Tim and I took a bus from Nong Khiaw to Vang Vieng. We were loaded into a mini van full of local villagers, and sacks of rice, fruit and vegetables. We then drove a few minutes out of the town before stopping at an old American Opium Control Office (cue films such as Buffalo Soldiers and American Gangster!!) where a passenger left the van, went in and did not return for around half an hour. Unlike in England, the mini bus waited, and we almost suffocated in the heat. We eventually got going, stopping for randoms to join us, and then some money exchanged hands and Tim and I were told to get out of the van and travel in another van as the only 2 passengers! We did as we were told, only to find a few hours later that we had to return to the original van. All very confusing, but basically, the journey took all day, and by the time we arrived in Vang Vieng, we were grateful for a tout on a pushbike who recommended a hotel to us. It was a new build, with a BATH!!! Tim and I were so excited as we had not had a bath for months, since a rather bizarre one in Sri Lanka in a tub in the garden, filled with raw tea leaves!! The room was big enough to run a few laps around. We were grateful for the enormous comfy bed after our long and very bumpy journey, The views from the balcony were outstanding, over rice paddies to the cloud-covered mountains beyond.
The next day, we were well-rested and moved to a cheaper but 'more us' option by the river -a spacious wooden hut with a balcony to enjoy the views.
Vang Vieng has become famous on the backpacking trail of South East Asia due to thebizarre phenomenon called 'tubing'. This involves sitting in a tractor inner tube, and trusting your fate to the Mekong River, floating off downstream in the hope that an employee of a local bar will chuck you the end of a piece of bamboo or a tyre to help you towards the riverbank and a welcome Beer Lao. We were also offered free shots of Lao whisky with a fresh banana chaser. The bars were very much the domain of the younger backpacker crowd, but we had loads of fun anyway. Each bar had a swing, which varied from an enormous rope swing at the first bar with a sizeable drop to the river below, to ore gentle death slides which chucked you off at the end and plopped us into the river. All good fun! We heard tales of people who ended up completely hammered and sopme who had sadly drowned, but we emerged unscathed and only slightly tipsy. We hooked up with our new friends from New Zealand, and laughed as testosterone=fuelled young men tried to outdo each other on the swings, trying to do trapeze-like stunts and somersaults before entering the water. Several belly-flops later, they were outdone but the local villagers who wre like acrobats and made their impressive moves look easy!
We took off for a day on a moped to go and explore the surrounding countryside. It did not take long for us to realize that the roas in Laos are still very poor, and many are not sealed, which made for a precarious ride as Tim negotiated potholes, stones, boulders and deep puddles. Tim did a sterling job and succeeded in keeping the moped upright the entire trip.
We explored some fascinating caves, each better than the last. One involved a steep scramble up anear-vertical rock face - very slippery and I am still aazed we did not fall over. At the top was the most impressive cave I have ever seen. It was enormous, and was full of nooks and crannies, and narrow vaerns that stretched further than our eyes could see. There was a reclining Buddha in the largest temple of the cave, where peole had made various offerings. The cave continued back 500m into the mountain, but the way was so precarious and not for those who are prone to claustrophobia, so we turned back, satisfied at having seen such an impressive cave.