Vang Vieng – Nature, balloons, caves and kayaks

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I had expected that I would fall in love with Laos, that the scenery would blow me away and I wouldn’t want to leave this country. It had a lower population than the other countries I had visited and it was mainly rural, exactly my kind of place. After visiting the capital city of Vientiane, the first destination on my Laos list, I hadn’t been blown away as I had anticipated. That was, until, we approached the town of Vang Vieng and were confronted with cragged karst mountains covered in a thick forest of green trees. The town itself, Vang Vieng, is not impressive. In fact it is a very touristy little town, a backpacker haven. The countryside that surrounds the area, however, is beautiful and the best way to see it is from the height of a hot air balloon. Floating up into the sky in a little wicker basket, the heat from the flames warming my cold, tired skin was a wonderful feeling. Just as we climbed above the buildings the sun started to make its appearance above the mountains and the sky changed from grey to orange. The only sound from high on above was of the gas, pumping life into the roaring flames. Down below people started to go about their daily routines and Vang Vieng turned from a backpacker shanty town into a beautiful place. We had been warned that on a previous ride the hot air balloon had landed on some trees and as we made our descent, looming just above some houses, it appeared that we too would be making an unconventional landing. The children below, however, didn’t seem too concerned as they waved to us on their way to school. Eventually we did make it back safely to the runway, much to my dismay, landing on the trees sounded like a fun adventure. After we jumped out of our ride we headed up into the mountains to go tubing. I had expected to sit in a rubber ring and float down a river, relaxing and feeling the warmth of the sun on my skin. What our tubing adventure actually entailed was sitting in a rubber ring and pulling ourselves into a dark, limestone cave by a rope. The further we went in, the darker the cave, luckily our small head torches provided just enough light to be able to view the stalactites hanging down. As I pulled myself along I started to hum the tune to Indiana Jones, I had always wanted to be Indiana when I was a kid, finally it seemed like my desired occupation had become a reality and I was grateful that my idea of tubing had turned out to be the opposite of what we were doing, as cave exploring was much more fun. After we made it out of the darkness and back into the light we jumped into a kayak, two by two, and paddled our way down the Nam Song River. The view was amazing, the mountains rising up so high that trying to lean our heads back to look to the summit would mean an eventual capsize. The sun was beating down, and our skin was being cooled by the splashes of water from the paddles. On and on we paddled immersed in the nature of Laos, filled with happiness and excitement until, that was, we had been paddling for two hours and our arms and backs began to beg us to stop. But stopping was not possible until we reached our destination, and the more tired we got the more it seemed our destination was China. As we dragged our paddles through the water we passed people floating down the river in their rubber rings, relaxing with a beer in their hands. This type of tubing now seemed a lot more appealing again. ‘Do you want to swap?’ I asked one guy. ‘No, thanks,’ he replied ‘but you can have a drink of my beer if you paddle over here.’ As appealing as this was a detour only a minute to the right would set us back even further, if we stopped we would never start again. So on we went, through currents and dodging rocks, swinging from left to right, until finally, just like a mirage, the finish line came to view. We made it to the end, just.

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