A Brave Soldier

We had heard a lot about Vang Vieng before going there.  It’s a town known for three things:

1) its party atmosphere, particularly tubing down the river

2) the endless loop of Friends or Family Guy playing at any number of eating establishments in town

3) its “Special Menu” items, also found at many eating establishments in town

I went there thinking I would hate it.  More than one person had said the town is just one big frat party, with drunk people stumbling drunk through the bars on the river during the day and them stumbling drunk through the streets at night.  I’m not really a hard-partying kind of girl, and this just didn’t sound like my scene.  But we went to check it out, planning to stay only for a couple of days.

When we got there, the town seemed wonderfully quiet.  Where were all the drunk frat kids?  I don’t know.  They weren’t in town.  We took a walk and saw nothing of the sort.  We did find the local Friends restaurant (where I ate at least once a day), and true, there were a couple of bars in town that had big parties at night, but otherwise, the town was pretty quiet.  And there was so much to do!

Our first evening there, we happened upon the company running hot air balloon rides at sunrise and sunset over Vang Vieng.  Going up in a hot air balloon has been on my bucket list for years, and doing it over this pretty little town in Laos just seemed to good to be true. When they told us the price, I knew we had to do it.  (Not cheap for a couple of travellers, but less than half the price of doing it in North America.)  We had the option to do either a sunrise or sunset balloon ride, but I’m really a sunrise kinda gal, so the next morning, we got up early, and yet another one of my dreams came true.

After all that excitement, we decided to skip tubing for another day or two, and see what else Vang Vieng has to offer.  And actually, there is quite a lot.  Our first trip around town led us to The Blue Lagoon.  It is aptly named, but hard to find.  All tourists in Vang Vieng are trying to get there, but at every twist and turn on the road, there are signs saying “Blue Lagoon – THIS WAY!”, leading you to some dumb little pond or cave where someone is sitting there charging you some amount of money to see pretty much nothing.  Driving down the road on one such detour (we had already taken several) we ran into a British couple who knew where they were going.  They told us to follow them, and 5 minutes later, we ended up at the actual Blue Lagoon.  Tricky to find the first time, but totally worth it.

Amazing indigo-coloured water, a little footbridge, a leaning tree with a rope swing and little cabins served by a small restaurant, this place was easily one of the prettiest and coolest spots we’ve been to so far.

The next day, we decided to check out some cool caves we’d heard about in the area.  And by “we”, I mean “Stu”.  But of course I went along, thinking if it got too hairy, I’d just bow out and happily wait outside where oxygen abounds.

We crossed the river

admired the karsts

paid our respects to the sleeping Buddha and the Snake

and got ourselves a guide (who tried to rook us for $20 at the end of it all!!) and made our way to the cave.

The guide, unaware of the vise-like claustrophobia which was choking me when we were not even 1 minute into this cave, trotted ahead explaining this and pointing out that.  Stu knew I was scared, and checked often to make sure I was okay.  And I realized this was a do or die moment for me:  I could face my fear and just deal with this damn cave, or I could bow out and wait on the sidelines, lungs full of oxygen but spirit completely deflated.

So in I went.  Deeper and deeper, through towering cave ceilings and crawling through little tunnels, into blackness so dark that even though we were standing, without our lights, you couldn’t tell which way was up.  A few times the thought crossed my mind, I hope my family knows that I love them, but still, I kept going.  Deeper and deeper, passing cool things like this

but not really noticing anything except how deep we were going into this huge rock.  Stu knew I was scared, and was checking in on me, but was doing a good job of not making too big a deal out of it.  That probably would have just freaked me out more.  I needed to wage this war in my own mind.

After maybe 50 minutes of walking into this damn cave, we came upon a river.  We could hear water rushing, and our guide told us that if we waded/swam the river, we’d come upon a waterfall in the cave.

Well, I thought.  We’ve already come this far. If I’m gonna die in this cave, may as well do it with a bang.

So I rolled up my pants and off we went.

Don’t I look thrilled??

We went into the water towards the waterfall for a little bit, but we would have had water up to our necks if we went all the way, and we weren’t prepared for that with bathing suits and extra clothes, so we decided not to go all the way.  But you know what – I spent over 2 hours in that cave with no daylight in sight.  I.  Did.  It.  Stu said I was a brave soldier, and an intrepid warrior.  But really, I was just a scared shitless little girl who did it anyway.

Scared shitless.  Did it anyway.

If those first two words were always followed by those last three, everyone’s life would be completely different.

After that triumph, I deserved a treat.  Ice cold Mirinda.  It’s green cream soda, served with ice, in a plastic bag, with a straw.  Awesome!  (For those you who know me a little better than most, you know I hate cream soda.  But it’s green!  Served in a plastic bag with a straw!!  How could I resist?!?!)

After the cave, I was ready to check out some outdoor activities.  So the next day, we went tubing.

Turns out there are lots of bars along the river – some crazy and wild, and some way more chill and relaxed.  We took out our tubes and set sail down the lazy river for a chill good time.

We skipped the crazy bars full of 20-year-old drunks, and stopped instead at an easy going reggae bar that had good music and cheap drinks.  We shared a small beverage

and we each tried our hand at the sling shot.

We took off again down the river, and at one point, were floating along peacefully with the beautiful river stretched out in front of us and the amazing karsts rising up directly behind us.  It was an opportune moment for a picture.  I pulled our camera out of our wet bag only to find that the bag had a leak in it, and that the camera was wet.

Funny thing about having a broken camera.  All of a sudden, there are photographs everywhere.

Like further along on that tubing ride,  where in front of us was a simple bamboo bridge crossing the river up ahead, and a lone schoolgirl on a bicycle crossing the bridge with the sun beginning to set behind her.  And then, up from the trees in the distance rose the hot air balloon.  Damn.

One other thing I didn’t have my camera for was the Laos wedding we were invited to our first night in Vang Vieng.  We missed the ceremony, but ate and drank and danced at the reception.  Well, I danced.  Laos dancing is line dancing – men and women don’t touch, not even when they’re slow dancing (I know – I did it!).  My sweaty dirty travel clothes got me a few looks when I was up on that dance floor with the Laos women who were dressed to the nines, but my line-dancing capabilities won them over, and I had them cheering me on in no time.

Too bad about that damn camera.


3 responses to this post.

  1. Posted by Angi on April 3, 2011 at 7:29 pm

    You go girl! Do it anyways! Always!


  2. Posted by Michelle on April 3, 2011 at 10:36 pm

    Way to conquer your fears girl!!!


  3. Posted by NoWhereMom on April 4, 2011 at 12:37 am

    So glad that you got to ride in the hot air balloon and that you survived the cave – do it anyway – awesome!
    Also glad that you have finally realized the awesomeness that is cream soda – even if it had to be green and in a baggie!


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