Cycling along unpaved paths
Today I enormously enjoyed the tranquility of rural Laos while taking a countryside trip around Vang Vieng. I rented a bicycle in the morning and drove to the Tham Chang cave, along unpaved paths. Upon arrival, I had to climb 150 steps have to reach the entrance of the cave. This time there were no Buddha statues inside, only stalactites and stalagmites. I enjoyed driving there itself more than exploring the contents of this full-sized cave.
Around Vang Vieng: countryside trip in the heat
Afterward, the adventure really kicks off. I have to cross a wooden bridge to the other side of the Nam Song river, looking for the next cave, the Tham Phu Kham. It is still morning time, and even though I cycle at a leisurely pace, I am sweating heavily. For a moment I am about to give up my journey; the trip to the cave is around 7 kilometers, but the beautiful landscapes make me continue my countryside trip around Vang Vieng.
An unlit cavern with a sitting Buddha
At the checkpoint of the cave, I have to pay an entrance fee, without receiving a ticket. It seems little official to me, there is no one else to be seen here. I climb a small path through the jungle. To enter the cave, you need to crawl over some boulders, to end up in an unlit cavern. It all looks a bit spooky. With the built-in light of my mobile phone, I steadily move on, to finally get rewarded by seeing a fantastic sitting Buddha.
Some noodle soup at a local food stall
This discovery makes this trip entirely worthwhile. Contented about my countryside trip around Vang Vieng I cycle back to the city. Shortly before I have to cross the wooden bridge again, I eat a bowl of noodle soup at a local food stall. The place does not look appealing, but the noodle soup tastes like a 5-star meal.
Lack of local identity in Vang Vieng
The city of Vang Vieng itself lacks any character. It is just a collection of places catering to tourists; one bar next to a resto, or souvenir shop, or booking office. Worse is the absolute disrespect for the local culture by the tourists. You see boys walking around in the street in their bare torso or girls in bikini. The local inhabitants seem to accept this behavior, but it looks a bit alienating given with the cultural background of this charming country. Laos is undoubtedly not as lost to tourism as Thailand, but in a place like Vang Vieng, you start to doubt this.
Sipping Lao beer at an open-air bar
After dinner, I search for a nice bar. In the distance, I hear the beats boom, but I am really not into that. I enter an open-air bar annex restaurant. A DVD with a Jimi Hendrix performance is shown on TV. The bar owner serves me two shooters of booze, nasty stuff, but I do not want to end up in front of my room door again as happened a couple of days ago. So I just drink two bottles of Lao beer and then leave the bar.
A bit of an artificial atmosphere
I walk around the city for a while, but I detect little enthusiasm. Even though I know that there certainly must be something to experience further, I just return to my room. I can not get rid of the impression that people are trying to create an artificial atmosphere here. Luckily I had an enjoyable countryside trip around Vang Vieng earlier today. And I will be more than pleased to return to Luang Prabang tomorrow.