Sep 21, 2006 – Vang Vieng

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Vang Vieng is an interesting town catering solely to the tourist market. It is truly unfortunate that western tourists have driven the need for restaurants in this town to show continuous episodes of “Friends” or “The Simpson’s” on several TV’s. Other’s show movies and all at exceptionally high volume. That says something about the societies we come from. We, in our quest for good food and quiet atmosphere found 2 restaurants which we frequented during our stay in Vang Vieng. One was a bakery and the other was the Organic Farm Cafe where absolutely everything that we tried was of exceptional quality from the pumpkin soup to the banana pancakes.

Apart from exploring the cuisine, the surrounding countryside was great fun to explore. The mountains are stunning, the caves plentiful and the river perfect for tubing and kayaking, so we ended up spending 5 days here.

Skipping the schoolwork this week, we rented bikes one day and rode out to the Blue Lagoon where we explored a cave until it got too dark to go any further. It was quite a cave, set apart from the others by the size of the boulders within the cave that we had to crawl around and by the beautiful light let in by several openings high up in the walls.

After the descent we were able to cool off in the Blue Lagoon where Mary pretended she was in the movies and Torin thought he was Tarzan (I think he’s been in the jungle too long).

Another day was spent tubing down the river with some friends. Unfortunately I didn’t bring the camera along so that event undocumented with photos. However, it was enjoyable once one got used to the speed of the current.

We were also able to do a kayaking\caving day with an organized tour (and tour guide). That was probably the most enjoyable day as we all enjoyed being in and on the water. Torin and Mary were able to get their own single kayaks while I get a double by myself. They were all sit-on-top vessels and quite stable. The river was classified as Class 1 or 2 so it was nothing but fun. One of the first stops on our kayaking trip was to see a couple of caves. The second cave was called the “water cave” because to get into it one got on to an inner tube and slid (pulled) oneself between the rock and the water (about 30 cm of space) into a channel under the mountain. This channel went on for about 30 metres and the natural lighting was quite a surreal shade of tourquoise. After the 30 metres we got to a sand bar where we left the inner tubes and crawled \ waded another 70 metres until the space got too small to go any further. We made our way back, went for a swim in the pond just outside the cave entrance and enjoyed a fabulous lunch of fried rice and shish-kabobs. We made our way back to the river and kayaked another 10 km to a riverside bar. There we were entertained by tourists swinging off a platform about 8 metres above the river before floating the rest of the way to Vang Vieng.

Mary and I also spent an afternoon touring the Organic Farm about 3 km north of town while Torin hung out in the bungalow recovering from an upset stomach (we tried unsuccefully to convince him to become vegetarian). The organic farm was impressive in it’s capacity to induce change in the surrounding communities. It employed 20 locals to

work on the farm and in the restaurant. It also took in volunteers to work on the farm and teach new skills to people within the surrounding villages. We learned of individuals teaching the skill of building mud houses with a community library being one of the first buildings built. We also learned of a group of Koreans that came to teach computer skills and had also brought enough donated money to provide a school bus to carry the kids from the surrounding 3 villages to the school in Vang Vieng. We learned of the focus on Mulberry trees, the fruit they provide and how the leaves are used for tea. We of course had to enjoy a mulberry shake at the restaurant after the tour. Later we biked further up the highway, found a spot along the river and watched the local kids come down to bathe and swim in the river. It was interesting to note how safe they felt in the river without any adults around (present company excepted). They all seemed to know their limitations with the very young not venturing out very far at all. They all came with plastic containers which they used as floatation devices while swimming and when finished filled them with water and carried them back to their homes.

After picking up Torin we finished the afternoon with a trip to the local market. It was absolutely foreign to us what these people eat and how they treat the creatures that they are about to eat. We saw bats (dead but in their original form, barbequed and dried); we saw rats, skinned and ready for the BBQ; we saw young birds hanging by their necks (dead); we saw frogs with their legs tied together (still alive); we saw fish flopping around on the concrete floor; we saw beetles strung together on a string (still alive) and we saw eels slithering around in a bucket. There was also all sorts of fruit, vegetables and food stalls. We had enough nerve to try some fruit (peeled) but that was about it.

All in all, while the town of Vang Vieng isn’t much, the surrounding countryside was spectacular enough to keep our attention for 5 days.