Tag Archives: caves

Vang Vieng

6 Feb

We arrived in Vang Vieng at about 5pm and walked from the bus station to a guesthouse that was recommended in the guide book for its lovely garden

The view from our bungalow

This was a 5km walk in the mud because it had rained for hours before we got there – my feet are completely wrecked now as I only had flip flops on and the roads are terrible around here. I now have blisters between my toes and mozzie bites on my feet as we’re very close to the river Song.

The feel of the place is mixed because on the one hand, you’re surrounded by the most beautiful sights

and the other hand, you’ve got tourists off their faces, wearing very little (you don’t often see a Lao woman with her knees or shoulders exposed, even when showering they wear sarongs) and sitting in the hundreds of TV bars watching endless repeats of Friends or Family Guy. So a mixture of Paradise and Faliraki – Palariki? Faladise? But having said that, they all have internet (unlike our bungalow) so it’s nice for me to be able to update this and catch up with emails etc at a normal download speed as it’s been very slow elsewhere. Besides, we’re over the other side of the river, away from all of that where it is more peaceful.

Our bungalow also didn’t have an ensuite so we had to use a shared one. Luckily it wasn’t that busy as food poisoning struck again…this time it was Craig’s turn due to an undercooked burger so he was up all night going to and from the toilet and I am still not well so it’s been a romantic few days.

Our bungalow also has a veranda so as we were not feeling up to much, we sat outside in the shade watching the butterflies and listening to the crickets, frogs and windchime cowbells, and reading. I finished my book between the train to London and the plane to Singapore so I’ve been desperate for something to read, but Laos doesn’t have the thousands of copied books for sale like Vietnam but I finally managed to get a couple here. Each bungalow comes with a free ginger kitten as they like to sit on you whilst you read :) Despite the accommodation being basic, it is easily the most tranquil and beautiful place we’ve stayed so far and less than half the price of our guesthouse in Luang prebang.

The day after we tentatively tried a bit of food so it was me who was up all night this time. We spoke to the owner (a complete eccentric straight out of Fawlty Towers who has a knack of making things breaktakingly awkward instantly) who said that a bungalow with a bathroom had become free so we have moved into that one. The view isn’t as nice but it’s bigger and has a toilet, a shower and a fan so a bit luxurious compared to our old one. And with it, comes a new cat; a brown and ginger tabby who sleeps on the table on our veranda. It also has quite the spider collection – 6 inches long and black and yellow. One of them seems quite content to sit in his web waiting patiently for something to land in it, but the other is a tricksy little (big) thing that shifts from place to place. We immediately put our mosquito net over the bed :I

We went for a walk to reach Blue Lagoon caves, a natural pool outside where you can swim. The guesthouse owner said it was about a 6km walk from his place but we thought maybe the exercise would do us good. Bit of a false start in the blazing sun as we took a wrong turn and ended up at a different cave which was tiny (you had to take your bag off to make sure you could squeeze through all the tunnels), very hot and cramped and although the sign said “crystal waters, swimming” etc, the pool was inside the cave and was more of a muddle puddle with a rubber ring in it. No thanks. When we got back out, the boys running it wanted a 50,000 kip (£4) tip for the five minutes of showing us into the cave, after we had paid 20,000 to get in there. We told them were to go and warned the other people coming up the track that it wasn’t worth visiting.

Even though it was very hot, we decided to persevere and continued walking along the main road. We got to a little bar after about 3.5km and sat there for a drink, nearly on fire. The old man that ran it was a Thai who had spent four years in the forest as a monk and had lived in Europe for 29 years so had quite a few stories to tell. He also taught us which plants he used for cooking, and which he used for medicine. We tried some leaf tea cooked by his wife which is meant to be very good for stomachs…then his wife told us about the time she cut down all his marajuana plants and boiled up the stems to make him some coffee. Ours was fine, if ineffective for me but Craig thinks it helped him. The other things the man told us was that 14 people died in Vang Vieng last year tubing and that the first, wrong, cave we visited was very dangerous and that nine years ago, someone fell through one of the ladders and their body is still there. Eeeep.

The Thai man told us how to get to the correct cave so we went off again and carried on walking the other 3.5km. We beat the guys who had stopped at his cafe and left before us on bicycles but the pay-off for this was that we were blisteringly hot by the time we reached the lagoon. Stripped off and jumped right in and it was blissfully cold

We also climbed up rock stairs to visit the cave there to see the reclining Buddha

and then walked back (it was a good idea to go in with some clothes on as it meant we weren’t as furnace-like on the way back).

We met Andy from our Halong Bay trip in the evening for a meal and a few beers and decided to go kayaking down the Song the next morning. It was very beautiful

but the guide was an idiot. He kept splashing me (just me) and getting me soaked, washing off all my suncream, and we still had an hour to go so my arms and neck are quite red. He was also quite keen for us to go at breakneck speed, meaning I didn’t have much time to take many photographs. After I made him stop to take a couple of pictures of the view, he did slow down a bit but I feel like it was more workout than meandering. We did see waterbuffalo taking a bath though :)

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Exploring the mountains in Laos

30 Jan

The next day we woke up to lovely warm sunshine so decided to have a coffee upstairs outside by the guesthouse. We were are staying has seven wooden bungalows surrounding a little garden where I am writing this

and a main guesthouse. There is an outside area to eat and drink which is much more sociable than a hotel. The boys who got us the coffee immediately descended so they could try out their English…it was their first day of a kind of work experience arrangement where they study English at school amongst other subjects, and then practice it working in guesthouses or on tourist sites. They wanted to know everything, how old we were, where we had been, where we were going, what the temperature is like in England, what our hobbies were – coffee turned into An Audience With Craig and Sarah which when you’ve just woken up and have only been somewhere a day, was quite intense!

But they were very sweet and had a really cute habit of if when they didn’t know how to say something in English, they’d have a go but just say it really, really quietly :) They taught us the words for Hello (sabadee) and Thank you (cuptai) and laughed at our attempts to say all their names.

We wanted to see what we had missed in the dark bit of the bus journey so we went and got another motorbike (sigh) for 100,000 kip for the day. I hated this stupid bike

because unlike the other ones I’ve been on, it was a manual but with an automatic clutch so it was really jerky. It therefore felt even less safe than the previous ones so whereas I was happy going at a leisurely 30 km/h (and by happy I mean I could stop watching the road for holes/cockerels/children, unclench my hands from Craig’s trousers and look at what we were going past) but over 40 km/h was just too nervewracking as although the roads were quite compared to Vietnam, they are not in as good condition and this happens all the time

 

 

After about 15 minutes we had to stop as the back wheel had gone flat. Luckily, there’s a mechanic every 300 yards because this kind of thing happens all the time. So Craig pushed the bike back to the last one and with some pointing and smiling, we were soon sitting on little bamboo stools, having a cold drink and watching a man repair the tyre

It seems that two white people don’t often do this so we had an audience of our own – the mechanic’s friends actually stopped in their truck to watch us watch him. He patched it up in about 15 minutes and held up five fingers when it was time to pay. I thought this meant 50,000 so gave him that…and got 30,000 change. So two bottles of drink and a tyre change cost a whole £1.60. Reminds me why I left England!

We went out towards the mountains (there’s only one road so even I can’t get lost here!) and saw a little sign in English and Laos saying waterfall 2km. We headed off down the little dirt track and after some serious off-road scootering and trekking through some bushes, we found it

We paddled for a bit before turning round to come back home as we hadn’t had any breakfast or lunch, but on the way back we saw another handwritten sign – “caves, 5km”. We couldn’t go past that so off we went down another dirt track to find them. We soon discovered that it was actually just a quick way to kill tourists – there was a rope tied across the road (handily the same colour as the road) which I saw at the last minute so we stopped just time and a little old man came out and gave us tickets to the caves for 4,000 kip each and undid the rope so we could go over it.

We got to where the parking was for the caves and there was no one around. We walked down many, many steps

 

before coming to a cave that had a sign saying Hospital Cave. As we hadn’t planned to come here, we didn’t have a torch and it suddenly occurred to us that exploring caves in the dark wouldn’t be as much fun as we thought. We walked to the next one to find it was locked and had six huge beehives at the mouth

Worst tourist attraction ever? We turned round to find two guides behind us – we were obviously meant to wait for them when we parked :) They unlocked the gate and gave us torches and led us into the cave. It was enormous…it was used for residence during the war and at one point held 1,000 soldiers. It was hot and you had to squeeze through little gaps to get to bigger caves – we must have been in there for half an hour or so. The guides were very nice and although they didn’t speak English, they showed us their favourite formations and pointed out where bats were sleeping.

Then came the arduous climb back up the million steps to get back to the bike. The guides were giggling as they still had their coats on and hadn’t even broken a sweat, whereas we were puce and sweating. Two more English tourists turned up when we got back to where the bike was and looked positively alarmed until we explained that we had been climbing steps for 15 minutes :)

We got back on the bike to head home and have a shower. We thought we’d have a beer at the guesthouse before finding somewhere in the town to eat…and as soon as we sat down, the four boys leapt on us again with 44,000 questions. I had brought my laptop, hoping to be able to update this, but it soon had to be abandoned as they kept talking and talking. We ended up eating there was it easier, and then Trille, Bror and two other people staying here joined us so the boys lit the bonfire and had a lovely evening