Vang Vieng is a small, small town mainly built up out of backpacker ecotourism nestled along a river and in between spectacular limestone karsts. From anywhere on the few streets in town, one could see the limestone karsts towering nearby. Once again we opted for bungalows, and it just so happened that having these cheaper accomadations actually made for amazing views as they were situated right on the river, right at the base of a large wall of limestone karsts, and just enough out of town to be a get away, but not enough to be a hassle. They were wonderful. The only part of our stay here that wasn't so wonderful, and proved to be a hassle was that it rained constantly--and I mean constantly. Only a couple hours would go by (if that) after a long rain shower, before another would begin, and, thus, the sky was always cloudy and overcast. Nevertheless, we still had a great time in Vang Vieng, and got to do some pretty cool outdoors activities--rain or no rain.
A quick, funny sidenote. On our way to Vang Vieng it was incredibly mountainous with tons of twists and turns to suffer through in the back of a pick-up truck. After a couple hours of bumping along and feeling 'not so good', I suddenly hussled my way to the back of the truck, bent over the edge, and 'let it all out'. Thankfully, there was no one driving behind us. But for the next few minutes or so, I hung off the back of the truck on a small pipe platform they have, periodically releasing all that had apparently been disturbed in my stomach for the past few hours--I'm sure it was quite the sight to see it shooting out projectile style as we sped onwards. Ryan, who was also feeling sick, said that it had made his day watching it, and that he felt better just seeing it. (How watching someone else puke makes you not want to puke, I don't quite understand.) I felt a ton better afterwards.
Our first outing was to be a caving and tubing trip down the river that ran through Vang Vieng. They drove us a ways up the river to our drop off stop. Before tubing down the river in the afternoon, we visited two nearby caves. The first was a large cave just near the river, called Elephant Cave, because it contains a stalagmite that looks exactly like an elephant. Hmong families would come to this cave and live in it as a hideout for months at a time to escape the bombing that blanketed Laos in the 60's and 70's.
Our second cave was a long wet trek along rice paddie walls away, but the cave was totally worth it. Once there, we had to climb up some rock formations, and then down into the cave. We each got a single thin white candle as our light source, which worked great for caving because it illuminates a general area (not like a specific focused beam) and you can take in the whole expanse of the cave around you. After making it through the entrance, we proceeded onward deep into the cave, winding through narrow channels, squeezing through narrow openings. It was great!! The best part was when we were in the deepest part of the cave, we all sat down in a small circle, blew out our candles, and sat in silence (and endless, deep darkness!) for five minutes. It was amazing! You could hear all the little sounds of the cave, and just imagine how that was usually how it sat there, cloaked in complete darkness, with no access to the sunlight ever.
There was another cave we were to go to where we could go into it on intertubes, but the river water was too high due to all the excessive rain and so we wouldnt' be able to fit the intertubes in between the water surface and the cave top. I was really bummed about that one, but it turned out we got to do something similar (if not cooler) later in our Laos trip.
From there, we headed back to the river edge where we had lunch, and then we started our tubing down the river. It was great, because the river was high and fast, and so we were zipping along in our tubes, going by great scenery, and occationally over small rapids to mix it up a bit. We even stopped at a place on the side of the river for a beer, and they had a cliff jumping platform that Ryan jumped off of. (Ever time I do it, my ears are messed up for days, so I feel I've done enough cliff jumping in my life.) :) From there, we continued onward, and eventually ended after going through Vang Vieng. It was a very wet, but entertaining day.
if you're still reading this, thank you, this one is a long one.
That evening, and pretty much every evening in Vang Vieng, was spent at one of the many cafe/restaurants that they have there. These places are incredibly laid back, with raising floor seating complete with pillows, cushions, short tables and food catering to the Western crowd. The best part is, though, that every place has a DVD showing all afternoon and evening. It's a great way to relax while the rain pours down just inches from the covered area. We saw many a DVD while we were here. To me, it felt like a great big slumber party, which was fun.
The big highlight of our Vang Vieng time was to be a three day/two night white-water rafting (Class III & IV) trip that we were to go on. There was much speculation about whether it would happen, and then they finally told us it would and we were overjoyed. We got all excited, set, and let early the next morning for the river put in spot. Unfortunately, once we got there, the guide decided that the river was way too high and dangerous for us to go on our trip (he had never seen it this high!), and so we had to head all the way back. After taking three hours to get there on bad roads, getting back proved to be even worse. Our van got stuck twice in the mud and we had to have a truck pull us out, while we all were shin deep in slippery mud trying to help push it out, and, then, furthermore, we ran out of gas in the middle of nowhere, and had to wait by the side of the road to flag down a truck and ask them if we could syphon some of their gas out of their trunk and into ours. We left around 9am, but didn't get back til around 5. The whole day was a fiasco and a little disappointing, but it again was somewhat of an adventure, having all those problems to overcome just to get back to Vang Vieng again.
Yet another aspect of the incessant rain was the flooding of our bungalow area, and it didn't help that we were on low-lying ground right on the bank of the river. As you will see in the pictures, our bungalow is raised almost three feet off the ground on brick columns. Well, it just so turned out that on our last day in Vang Vieng, these proved to be lifesavers, and serve their purpose. I awoke in the middle of the night to go to the bathroom, and, after climbing down from our bungalow, I had to splash through about six inches of standing water to get there. I thought that in itself was 'flooding', but the next morning we woke to realize that the standing water underneath and around our bungalow was almost a foot deep. We splashed to and from the bathroom to get ready, checked out, and waded out the complex, having to cross a stream (that had had a land bridge the day earlier) with water over halfway up my thighs. So, when looking at the picture of our bungalows with the limestone karsts in the background, imagine pretty much all of the visible land underwater. :) It was the quintessential end to our stay in Vang Vieng. Rain, water, and more rain water.