We caught a 6 hour bus from Sayaboury with Anick and Ettiene, arriving in Vang Vieng around 9pm. We actually had a nights accommodation booked but had no idea where or what it was called, as the email confirmation had not come through. So I fluttered my eyelids in a restaurant to get their wifi password, and luckily we had an email waiting for us.
It was just a 10 minute walk towards the main area in Vang Vieng to our guesthouse, 'Maylay'. Unfortunately it was right behind one of the main bars and was pretty noisy. So we decided to take a look around and get a coconut shake, which was very disappointing as it was made with coconut powder, not fresh coconut.
Luckily for us, most towns tend to have a curfew, and Vang Vieng was 1am, so we did manage to get some sleep.
Vang Vieng is extremely touristy, attracting the younger generations for its party vibe, tubing and kayaking tours.
Up fairly early as we wanted to move accommodation. But, first on our agenda was to find some local noodle soup, and we found a nice family run restaurant which turned out to serve one of the tastiest and delicious noodle soups yet. It had a red curry hint and even the noodles seemed different to what we had had previously.
Anick and Ettiene happened to pass by and they had just moved to 'Maylyn' guesthouse further down the river, recommended to us by Kathia from the Elephant Conservation centre. We also had our minds set on moving to Maylyn, so power walked across a rickety bamboo bridge to the other side of the river, and 10 minutes along a dirt track next to the river. Luckily they had two rooms left, and of course we took one. The bungalows were wooden, with a huge bed, very spacious and overlooked the countryside and many karst across Vang Vieng. It had huge mezzanine doors which opened out onto a balcony with this delightful view. The area was very peaceful and relaxing.
However, we had to go and see what the tubing was all about. So, along with Anick and Ettiene, we crossed back to the other side of the river to pay for a tube (the inner tubing from a tractor tire), piled into a Tuk Tuk, and drove a few miles upstream to the starting point, aka a bar.
We knew it was going to be an afternoon spent with western tourists participating in drinking games, but sometimes it's nice to feel at home!
We were welcomed into the first bar by a group of young Brits attaching bracelets to everyone's wrists, and grabbed a beer (it was just after midday so we were allowed!). The four of us chilled by the river side enjoying the magnificent views surrounding us, and soaking up the atmosphere.
Once the beer was finished it was time to move on...picking up our tube on our way down to the river and jumping into it. It was a very leisurely drift down the river, as it is dry season, so the water flow is weak and water levels are low. Then before we knew it, we had a rope thrown out to us to be towed into the next bar...
Grabbed another beer and sat watching a big group of people play volleyball in the mud. Slowly the mud pit next to the volleyball pitch became a 'mud bath' and more and more tipsy tourists were jumping in. Chris and I were two of these tipsy tourists who thought what the heck. So we ran over, slipped on our way in, and were submerged by mud. When we came back up neither of us could see anything! Our eye lids were filled with muddy water - it was pretty scary actually, I thought I was blind. But no panic, after being splashed and properly covered in mud by Chris, he led me down to the river to wash off. We jumped back into our tubes and drifted down to the next bar.
It was now the peak of the afternoon, everyone was tipsy, and having a great time playing lots of different games. It was definitely time for some food, and Pad Thai was on the menu. With a burst of energy we decided it would be fun to explore one of the caves, Lom cave. Torch in hand, we climbed a lot of steps and up rocks to reach a tiny entrance into a dark cave. Unlike the other caves we had explored, this one was pitch black, and you were free to explore it yourselves. No walkways or lights guiding your way - really cool. Although it was a tad scary as the ground was slippery, we were in flip flops, intoxicated, and just a torch to guide us. And the cave went on forever! About half way down Anick had enough so turned around, but the three of us kept going...and going...and going...until we eventually saw a piece of wood with a red X on it, and then the boys kept going...and going...until they reached another red X, and thought maybe it was time to turn around. I turned off my torch and hid in the cave waiting for the boys to walk past to scare them, but failed miserably when Chris saw my legs. A few falls, my flip flops nearly breaking, Ettiens breaking, and over an hour later, we found day light. It was time to move on...
Back in the tubes we realised the time and knew we had to skip the next bar to try to make it back in time before receiving a 'late fine'. We paddled hard, trying to pick up the pace, over some small rapids, around large rocks, and trying to catch a ride with the many Koreans kayaking past. The scenery was spectacular and the highlight was just before sunset when numerous hot air balloons filled the sky. It was quite a magical moment floating down the Nam Song river, whilst the sun was setting, and watching the colourful hot air balloons float over us.
The temperature dropped and as we were sobering up we began to feel the cold. 2km before the end, a group of Tuk Tuk drivers usher you to the river bank and drive you back to town, just before 6pm, to ensure you don't receive a fine. We made it just in time, handed over the tube in exchange for our deposit, and power walked back to our room for a much needed hot shower. It took a very long shower to clean all the mud off, and I still didn't really feel properly clean. It wasn't until later that evening we realised the fine you would receive for returning the tubes late was the same as what we paid the Tuk Tuk driver!
The four of us then went for dinner at a restaurant with floor seating, overlooking the river. One of the 'must have's' in Vang Vieng is a pancake, and we ended up at the stall of a lady famous in Korea for her pancakes. I couldn't resist the peanut butter option, which was made even better with the addition of banana, Nutella, and coconut!
It was perfect waking up to the sound of nature and opening the mezzanine doors to our glorious view. But we had limited time to enjoy the countryside before catching a bus at 4pm to Vientiane. So we didn't faff around, and by 9am we had checked out, walked to the main area, booked our bus, hired some mountain bikes and returned for our favourite noodle soup for brekki.
With full tummies, we cycled the 7km out of town, along an extremely rocky and bumpy dirt track to reach Tham Poukham (the Blue Lagoon and Golden cave). Despite the road being tough to cycle, the journey was very pleasant, as we passed through many small villages, and the scenery was gorgeous.
The Blue Lagoon is again very touristy, but was welcomed after a hot and sweaty 100m climb up a makeshift bamboo ladder, to Golden Cave. Another cave which you are free to explore yourselves, but it wasn't as big or as dark as the previous day. Chris also climbed a bit higher to take a picture of the never ending view over the karst and fields.
A cool off was inevitable, and Chris decided the best way to enter the lagoon was off a 6m branch over the water. I took the boring approach and entered by the bamboo ladder.
The 7km cycle back was hot and dusty, but lunch was at the end. We managed to cross paths with Anick and Ettiene who were on their way to try out the best noodle soup for themselves. We joined them, but opted for different dishes; the larp and green bean salad.
It was time to say our farewells and split paths with Anick and Ettiene, as we caught a mini bus to Vientiane and they stayed in Vang Vieng. Chris picked up another 'must have' in Vang Vieng, a baguette, filled with chicken, bacon, cheese, garlic, salad, mayonnaise and chilli sauce - which he said was as good as the Banh Mi from the Banh Mi Queen in Hoi An!