We've spent the last couple of days in Vang Vieng. It's an over-touristed town whose main drag is full of drunken yahoos guzzling Beer Lao, watching Friends or Family Guy, and making general drunken asses out of themselves. It does have some beautiful scenery, though.
On our first day we went tubing. This is supposed to be "a right of passage for backpackers in SE Asia" according to our Lonely Planet guidebook. Basically, you rent a tube, hop into the Nam Song (Song River in English), and float down it. It would be a relaxing float downstream except for the bars every hundred meters or so that blast either techno or Bob Marley. We stopped at one that was playing Bob Marley.
Every bar also has a rope swing on a rickety platform about 20 feet above the river, where drunk people can swing out over the river and fall in. It's actually really fun and you get a free shot of whiskey for doing it. No wonder we've seen so many casts since we got here. One place has a zip line that goes out over the river. I wouldn't recommend it. I didn't let go before it hit the end and ended up doing a double somersault and smacking face first into the river. It wasn't nearly as fun as it sounds.
Unfortunately, we couldn't get any pictures while we were tubing because we don't have a waterproof camera.
Our second (and final) day in Vang Vieng, we went caving. This was actually one of the highlights of our trip so far. We rented a scooter and rode 13 km north to a village called Ban Tham Sang, which means Elephant Cave Village. The first cave was called--you guessed it--Elephant Cave! It was a cavern in the side of a massive limestone cliff that had been converted into a temple. It features a stalagmite that looks exactly like an elephant and a Buddha footprint (although I don't think the Buddha's feet were really that big).
Next we went to Tham Loup. (Tham means cave in Lao. I don't know what loup means.) Here we learned the importance of having more than one light. It was daaaaaark. This cave was basically a really big dark room in the side of a cliff. We timidly tiptoed around with our one headlamp and enjoyed the fabulous acoustics until we found the secret Buddha statue in the back corner.
After that we borrowed a couple of extra flashlights from the guy selling tickets and went to Nam Hoi. Here we learned the importance of having a guide.
A little side story to help explain this story: As we left the village, this guy started following us. We know this scam well (or so we thought). He walks along with you while you go to the caves, says nothing, and then at the end calls himself your "guide" and asks for money. Being wise to this, I told him that we would go ahead by ourselves. He looked disappointed but turned around and went back. Our mistake.
Anyway, Nam Hoi is a 3 km deep cave with an underground pond at the end. For some stupid reason I thought we would definitely be able to navigate 3 km of total craggy darkness by ourselves. We made it really deep into the cave and saw the biggest spider that either of us has ever seen. It was creepy as hell, but exhilarating nonetheless. Finally, the ceiling started to get really low and the path ahead was not clear. We lost our confidence and decided to turn back.
Afterwards we talked to another couple that had kept their guide and made it all the way to the underground pond. It turns out we weren't that far away. I guess that's what you pay the guide for.
The last cave we went to was Tham Nam, or Water Cave. This cave is totally flooded and is actually a tributary to the Nam Song (the river we tubed on). You traverse this cave in an innertube and enter it by pulling yourself along a rope course for the first couple hundred meters or so. It goes back about half a kilometer and you take the innertube the entire way. We couldn't get any pictures here either because we still don't have a waterproof camera. I wish we had though, because floating up an underground river is definitely on of the most surreal experiences of my life up until now.Christin entering Tham Nam
Our headlamp for Tham Nam. Definitely an electrocution hazard.