Tubes, Caves, and Hot Air Balloons

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Vang Vien is a cult classic. It has been on the Southeast Asian backpacking circuit since the late nineties. A pretty river runs through town, a ridge of limestone mountains offers great climbing and caving, and there are plenty of places to go biking. And then there is the tubing.

We have heard of the partying and the tubing. Weronika and I wanted to save that for later so we first went rock climbing. The next day, we went caving. This was fantastic. We visited a couple of caves, and each was different and great in its own way. First, we visited the snail cave. Our guide led us about a kilometer into the mountain where we got to the end o the road. We changed into our swim suits and splashed around in the underground river. The cave continues on for a few more kilometers but you have to swim the entire way. Neither us nor our guide had such inclinations.

Another highlight was the water cave. The entrance is about a meter above the surface of a small pool. You get a tub and pull yourself along a rope. The ceiling is low, the cave is wide, and save for a short walk you are in an inner-tube the entire way. We also enjoyed the cave near the Blue Lagoon, which is a huge chamber that has plenty of room for exploring off the beaten track.

The tubing in Vang Vien is often the first thing that people mention about Laos. You hire a tube and a tuk-tuk drives you a few kilometers up the river. There are many bars here. You have a drink, or two or three. You jump in and float down with a beer in your hand. Every dozen or two meters there is another riverside bar. They throw bottles on ropes to try to fish you into their fine establishments. You stop along the way and enjoy what they have to offer. Eventually you realize that it is getting late and you only made it two hundred meters down the river. You start to paddle to race the sun. No worries, as along the way there are plenty of places where you can leave the river and take a cheap ride back into town. This is not a race, but rather a casual drunk “stroll” down the river in a truck inner tube.

Our last day in Vang Vien was Valentine’s Day. We decided to spend the morning in a hot air balloon and watch the city of Vang Vien from above. The ride was calm and scenic. The only excitement was the balloon operator shooshing the kids away during the landing as to not land on their faces.

We finally had a chance to take take some kayaks out on a river. Like all the rivers during the dry season, the one we were on en route to Vientianne looked calm and peaceful. The weather was cludy and cool and Weronika wore a fleece. Our guide told us that the river was calm with the exception of one are of level two rapids. This meant absolutely nothing to us. However, we sensed something was up when our guide gave us helmets, life vests, and told us to clip our flip-flops to the boat. We floated down the river and came to the supposed rapids. It looked innocent enough from upriver. We made it down the first section, got spun sideways and ended up in the water. Weronika did have some trouble swimming in a wet fleece but we managed to get back into our sit-on-top kayak. We did not last another half a minute and were right back in the water. We ended up conquering the rest of these wild level two rapids floating besides our kayak and did not regain proper control until the river got calm once again.

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