We took a bus from Vientiane to Vang Vieng a few days ago. Despite splurging on the VIP bus (which means they don’t pack the aisles with standers and it has air con) Caleb still got motion sickness on the “4 hour drive”. We actually left our guesthouse at 9:00a.m. and arrived at 4:30p.m. A lot seems to do with the waiting for the bus to actually fill up before we depart. A couple of times the bus driver inexplicably pulled over, got out, and returned at few minutes later with a bag of peanuts or a beer or something. We have an 8 hour drive coming up when we head to Luang Prabang so I’m not sure how that’s going to turn out.
Our current guesthouse is very quaint and pretty but somewhat rustic being outside of the main village. We’re surrounded by mountains and jungle. We only have to walk 250m to the back of the guesthouse property to view bats flying out of their cave every day around 5:30p.m. We walked to town a couple of days ago and booked a tour that included a cave with a natural rock formation of an elephant, which also doubles as a temple of sorts for the locals to pray to Buddha.
To get to and from there involved a hike through a Hmong village and rice fields. These villages are very poor and the boys begin to see that not everyone has a nice house to live in. I’m also glad we have our sandals as it’s been raining cats and dogs ever since we’ve arrived (with periodic sunny breaks so we can venture out).
From there we kayaked down the Nam Song river which was peaceful and a welcome way to cool off in the 37C humidity. The views were spectacular and the flat photos that I took really do not do them justice but I’ve included them anyway to give you an impression.
Our guide, Aae (pronounced like the “e” in “men”) had us stop partway down the river to take us to the base of one the mountains where we did cave tubing (floating through the underground streams) and a bit of spelunking. There was a slide carved out of mud at one point and Caleb was brave enough to go down amid the cheers of others in the group. At other parts the roof of the cave was so low I was practically crab-walking, which the boys enjoyed immensely because they could scamper along with no difficulty. The pinnacle of my stress revolved around this sliver of a crack that everyone had to squeeze through. It was about 3 feet tall, 1 foot wide, and 6 feet long. This is, of course, an approximation because it was so irregularly shaped. The boys and Barb breezed through and didn’t even realize that this part of the cave was any different that the rest until they heard the guide telling me, “Exhale before you go through and think very, very thin”. I managed to crouch and contort fairly well and edged my way sideways until about halfway through – and then I got stuck. I was also wearing my lifejacket so that didn’t help matters. Aae started pushing me from behind and the kids pulled from the front. We were at the end of the tour group but I felt embarrassed nonetheless. Eventually, the slipperiness from sweat and mud helped slide me through. We would have gotten a picture except I was carrying the camera when I got stuck. Aae took our picture when we emerged from the cave somewhere in the jungle. As you can tell I’m pretty happy to be above ground! We cleaned up a little in a stream before resuming our trek.
We reboarded our kayaks and continued downriver until we reached the town where we dropped off our kayaks and hopped on a tuk tuk that took us to the “Blue Lagoon”. This was simply a local waterhole farther up the mountain that got it’s name from the purity and colour of the water. It also, unfortunately, is a major tourist trap. We arrived quite late in the day (~3:30p.m.) so people we starting to filter out slowly as we arrived. It’s basically a mountain stream that is not very wide but is exceptionally deep. People just jumped in and drifted for a short way before doing it all over again. There was a huge tree with a few overhanging branches that people were leaping from. Caleb and I decided to try it and managed to go off the higher of the two branches which was about 20 feet high. Then we drifted with the rest of the rabble. The water was much cooler, coming from the mountains but it was so clear and clean compared to the muddy silt of the Nam Song which was high and fast due to the rain.
By the time we returned to the guesthouse the boys were all but exhausted so today has been a “down” day in which we don’t run around but instead focus on the boys’ math, geography, and social studies.