave. The walk was along an easy path through the jungle and some beautiful countryside. It turned out that the cave was accessible via another climb which neither of us fancied for quite different reasons. It was a gorgeous walk though, so no regrets there. It does get a bit much being continually asked to pay 10000 KIP (£1) to enter every cave or climb every hill.
The next day we hired bicycles and set off to enjoy the country roads. It was great to be out away from the town again, but Russ had a bike that was woefully too small for him and his thighs had not recovered from the climbing the previous day. Our destination was 7km away, the so-called Blue Lagoon. On the way we decided to visit a village and a cave but despite us clearly not being the first visitors of the day, there was no change available and they were not prepared to negotiate on price. Their loss! When we reached the lagoon there was, of course, another entry fee to pay. This time change was available and we joined the hordes inside the park.
Lots of Asian tourists were jumping off a tree into the river trying hard not to clash with others dropping from a rope swing. It was all a bit too cosy so we decided to simply relax in the shade and watch the world go by. The occasional shriek from above gave notice that someone was on the zip line route. We decided against joining in and made our return journey to town.
For our final day we had a date with River Song. No, it's not some weird Doctor Who get together, that is the name of the river we were going to kayak down. It was a hot bumpy ride in a tuk tuk out to the starting point and then it took about 2 hours to navigate our way back to town. There were a few people tubing downstream too but their numbers were not high. It was a strenuous but relaxing journey, if that is actually possible.
Vang Vieng had been a nicer place than we had expected but after four nights we were definitely ready to move on. The bright lights of the Laotian capital city awaited us.
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