So after a 6 hour minibus, we arrived in Vang Vieng. I had a nice driver’s burn on my right arm from having it out the window the entire 6 hours. After finding a nice guesthouse for $5 a night (split two ways = $2.50 a night per person), we had a look around town.
Vang Vieng is a really nice little town, though at first glance you might think you’re in the ghetto somewhere. Rubble from semi-demolished buildings and children playing soccer in the street give the town some extra character as groups of young backpackers walk down the main streets with giant inner tubes over their shoulders.
The following day we went to an inner tube rental location and arranged to go tubing, for $3.75. We climbed into a tuk-tuk with four other people and eight tubes stacked on top and off we went. A few minutes later we got off and began walking to the river with our tubes. During the ride, Ian and Ron had begun talking with two Australian girls, Heather and Anna, with whom we ended up hanging out most of the time we were tubing.
Off down the river we went, sitting/lying down in our tubes, at about 1km/hour. Literally. It’s a 3-4 km trip and it took us about 4-5 hours including several rest stops. It was super chill and peaceful floating slowly down the river, occasionally getting grounded on a rock, and stopping at shaded areas on the shore for a cool drink. Some stops had rope swings or diving ladders for people to jump off, and when we approached any stop there would be someone there wading out in the water with a long bamboo pole to pull us to shore. It really was loads of fun.
That evening we hung out down by the water with some travellers we met and went to sleep quite late.
Next day Jos, Ron, and I rented bicycles and biked to Phoukam Cave, 7km on bumpy, pothole filled dirt roads. The problem was that the bikes we got were again of the curved handle, single speed banana seat variety that really aren’t even suited to city biking. In fact, after literally 2 minutes, Josephine’s chain snapped. It completely broke. I’ve never seen that happen before, and couldn’t imagine it on a city bike on a road. The rental place didn’t even ask a question when she went back to switch it for another one. Damn things could barely make it up a slight incline (I really mean slight – back in Vancouver it would be faster to walk than bike with these things, seeing as how it’s hard enough on our slightly steeper hills on my lightweight 24 speed mountain bike).
We reached the cave successfully, climbed up the mountain to get into the entryway, and realized as usual that we were highly unprepared for such an adventure. We didn’t even have a flashlight, aside from Ron’s tiny single LED. Ron wore sandals and Jos wore flipflops. I even own a headlamp and had it back at our room, but stupidly didn’t bring it.
In we went anyways, joined by an Englishman with a mullet who also had no flashlight. We used our digital camera displays to see about 2 feet in front of us and slowly walked and clambered through the caves. When we decided to return to the entrance, we realized we didn’t know which way it was, despite our attempts to keep track of where we had come from. Some Germans with full lights were not very helpful even though they spoke English – perhaps they thought it was funny that we didn’t know how to get out.
Once we got out it was raining lightly and people going into the cave as we left told us there had been a big storm with huge hail stones while we were inside. At the bottom of the hill, Jos and Ron decided to go for a quick swim at the water there while I bought myself a drink. Soon, though, the rain came pouring down again and we all sought shelter under the drink shack.
The rain poured and poured and poured and got heavier and heavier, as lightning flashed in the distance. Then the hail started, slow at first but soon building into a resounding drum beat on the mud, wooden picnic tables, and tin roof. The hailstones were up to an inch in diameter, and this was in 25 C weather! They melted almost immediately on the ground. After about half an hour of this the rain and hail let up and the three of us booked it to our bikes, and started off on the ride home through huge puddles.
We bumped into our friends Adam and Remy who we had met in Luang Prabang again, and spent some time talking with them before we continued on our way back to town. They were walking and had found a barn roof to shelter from the second storm. They were at the drink shack for the first one earlier.
That evening we slept soundly and the next morning we left to Vientiane on a minibus. For the 3 hour morning ride I kept my left arm out the East facing window and got a burn that evened out my two arms. Now they’re both nice and brown.
Vientiane was nothing special while I was there. We walked around a bit, had some food, and at 5pm I got on a bus alone to Bangkok. 12 hours later I was in Bangkok on the famed Khaosan Rd.
More on that later.