The Vang Vieng Vibe
Trip Start Nov 19, 2005
26Trip End Feb 10, 2006
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The setting is indeed stunning - sheer limestone cliffs rising above meandering rivers and lush green forests. And everything has been done to make enjoying that setting easy: from bamboo platforms covered in cushions where you can drink cold beer and watch the river, to the whole industry of "tubing" where you float down the river on a giant inner tube
Once at our destination we were given a briefing on white-water rafting which was pretty terrifying - all about what to do if you fall into the rapids and are sucked under-water or are heading for a rock. It didn't help that one of our group of 5 was an older New Zealand gentleman who turned up with fresh scars all over his face and legs. It turned out he'd had a motorcycle accident the day before but was doing the trip anyway. Even worse, this wasn't his first such accident or even his first this holiday (he'd also fallen off a bike in Vietnam). So we had possibly the most accident prone tourist is Asia in our boat with us who also proved very bad at following even basic instructions! The signs didn't look good.
Fortunately our guide, Sek, was excellent and somehow he managed to take us down a series of increasingly dramatic rapids with flipping over or even having anyone go overboard
By the second day we were up to grade 4+ (5 is the highest it's possible to navigate) again, amazingly, without mishap.
On my last day in Vang Vieng I spent the morning visiting a couple of caves 10km north of town, one of which you could float into on a tube - an unusual experience. Then I went kayaking down the river back to Vang Vieng. This was the same route that you float down on the tubes, but whereas the tubers are limited to a very leisurely pace, we kayakers could cover a bit more ground. On the way, we stopped off at one of the bars setup to service thirsty tubers. This one had a gigantic swing set up over the river. Eventually I plucked up the courage to have a go. Standing on the rickety bamboo structure a good 15m above the water was frankly terrifying but by then there was no turning back. Someone took photos of me doing it so I'll post them when I get them.
Lovely though Vang Vieng is, it's now time to rejoin Laos and head for Luang Prabang.