Week 27- Vang Vieng and Phonsavan

This week was an action packed week in Laos!! I am really liking Laos so far. It has definitely been the most difficult country to travel around, but in my opinion it is the most beautiful country so far in Southeast Asia. Most of the country looks like it has been untouched. It is full of just beautiful green mountains and small little towns. In general the people are very friendly, but it is a bit harder to find English speakers.

View from my hostel in Vang Vieng

After Vientiane, I took a bus to Vang Vieng. This is known as the party city it Laos and is a huge place for backpackers and for partying. Four years ago, it used to be even worse. The main attraction here was the tubing down the river and stopping at a lot of bars along the way and getting very drunk. The drunkenness, drug use, fast pace of the river at times, and in general stupid behavior led to about 20 deaths a year in this town before the government shut it down. Now, the tubing continues but only 2 bars remain open and they have to tried to cut down on the drug use. Yet, the reputation of the town continues and it seemed that people felt like they could do whatever they wanted in this town.

Driving around Vang Vieng

On the bus, I met a Spanish guy named Josep who was also going to stay at my hostel. I stayed in a hostel called Real Vang Vieng Backpackers 2, which was known as a party hostel (but every hostel in town was a party hostel), but was quiet after 12. This sounded great to me that the party would not actually be at my hostel. Josep and I ended up in the same room and so we went to get some lunch together. Then, I went back and chilled for the rest of the day. I went out to get some dinner and then had an early night. The following day, Josep and I rented motorbikes together and decided to ride them to the blue lagoon. The Blue Lagoon is one of the most famous attractions around Vang Vieng, but is also known as a Chinese tourist trap. We tried to get there early to see it and I thought it was just ok. There were lots of things they had built in the lagoon and it just felt really touristy.

Blue Lagoon 1

We liked the cave behind the lagoon much better than they lagoon. You had to hike up a small path and when you enter it is a large cavern. It was very beautiful and the sun shining in the larger entrance was gorgeous. I am glad we hiked to the back because though it looked like the cave ended, it went way back. We needed flashlights to see as we went back as there were no lights set up in the cave. It was fun going back because we felt like cave explorers climbing over the rocks. There were also massive holes in the ground where you had to be careful because they went really deep.

Josep going up to the cave

After the Blue Lagoon 1 we went to what they called Blue Lagoon 3. I have no idea what happened to Blue Lagoon 2, but in any case we went the the 3rd one. This required basically backroading with our motorbikes for about an hour. The roads were terrible, but the scenery was stunning and there was almost no one else on the road.

View of the drive to Blue Lagoon 3…check out the road!

At Blue Lagoon 3, there were not as many people and it was much more beautiful. The only problem was the lagoon was in the shade and so it was pretty cold. Here they had rope trapeze, a small zipline, and some rafts you can row around. I enjoyed just reading my book and watching a bunch of Korean tourists enjoying playing in the water. It was really peaceful until a group of western tourists came and started blasting music. I went into the water right before we left and it was cold! I was glad they also had a fire there. Next, we tried to go up to the water cave, but when we got there it was about to close so we decided to just drive back. The drive and views were just so beautiful I didn’t mind just driving around. 

Trapeze swing at Blue Lagoon 3

Very interesting driving around Vang Vieng … yes we crossed that bridge

After, Josep and I went to another hostel that had an amazing lookout point for sunset and shared a couple of beers. There, we learned about the infamous tubing and 2 girls were describing to us how the tubing lived up to its name. Then, we headed to an Italian place while we still had the bikes and I had a really great lasagna. 

Our viewpoint for sunset

That night Nate arrived in Vang Vieng. He had taken a flight from Bangkok to Vientiane that morning and caught a local bus to Vang Vieng. I was really happy to see him! We went to dinner that night so he could eat and then went out dancing for a bit at a bar. Everyone there was very drunk and it was obvious that they had been drinking for a long time or were on drugs.

Sunset over Vang Vieng

The following day, we decided to try to do the tubing since that was THE activity to do in Vang Vieng. We stocked up on some beer and headed to the tubing office with Josep, and German guy from our room, and an American guy from our hostel. On the ride upstream we also met two other Australian girls and we had ourself a little river crew. We started at 11 which is a bit earlier than others start. We got to the put in spot and got in the water to find out 2 minutes later that we were already at the first bar. I wish the first bar was not so early along the river, but since there were only 2 bars we decided to get out. Well, we were actually fished out by locals. They are probably paid by the bar to stand on the shore throwing plastic bottles attached to string to the tubers going past and pull us to shore.

View from the first bar

The bar was pretty empty when we first arrived which was pretty nice. We got on a beer pong table and I found out that I have forgotten how to play beer pong and against 2 college kids Nate and I didn’t stand a chance. Our second game was a bit better than the first. After, they got the biggest game of flip cup together that I have ever seen. There had to be about 50 people playing flip cup.

Beer Pong and Flip Cup at the first bar

After flip cup, our group decided that we wanted to get back into the water and head down to the second bar. It took up about 30 minutes to get to the second bar and it was a nice relaxing ride down the river. We got out at the second bar and again we were some of the first people there. I didn’t like the second bar quite as much as the first one. There was a basketball and a hoop so we got a huge game of pick up basketball going of girls vs boys which was really fun.

Boys vs girls basketball game at the second bar

Then, we realized it was getting late and we still had a 2 hour ride downstream. So, we had to leave at that moment or stay and tuk tuk home. We decided to tube which was probably the dumb decision. As we were going, it was starting dark and we started to panic a bit. Once it was completely dark, Nate and I realized that we had dropped our bag of stuff and quickly got out of our tubes to try recover our missing items. The biggest thing was that we thought my camera dropped out of the bag. Luckily, Nate had given the camera earlier to the German guy in our room so that was safe. We did lose my sunglasses, bug spray, and some money and keys to my locker. We were crawling around on our hand and knees on rocks to try to find everything and then had to walk back to town. We got back a bit late and the tubing office was closed to we lost our deposit on the tubes as well. In general, the day was really fun, but it had a bit of a downer ending. I was happy to recover my camera and the hostel had to use a circular saw to cut open my lock, but everything turned out ok.

Tubing home in the dark

The following day, Nate rented a scooter to go see the blue lagoons I had already seen and  I signed up for a half day rock climbing class. I had not rock climbed in years! I was really into it in middle school, but my body has changed a bit since then and I was a little scared I wouldn’t be able to do it. The limestone mountains were very similar to those that were in Railey Beach. The rock was course, but it left a lot of good hand and feet holds. There were 4 people in my group, one guy from Germany and an Israeli couple. All of us were novices, but we all did pretty well I think. We got to climb 5 times and the climbs got more difficult each time. The first 3 walls I found pretty easy and never really struggled getting up. The final 2 walls were definitely more difficult. They were each a 5A grade wall, which I am not quite sure what that means. The final wall even had a tree coming out of it that we had to get over. I remember using the tree a bit and our instructor yells up to me, “Climb, monkey girl, climb” which was a bit weird, but made me laugh.

In the afternoon, Nate came back for me on the motorbike and we went to the water cave together. I had missed the water cave the first time around because Josep and I got there too late so I was really happy to get there the second time. It was a really amazing experience. You pay to walk across this bridge and then you are in a town. There are very few signs but you walk back through some cow fields until you find the cave. It was suggested to go in the afternoon because tourist groups go in the morning. We were the only ones there and we got the tubes and lights for pretty cheap. An old man even jumped in a tube with us and guided us into the cave. They had hooked up a series of ropes in the cave where you pull yourself up into the cave. At one point the ropes ended and I am happy we had a guide because he told us to pick up the tube and walk a bit further back across rocks and there were more ropes in the back and we continued. Then, the ropes ended again and we paddled on through the cave until the end. When we turned out our lights at the back of the cave you couldn’t see anything! It took about 20 minutes to get the the back of the cave. It was such an interesting experience!

Rice paddy fields leading to the Water Cave

That night I decided to go to bed early because Nate and I had an early bus to Phonsavon the following day. Well, for awhile this was great, but my entire room had changed over that night with people and my new roommates ended up not being very respectful. I had never gotten the vibe this was a true party hostel until that night. First, around 11, after I had been sleeping for around an hour 2 girls brought in a drunk Aussie girl. She could not walk herself or even hold up her head. These girls had found her outside of a bar puking and then she had passed out. They were a nurse and paramedic and they were trying to position her in a way so she wouldn’t choke on her own vomit and asked me to check on her every hour. Then, another drunk guy comes home and for the next 3 hours is banging around inside and outside of the room. Around 2 in the morning I awake to two people in the room hooking up. Then, the girl, while only wearing a blanket, asks me and 2 other guys in the room if we have a condom. I flip out a bit and tell her she is not going to have sex with us all in the room and so they go to the bathroom. The next morning I awake to a girl flipping out at the guy that had sex because they had been traveling together and he had gone home with another girl. It was kind of a mess and I was so happy to be leaving that day.

One last view of Vang Vieng

So, Nate and I hop a minibus to Phonsavan the following morning. The minibuses are pretty beat up in this country, but at least on this journey we had a lot of room. They gave us the whole back seat to ourself. There was little air in the van and the sun was beating down on our necks through the back window, but it wasn’t took terrible of a drive. It took us about 7 hours to get there. The roads in Laos are ridiculous. We went up a mountain and then basically drove along the ridge line the entire time. The road was just a series of switchbacks for hours. At many points we were doing almost 180 degree turns at a time consecutively. Many people on the buses would get sick from lack of air and the craziness of the roads. On each of these bus rides we were unable to read or watch movies because it would make us car sick. So, we just had to talk and look out the window. The following 2 bus rides we downloaded comedy playlists on Spotify and just listened to comedy for hours. We arrived in Phonsavan, found a hostel, had some dinner, and went to bed.

Our mini bus journey to Phonsavan

The following morning we woke up early, ate breakfast, and rented a scooter from a place on the main street. We drove the scooter out to Jar Site 2 and arrived after getting lost for awhile. Phonsavan is known for the Valley of Jars. The Valley of Jars is a world heritage site where they found many very large stone jars on the top of many of the mountains in the area. They have no idea which civilization used the jars or exactly what the jars were for. They found some remains of bodies in and around the jars to they think they may have used them for burials. The jars were so large and heavy that I am impressed with any civilization that made them and it is crazy to think about how they got them up the hills.

Valley of Jars – Jar Site 2

Sitting on a Jar at Jar Site 2

After Jar site 2, we went to Jar site 1 which contained more jars and was a bit more populated of a site. Apart from the jars, this area also has the history of being the most bombed placed in Laos. I will touch on the history of Laos more in my next post, but basically the US bombed Laos in a secret war for 9 years during the Vietnam War. All over the Valley of Jars you see large bomb craters. The problem with the area as well is the there are many unexplored ordinances in the area which makes it nearly impossible for local people to expand their farms in fear of hitting one and blowing up. Each of the Jar sites had been cleared with the support of funding from New Zealand, but many areas remain uncleared.

Jar Site 1
The jars were so big!!
Bomb Crater at Jar Site 1

After Jar Site 1, we went back to town and got some lunch before heading off in the other direction to find a town that was made from bomb fragments and a waterfall.This part of the journey was very interesting because we had a bit of a series of unfortunate events. First, we were driving and I was starting to get stomach pains. I think I may have eaten something bad for lunch and they only got worse. Then, we kept searching for the bomb village and went down many dirt roads in search and we never did find the village. So, we decided to try for the waterfall instead. This is when we embarked on one of the scariest roads of my life. It was a dirt road with many rocks on it that went straight down the side of the mountain. The guardrail was made out of a couple of twigs and I had to hold on to the back of the motorbike so I didn’t fly into Nate. Finally, to much relief we reached the bottom and saw that they were trying to build the area up to be a tourist attraction even though there was no one there.

Using old bomb casings as planters

So, we paid a small fee and started to hike up to the waterfall. Originally we thought it was just one waterfall, but it was a series of waterfalls that got more beautiful as we hiked up. We only went up to about 3 or 4 of them, but if we had had more time we would have continued to hike up to further waterfalls. The waterfalls are very beautiful and it was worth the drive down to see them.

Road down to the waterfall

After the waterfalls, we returned to the bike to find our back tire was flat, very flat. Knowing the uphill drive in front of us, combined with the fact that I was not feeling well, we began to worry a bit. I got on the motorbike (which was a really crappy motorbike to begin with) and we began to drive. Quickly we realized that the motorbike did not have the power to get up the hills and we were scared we would bend the rim so I hopped off and told Nate I would meet him in town and he should continue on and get the tire fixed. I walked only about 15 minutes before I saw him again and he had gotten off since the tube had come out of the tire and he said he could not drive anymore. We were in a real predicament. To our luck, 3 guys who could be no older than 18 that we saw drinking down by the waterfall were coming up in a truck. We asked them to give us a lift up the mountain and after all of them peed in the bushes for awhile (they may have been a bit drunk), they helped us load the motorbike into the back of the truck and drove us up the mountain. They took us to a repair shop, helped us unload, took a lot of selfies with us, and even gave us each a beer. We were so lucky that they were coming up the mountain! The repairs were only $3 and then we were racing back to town to pick up Nate’s laundry and turn in the motorbike before 5. It was such a crazy day!

We had some dinner and went to bed because we had to wake up early to head to Sam Nuea.

Beautiful views driving around Phonsavan
We didn’t find the bomb village, but we did find this view

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