Caves, Tubes and Goats Cheese in Vang Vieng

 

Why, that’s a strange combination of nouns, you might be thinking. Or,

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.

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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.

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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…

 

Comments

Caves, Tubes and Goats Cheese in Vang Vieng — 21 Comments

  1. What a delicious looking lunch. YUM..
    And I feel ya on, making silly assumptions while traveling. It’s difficult. You don’t want everything to be focused around money but when “we” appear to be the rich ones (heck, we somehow figured out how to travel in there country), in the locals eyes… it always comes up. I struggled with this a lot while traveling in Africa.

  2. I love caves. The ones in Nerja on the south coast of Spain are spectacular. I can’t wait to go there and show them to my husband.

    That blue is CRAZY blue. I think it’s funny you checked it out to make sure it was clear. I probably would have done the same.

    • You would get along very well with my boyfriend then! I don’t mind a good cave, but after literally HOURS in there, I’d had enough!!!! Thanks Carmel :)

  3. That lunch looks awesome. I love reading about the food you eat!!! That water was unreal as well. Seems like a pretty great way to spend an afternoon.

  4. I love reading your adventures as you are going to some of the places that we are going to later this year so it is good to get some input first, Do you think if you had organised a tour in town would it have been cheaper? I know it’s fun doing your own thing but sometimes it can work out costing more!

    • HI Julie, I didn’t look into it in depth, but from what I read, the tours were a bit pricey. If you are travelling for a short time, I would recommend doing one though as I think they include different activities like kayaking. Otherwise you can just get a tuk tuk to places like the water cave, and they will wait for you. Just settle a price FIRST! :)

  5. I can’t understand the correlation between tubing and drinking. How can one enjoy the tubing experience while imbibing? I did the tubing there a decade ago back in ’02. It was awesome spinning around in the tube while cruising downstream and glancing up at the surreal, jagged peaks. What a beautiful place. Back then there were no bars where you start the tubing. Along the whole cruise there were maybe two little places that sold beer and not water while the H20 is really what you want in that situation. :-)

    • You lucky thing! We wished we could have turned the clock back ten years before things got out of hand. I guess it’s a case of “If you build it, they will come.” Unfortunately there are quite a few deaths annually from alcohol/drug/water related incidents, not really a good combination. The one bar we saw was so much bigger and rowdier than I even imagined, even after everything I heard. Oh well, the other stuff was really cool :)

  6. I am really enjoying your blog. It is a trip of my dreams and I am 75 and past your type of travel. I did do a Road Scholar trip this winter in Cambodia and Vietnam with a oruise on the Mekong on a converted rice barge with 10 cabins. Just fine but I would rather be young and with you. Keep your posts coming. Lunch descriptions and all. Thanks, Janet

    • Thanks Janet! Sometimes I think I might be getting ‘past’ this type of travel myself, so I think to be visiting Cambodia and Vietnam at 75 is pretty impressive!!! A Mekong cruise would be fabulous, but unforunately, despite my champagne taste, I am on a beer (or more like water) budget, so it looks like the slow boat for us… Thanks so much for commenting, I’ve loved hearing from you!

  7. Mate, every time I read a post from you I am one step closer to jumping on a plane and joining you! Keep em coming sar, I read your blog at my desk at school (during lunch of course) when the kids are giving me the shits. It has become my little escape! Xxx

  8. Hiya Sarah,

    All sounds marvelous. I’m definitely buying myself some goats’ cheese and a baguette tomorrow! Yum. Amazing blue water and amazing caves. Must be some kind of mineral in the water that makes it that colour. Otherwise someone has a big stash of blue food colouring!! Irene xxx

  9. Hi Sarah, sounds like you are having the most amazing time with all your adventures. Have loved reading about what you are doing and where you are going. Stay happy and safe, Braddles xoxox

    • Hi Bradles! How’s the pregnant lady going?! Thanks so much, it’s wonderful to hear from you!! Hope all is well with you guys too, lots of love xxx

    • Thanks Deborah, a very interesting article! I definitely expected the worst, but because I knew to avoid the riverside bars and found a quiet part of town to stay in, we were able to explore the magnificent surrounds of VV. It is a tragic case of ‘if you build it, they will come’, and an unfortunate example of unregulated tourism by a government that has no long-term foresight for either its citizens or its natural landscape.

  10. You described your experience so beautifully and have restored my faith in tubing! I had pretty much decided to give it a miss when we reach Cambodia, but will definitely be giving it a go now, and tucking into some yummy goats cheese after as well! Your blog keeps making me so hungry lately! Much love xxx