Once upon a time, Vang Vieng, Laos was a tranquil and less frequented destination for travelers in Southeast Asia. As more tourists became aware of its lagoons, caves and Karst mountains, Vang Vieng quickly transformed into a rolling frat party centered around tubing down the Nam Song River.
It is now a place where 'magic' pizzas are on all the menus and backpackers walk down the dust filled streets covered in body paint. The music in the bars starts at 11:00am and doesn't stop until the wee hours of the morning.
We decided to forego the party scene and spend a day exploring Vang Vieng's natural beauty and do some caving. To get there we took a four hour bus from Vientiane. Buses to Vang Vieng from Luang Prabang cost 100,000 kip (80 yuan).
The Vang Vieng Organic Mulberry Farm, where we stayed, is four kilometers from the city center. Baby goats wandered through the mulberry fields while we checked into our room. Not surprisingly, the farm's restaurant has delicious goat cheese as well as mulberry pancakes and shakes.
The farm is a quiet haven that feels like a throwback to a different time. Many guests volunteer to help out on the farm or teach in a nearby village called Phoudindaeng.
Ironically, mulberry farm owner Thanongsi Sorangkoun started the now famous inner tube trips as a way for volunteers at his farm to relax. It proved to be so popular that local bars followed suit and tubing became one of the biggest reasons Vang Vieng evolved from sleepy town to party city.
We woke before sunrise the next morning and rented a hot air balloon at Green Discovery in Vang Vieng for 557,000 kip (440 yuan). For an hour we drifted silently over the town and out into the countryside, passing over the thatched roof houses that line the Nam Song River.
Safely back on the ground, we rented motorbikes for 40,000 kip (32 yuan) and headed out to explore a 33 kilometer forest trail that led to numerous caverns and lagoons. Distance on the trail is marked on roadside telephone poles and at pole number 24 we stopped to hike up to Tham Khan Cave.
The trail to the cave passed under cliffs, through the forest and finally led up to a craggy nest of rocks that was utterly deserted.
We put on our head lamps and ventured into the darkness. A narrow passageway barely wide enough for one person was the first obstacle. From there we ducked under jutting rocks and at one point got on our bellies to wiggle through a long tunnel. We emerged from the cave grinning and sweaty 20 minutes later.
Continuing down the road we next stopped at the Blue Lagoon, which along with a nearby cave, is the most famous landmark on the trail. Along the way locals stopped to tell us not to be fooled by signs advertising other "blue lagoons" where the water in question was often more of a mud hole than an actual place to swim.
The lagoon is hidden behind a small village where weavers displayed their crafts on the side of the road. The water was aquamarine and streaks of sunlight danced on its surface.
Tied to a tree growing over the water was a rope swing from which tourists and locals took turns diving into the deep water.
Tham Phu Kham Cave is a few hundred meters away from the lagoon and it's a steep climb to get there. Inside the cave there is a huge open chamber with a golden Buddha reclining on a platform.
Behind the Buddha, the real caving experience begins. There are guides and headlamps available for a small fee but we had brought our own lamps and decided to wander the cave ourselves. There were no marked paths, signs or handrails and exploring the cave was simultaneously disorienting and exhilarating.
By the time we left Tham Phu Kham it was nearly dark and our motorbikes were due back at the shop. Somewhat grudgingly we drove back into town. We had only scheduled a day in Vang Vieng, but now that we were there we could not imagine leaving.
There are no direct flights to Vang Vieng but Lao Airlines and China Eastern both have daily flights from Kunming to Vientiane. From Vientiane one can book a bus or car, both of which cost 50,000 kip (40 yuan) per person. Vang Vieng is a four hour drive north from Vientiane and the road is extremely pitted and bumpy.
Vang Vieng is a 6-8 hour bus ride from Luang Prabang and tickets cost 100,000 kip (80 yuan). There are currently no direct flights linking Luang Prabang to Kunming. However, there is a bus that takes around 28 hours and leaves from Kunming's South Bus Station.
There are also daily direct flights between Jinghong and Luang Prabang.© Copyright 2005-2018 GoKunming.com all rights reserved. This material may not be republished, rewritten or redistributed without permission.