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We left Nong Khiaw the following day by taking a bus at 9am. At the bus station it said the bus would be leaving at 8:30am, so we woke up early to have enough time to walk over. It was about a 25 minute walk. We arrived around 7:45am, thinking by the time we had purchased our tickets and loaded our bags, it would be time to leave. We quickly found out that was not the case and that we have over an hour to kill. Nong Khiaw is not a large place so there were very few ways to entertain ourselves while waiting. Andrew went to look for food and came back with a lot of bananas. The lady didn’t have enough change for him so she just gave him more bananas. The bus we would be taking was not a bus at all but a minivan. It was supposed to hold 9 people. In the end it ended up holding 13 people. It was a tight 3.5 hour drive to Luang Prabang.
Once back in Luang Prabang we hired a tuk tuk to take us to the Southern Bus Terminal, as we didn’t want to spend any nights there, and we somehow convinced him to go completely out of his way to a sandwich and coffee stand we had discovered while there earlier, wait for us while we got the food and drove us to the bus station, all for the same price. At the bus station we were planning to take a local bus that was going to Vientiane but was stopping at Vang Vieng. But the tuk tuk driver dropped us off at the minbus station by mistake and it turned out we were able to catch a minbus (minivan) directly to Vang Vieng for 5,000 kip less (around $0.80 less). The way to Vang Vieng is through mountains so even though it’s only roughly 150km from Luang Prabang, it takes around 4 hours. We sat beside an Aussie named Clinton who has been travelling around the world for 2.5 years, and was in the final stretch of his travels and would be returning home to Australia in a couple of weeks. We had a good time talking with him and when we arrived in Vang Vieng we headed over to the same guesthouse, Champa Lao. We ended up with rooms next to each other which was convenient as we would ended up hanging out together for the duration of his stay. The 3 of us had dinner that night at our guesthouse and ended up meeting Scott. Scott is an American who has been travelling for the past 9 months. He went to the World Cup in South Africa, Turkey, India and was also on his final stretch of his journey to return home for Christmas. The 4 of us met up the next morning during breakfast and made plans to go tubing together.
Tubing is the thing to do while in Vang Vieng. It consists of renting a tube (essentially the inner tube from a tractor tire), being dropped off 5km upriver by a tuk tuk, and tubing your way down the river until you get back to town. I forgot to mention the river banks are lined with various bars that you float down to and stop at along the way. So what should take about an hour ends up taking the whole day. Of course you can make it back in an hour if you don’t stop at any of the bars. Each bar has a different theme and different activities to keep you occupied while there, and they all revolve around beer and alcohol, such as Beer Pong. Beer Pong becomes even more fun after you’ve been drinking for a couple of hours. At most bars, when you arrive you are greeted by a free shot of Lao Lao (Laos version of whiskey) and you can continue the free shots as long as you stay at the bar. Other fun things to do are go ziplining straight into the river, bungee swing right into the river, or slide down an enormous slide right into the river. As you can imagine, once you combine these activities with alcohol it becomes even more fun…and dangerous. Every year people die while participating in these activities, which we of course chose to forget about while there.
The 4 of us arrived at the first bar not knowing what to really expect. We bought some beer and sat down with a group of people. We started talking and drinking and before we knew it an hour had already gone by. Our group (around 10 or 12 people at this point) decided to proceed to the next bar. We got in the tubes and off we went. The river was cold and the current was swift, but the water wasn’t that deep. We were reminded of how shallow the river was each time we hit a store with our butts. To “stop” at the next bar, you wait for one of the guys from that bar to throw you a rope and pull you in. You’re pulled in, get a free shot of Lao Lao, buy a beer, play some beer pong, dance or zipline into the water and move on to the next bar. One of the bars we stopped at had mud volleyball and we all had a blast playing. Most of us didn’t really know the rules but who cares when you can’t even walk because the mud is so slippery. Getting muddy was really part of the fun.
As we were leaving one of the bars, one of the girls dropped her camera in the water (I think with an accidental kick from Clinton) with all the pictures of her 2 month vacation on the memory card. Scott and Clinton spent a good hour looking for it but we knew the chances were slim. Sure enough, it was not a happy ending, Gill was not to be consoled. I don’t blame her, I would be upset as well. Gill and her friend Sara were from Canada (Newmarket and Muskoka) and they were planning on returning back home for Christmas as well. Gill told one of the employees at the bar that if he found her camera she would give him $1,000,000.
From the last bar it was quite a paddle and it was getting dark and cold, so we stopped once we saw the tuk tuks which were offering to take us back to town. We arrived back in town, showered and met up with some of the people from the day’s tubing at the Irish bar. All of us were exhausted from the day of tubing so we called it an early night and went to sleep.
The following day Clinton and Scott went tubing again but Andrew and I just hung out, did some shopping and watched some family guy. Almost every restaurant in town plays either Friends or Family guy over and over again. So it doesn’t matter what time of day you decided to eat or drink, you can watch an episode, or 2 or 3 or… That night we went out with Clinton and Scott and they filled us in on the days events from tubing. It turns out the guy from the bar found Gill’s camera. He looked for it for 2 hours but finally found it. He was keeping it hostage until she gave him the money. They agreed to meet that night in a bar and she would pay him 1 million kip, not dollars. Getting her camera back would cost her around $100. Not bad considering she would have lost all her photos. The camera was intact as it was an underwater camera, and once she paid him the money she was able to confirm all the photos were there. So it was a happy ending after all. That night we celebrated by doing some bar hopping and we eventually ended up at Smiley Bar, where people were partying like it was 1999.
It was time for Clinton to continue on, but we stayed behind and went tubing with Scott and a few friends he had met while travelling in India. Mark, Chris and Chloe knew each other from England but they had met Cynthia in Thailand. Tubing was a blast again and again we were all exhausted at the end of the day. The following day all of us rented bicycles and went looking for the Blue Lagoon. The Blue Lagoon is a place where you can explore a cave but there is also a beautiful blue lagoon where you can swim. The bicycles we rented were street bicycles with cute baskets attached at the front. With directions from the rental place we set off. Very quickly we realized we should have rented mountain bikes. The road leading to the Blue Lagoon was not only a dirt road, but a dirt road combined with rocks. After an hour of biking on this road, Chris developed the shakes in his hands from straining his muscles by trying to keep the bike steady. It was blazing hot outside so we were thrilled to find the cave, and even more excited by swimming in the Blue Lagoon. We paid the 10,000 kip entrance fee and were guided through what felt like the jungle into the cave. The cave was large and we had to climb up rickety bamboo ladders which were muddy and wet. It was cool in the cave but we were all sweating either from the humidity or from all the climbing we had to do in the tight spaces. After we finished with the cave we were excited to go swimming. There was a small pond outside the cave and we asked (disappointed) if that was the Blue Lagoon, and were told no. So we asked where is the Blue Lagoon and the guide said “No”. We interpreted that as “not here”. He then proceeded to ask us for money for guiding us into the cave. “No, we already paid at the entrance”. He stood there for a while and waited. His English was as good as our Laos so after a few minutes he just walked away. We had been scammed! This was not the cave and Blue Lagoon we had been looking for! So we got back on our bikes and continued down the road. After a couple of km’s we found the Blue Lagoon! Again we paid the 10,000 kip and the day was blazing hot so we were really looking forward to taking a dip. We rode our bikes over to the water but again this was NOT the blue lagoon. Sure it was a stream with nice clean water but it was not a lagoon. We had been scammed again! Since it was already 3pm and we had been on our bikes since 11:30am everyone deiced to stay behind, but Andrew and I decided to push on and find the real Blue Lagoon. We were rewarded after another 30 minutes of biking. We found the Blue Lagoon! And it was beautiful. The water was crystal clear, there was a Tarzan rope and a tree you could jump from. We parked our bicycles (after paying another 10,000 kip!) and jumped in. The water was quite cold but it was so refreshing. We spent about an hour there but had to go back as it was getting late and it would be dark soon.
We went tubing once again the following day with everyone and had another great day on the water. The weather was wonderful, the company fun so we knew it would be hard for us to leave the following day. It made it a little easier knowing everyone was leaving the next day too. Everyone except Scott. He decided to stay a few days longer and work at one of the bars. He would be given free accommodation, meals and drinks for promoting the bar (Ohlala). He would be heading home soon enough so this was a good way of sticking around without blowing his budget. Andrew and I said goodbye to him, exchanged contact info and made our way over to the bus station. We had A LOT of fun in Vang Vieng. Most of it was due to the great people we met and hung out with. Both Andrew and I would love to bring all our friends here one day to party together.
P.S. M&M - Beer Pong is soooo making an appearance at the cottage the next time we’re there.