Home > Bikes, Buddhism, Caves, Laos, Mekong, Travel, Village life, War > Too old to tube

Too old to tube

If Carl and I had visited Vang Vieng at the age of 18 at a time when we were able to handle more than a unit of alcohol each, then this would be a very different blog post. A picturesque spot on the Nam Song river houses a party town complete with magic mushroom pizzas, weed burgers, opium yogurt shakes and the highest concentration of ’gap yaars’ in Asia. Little is left of the Lao village that Vang Vieng once was. The main attraction here is the tubing and the debauchery. Tubes (big tyre like rubber ring inflatable’s) are hired in town and wearing only very small items of clothing, tanned youngsters are packed into a van, along with their tubes and taken to the ‘start point’. From here the day is spent drifting down the river to the ‘end point’ stopping in the numerous bars on the way and getting incredibly drunk. In an attempt to retain interest for at least another day the restaurants of Vang Vieng provide cushions and wide screen TVs showing reruns of ‘Friends’ and ‘Family Guy’ alongside their magical menus. The perfect hangover cure.

Feeling rather like the old folks in town Carl and I opted for a pleasant bike ride to a nearby cave. Having arrived in low season the weather wasn’t looking so good, and being in a tube on the river all day became even less appealing in the cold rain. Carl insisted on a mountain bike after previous biking experiences but my concerns lay elsewhere and as a mountain bike could not be found with both the bell and basket that I required, I opted for a cheap ‘city’ bike. The off road terrain proved a struggle, exacerbated by the recent rains. My bike slipped and skidded but I managed to keep the contents of my basket in tact and my bell proved to be a very practical necessity in passing chickens, cows, goats and locals.

As has now come to be expected, we first rode our bikes to the wrong cave. Upon realising that this ‘blue lagoon cave’ was neither blue nor a lagoon, and barely a cave, we decided to move on arriving an hour later at the real ’blue lagoon cave’ just as the day’s rain set in. Another mineral colour enhanced river greeted us before the cave entrance, this one a bright deep blue that looked inviting and almost warm even in the midst of grey rain clouds . We by-passed the swimming area and headed straight for the shelter of the cave.


It was a steep slippy incline leading to a small opening. We edged our way inside and switched on our torch to reveal a large aperture that accommodated a large Buddha shrine. Water dripped inside and clambering into the darkness in flip flops became an arduous task, but onward we persisted. That is until the light from the entrance faded entirely and we were enshrined in utter darkness with only a flimsy torch to highlight the cave’s magnificence and menace. We passed by discarded footwear and I wondered what had happened to the proprietors. At this point I made the decision that I didn’t really like caves. They are dark, cold and damp and if this was what I coveted then why had I not stayed put in Wales?

We left the cave and ventured out into another scene that resembled my Welsh home; insipid rain. We waited for it to subside in the cave entrance before slipping haphazardly down to the shimmering blue lagoon. Back on our bikes the rain returned so we stopped off at a local charity and organic farm where we were fed fresh par boiled veg with sticky rice and ‘jeow’ a spicy tomato based dipping sauce which was delicious. We shared our sticky rice and shelter with a beautiful grey cat with bright blue eyes.

On the way back my bike proved inept in tackling the rough, bouncy terrain. Here I would like to include an excerpt from my partner Carl’s diary to describe the incident: “I thoroughly enjoyed bouncing along on my mountain bike, but Hazell wanted one with a basket so had a road bike which was completely inadequate for the terrain and ended in the slick tyres slipping in the mud and Hazell falling off. Instinctively I turned round to help but just burst out laughing instead. She had her hair tied up in a manic manner with a scrap of what used to be her skirt, her trousers were tied up at the knee and she broke a flip flop so had to ride with one bare foot for the remainder of the journey. I haven’t laughed that heartily for a long time.” I cleaned my bike and myself of the mud in the river and stopped off to purchase an intact pair of pink flip flops. Carl suggested we leave the next day…

Laos capital Vientiene is not much to write home about (which is why it’s tagged nicely onto the end of this predominantly Vang Vieng blog). It is a pleasant place to be, has some nice temples and great restaurants but the highlight for us was a small ginger, black and white cat that appeared outside our guest house door each morning, happily entered our room and curled up on our bed for a morning nap. The relaxed comfortable atmosphere even pervaded the Thai visa office; getting our 2 month Thai visas was relatively painless even though we‘d arrived late with the wrong currency and had to queue behind a middle aged American with verbal diarrhoea.

We enjoyed our time in Vientiene, watching locals exercise and play games on the banks of the Mekong and had thoroughly enjoyed our time in Laos. I was saddened to be leaving the country after a month exploring only the north. Not only was my sorrow triggered by an imminent dentistry date in Bangkok where I would have all my wisdom teeth extracted, but Laos had been one of our favourite countries of our entire travel. Although probably the poorest country we had visited, very seldom did beggars approach us and children would want photos not chocolate. We were honoured to learn about the trials and the tribulations of the Laos people who are still suffering the consequences of an unjust war. With heavy hearts we left Laos but with smiles on our faces we know we’ll return.

  1. November 29, 2011 at 7:31 am

    hi Hazell and Carl – good to have found your blog. I lost your email and would really love it if you could send me those photos of my dad and me up at Lake Tilicho.

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