Photos by MJ Klein and Hui-chen
Day 5 of our Thailand-Laos trip found us in one of the most beautiful places you can find in Laos, Vang Vieng.
We hired a van with driver and headed out on the road. I took a few shots of the countryside from the van. Road in Laos are rather rough. They don’t have such a good road bed and with all the trucks that have to use the roads, they get beaten up rapidly. You can’t make any significant speed on Lao roads because you will shake your vehicle apart because of the bumpiness! Before I forget, some of these photos are geotagged so be sure to click on them and then take a look at the map. It’s quite common to see overloaded pickup trucks like this in many places in SE Asia. Laos is no exception. Here’s a second group on the same road. With vehicles like this on the road, you have to be patient and slow down. Our driver made an unannounced stop at this place, which served grilled goat. We concluded that it must be a popular watering hole on the way up because some other tour groups were stopped there also. Soon after we got back on the road, we met up with this police check. They made the driver produce documentation and then charged him some kind of a “fee.” Usually this is nothing more than a way for the local cops to shake down people for cash. We had to slow down for cows to cross the road, more than once. You have to be prepared for anything once you get outside of the big cities. This bridge is being replaced by a new, modern design bridge. You can tell that it’s really taken a beating with all those trucks going over it day and night. I thought this house built on the little island was pretty cool. Finally, after more than 3 hours on the road, and much of that twisting and winding through mountain passes, we reach our destination: Vang Vieng! Here we see everyone getting out of the car to check out one of the places of lodging. We recommend getting advanced reservations as this is a very popular destination (with a lot of foreigners). After we found places to stay for everyone, we took a short walk around. This hole in the sidewalk was just like how Vientiane was about 5 years ago. Grant money from Japan enabled them to fix the roads in Vientiane. This place is another story, however. One of the attractive features about Vang Vieng is the Nam Song river. This is a long-tail boat and we’ll be taking a ride (or 2!) on one of these later. This is the view past the Nam Song river, from one of the many guest houses along the river. Of course, I had to have the obligatory Taiwan style photo taken of me. The area where the long-tail boats are moored. Basically they just run them up onto pebble sand bars along the shore. We wanted to visit the famous caverns of Vang Vieng, so we took the van to them (not very far away from where we were staying). You have to cross this lovely bridge to get to the cave entrance. It’s a pedestrian-only suspension bridge, and yes, it does swing when you walk across it. If a large group is walking across, it can be a little unnerving. The view from the bridge. To get to the entrance of the caverns, you buy a ticket and then climb these horrible stairs! I wasn’t kidding when I told these were horrible stairs! We all huffed and puffed our way up them. At the top we went inside. I didn’t realize that it would be so crowded that day, but I should have. The caverns were lovely inside, and the artificial lighting made for some cool colors. There are a few places where the caves lead to holes in the side of the cliff, and you have these wonderful views. The caves were absolutely packed with local people taking photos about ever 5 meters. The last time we were here, there were hardly any people with cameras. Now, everyone has either a small point-and-shoot digital, or a camera phone. I suppose this reflects more upon the economy of Laos and what’s happened over the last 3-4 years or so. It seems that material prosperity has gone up. All I know is that I had to stop about every 10 steps because someone wanted a photo of themselves standing in front of something. Also, much of the caverns were closed this time. No explanation, no signs, nothing. The only reason that we knew less than 1/2 of the caverns were open is because we were here before and saw many more features. Having had our fill of caving, we went for a late lunch. One of the things that I always enjoy trying is the local liquor. On the right is “Lao lao” rice liquor. The dark liquid on the left is “Tiger whisky.” The Lao lao tasted a lot like Chinese rice liquor and I did not finish it. I did however, make a mix with the Tiger whisky and it was pretty good. As the sun set we went back out to take photos during this time. I really like the setting sun for photography! We stayed in this room and it was really great. Hui-chen and I decided to take a long-tailed boat tour in the setting sunlight. Come ride along with us! We were only able to go about 30 minutes before it became too dark to see anything. The boat driver sure knows that river though, because he navigated us back to the mooring in near total darkness! Later, we went out for a quick snack, and I got this: a “Whisky Bucket.” Basically, it’s your drink and mixer of choice, with 4 straws and ice so you and your pals can have at it! Hui-chen bought this hat. I think she looks cute. What do you think? We were surprised to learn that all the vendors were Chinese, and nearly all of them were from the same place! We had some fun talking with them as we walked around. This is an example of some of the grilled fare that was on display that evening. The next morning we rose early to catch the morning light. And we decided to take another boat tour. These tours are supposed to be one hour, but Hui-chen and I decided to take the 30 minute tour because we didn’t want anyone to be waiting for us to return. You can see how shallow the Nam Song really is. If the boat turned over all you’d have to do is stand up and walk to the shore. Even though shallow, there are some rapid water sections of the river. As well as some rocks to dodge. This young man was crossing the bamboo bridge on his bike. Michael Turton (L) and Michael Cannon on their way back from their morning boat tour. We saw these young Lao people carrying baskets along the shore. As we had a tight schedule, it was soon time to leave Vang Vieng, and head back to Vientiane. Thanks for reading! Please leave us your comments, questions and recommendations below. Feel free to re-tweet this article too!