Caves, Tubes and Goats Cheese in Vang Vieng
|March 28, 2012||Filed under Food, Laos|
Not another unnecessarily detailed description of what that Somewhere Sarah girl had for lunch and what she thought about it…
Yes, I’m afraid so.
But really, my only hope from this post is that I can convey that Vang Vieng really does have more to offer than just bars and tubing. The landscape is truly magical, holding untold natural treasures in its flowing rivers, ice-blue lagoons and enormous caves, surrounded by the jagged peaks of limestone ‘karts’ jutting out from the dusty earth in ancient solidarity.
We rented a motorbike for 50,000 kip per day ($6) which enabled us the freedom to explore the surrounds of Vang Vieng town at our leisure, without having to rely on tuk-tuks or tour operators.
We headed out in search of “The Water Cave” about 14km north of town. The roads in Laos are inconsistent, some of it is smoothly paved, whilst some sections seem to have been completely washed away to expose the dirt underneath, so riding requires a bit of concentration (and far too much backseat driving from me, if you ask my boyfriend).
It was definitely worth the drive. The water cave is situated behind a picturesque river-side village, and for around $4 you can cross the rickety bridge over the river (nearly all bridges here charge a small toll), and enter the cave via the emerald lagoon surrounding its jagged mouth on, wait for it… a Tube!
We found ourselves with a guide, who magically appeared just as our faces were forming the tell-tale expressions of those who have no idea where they’re going. Funny how that happens. It wasn’t well signed (how convenient) and we were appreciative of the help, having had good experiences with local kids posing as guides in the past.
After a pleasant walk through the ‘karst’ landscape (the limestone rock formations I have been banging on about), we arrived at the caves entrance, paid for our tube and head-torch hire, and excitedly entered the chilly water before clambering into our tubes and pulling ourselves along the ropes leading inside.
I don’t know whether it was the novelty factor of being in a cave filled with icy cool, crystal clear water, or experiencing it from the comfort of a tire inner-tube, or the millions of years of geological processes evident in the layers of different coloured rock, but this was a really unique experience! Okay, it was definitely the tubing.
Adrenaline pumping this was not, but it was certainly peaceful and a little bit eery. The water cave is only accessible during dry season, as the mouth is flooded with water during rainy season.
Never one to pass up a beauty treatment, at the direction of our guide, we lathered mineral mud from shallow sections of the cave floor on our bodies, creating a mask. So it was kind of like going to the spa, the water park and the museum all in one! I think I’d go to a lot more museums if I could drift through on a tube with a facemask…
The only downside to the day was when our guide tried to spring a 200,000 Kip ‘charge’ on us for his services (about $24). I know, I know, we should have settled a price first and we were stupid not to. But I’d slipped him a 50,000 Kip note thinking that was a pretty decent wage for a school kid, bought him a fanta and thought all would be well. I thought wrong.
Considering the entrance fee to the cave was 10,000 Kip, and the charge for our guest house was only 80,000 ($10), 200,000 seemed a bit steep. Feeling like we’d been taken for a ride (ha ha) but also aware of our own stupidity, we gave him 120,000 ($14). At least we learned our lesson.
The following day we headed for Poukham Cave, crossing over a suspension bridge near our guest house and heading westward through small villages where women weaved colourful textiles and shouted “Hello!” as we flew past. Okay, I think the maximum speed possible on Laos’ back roads is 30km/hr, so we weren’t exactly flying.
Unsure of the way, we followed the sign to the ”Blue Lagoon”, which was apparently near the cave. I don’t know what we were expecting, maybe Brooke Shields flitting around naked or something, but as soon as we saw the water we knew we had arrived.
I know it sounds kinda obvious, but the water was unnervingly blue. Like artificially so, as though someone had dumped a heap of blue food colouring in it. I felt like my vision had been photoshopped. It was beautiful, but in a weird way. Whats more, it was teeming with fish, which were clearly visible from above. I’d hoped for a swim, but felt like swimming in a bright blue fish pond would not only freak me out, but perhaps upset the delicate natural balance necessary to creat such a phenomenon.
A local boy launched himself off an over-hanging tree and broke the azure surface with a splash.
Yep, still blue.
After exploring the ENORMOUS cave, which just seemed to go on, and on, and on, to the point that I thought we might never make it out and Tyrhone would just set up house there (the man loves a good cave), we decided to make our entrance into the mysterious blue.
I let out an involuntary girlish yelp as I leapt from the makeshift platform in the tree, and though it wasn’t that high, it seemed higher when I got to the top. The water was really cold as it rushed up my nose, and I could have sworn I detected the familiar burn of chlorine. Of course that wasn’t possible, just my paranoia about the ultra-blue water. Don’t tell anyone, but I cupped the water in my hands to check the colour… Clear.
After deciding against staying at the Organic Farm, we were pleasantly surprised to learn that they ran a cafe in town, serving their delicious treats, i.e goats cheese! Though it wasn’t on the menu for some reason, we ordered baguettes with goats cheese, which came beautifully presented, and tasted even better. Good cheese seems to be a rare commodity in this part of the world, so our taste buds were particularly impressed. The signature mulberry shakes were pretty good too…
We were pleasantly surprised by the undeniably beautiful and unique landscape around Vang Vieng. I’m really glad I didn’t write it off because of the drunken tubing scene, and whilst the sight of one guy meandering down the main street with his ripped boxer shorts hitched up over his shoulder and tied in a knot was the closest we came to experiencing the ‘feral’ side of Vang Vieng, it was enough for us to realise that we had done well to stay away…