Vang Vieng’s Blue Lagoon and Tham Phu Kham Cave

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Luke gearing up for a flip in the Blue Lagoon.

Coming to Laos, the one thing we were most excited for was finding the tranquil blue lagoons pictured by so many travellers before us. When we planned our trip, we didn’t even know where they were. Upon arriving in Vang Vieng, we discovered that it was home to the simply named Blue Lagoon.

The road to the Blue Lagoon is bumpy, so we were told by some friends that either riding a bicycle or taking a tuk tuk ride was the best way to go. It’s hot enough in Laos to fry an egg on your back — I swear — so we opted for the tuk tuk. Tuk tuks were charging 150,000 ($21 CAD) kip for the trip, since they take you all the way there and wait as long as you want before taking you home. We rounded up a total of 6 friends, and haggled it down to only 20,000 kip ($3) each.

To say the ride was bumpy is the understatement of the year. It was a knock your head on the roof, feel your organs slosh together, be thankful you’re still alive at the end kinda bumpy. The ride even includes a “are we going to make it through this?” puddle partway through. Just don’t eat lunch before you go, or you may need to eat again once you get there.

Once there, it took a few minutes for the beauty of the lagoon to set in.

This. Place. Was. GORGEOUS.

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Me and Jane, enjoying the day.

The water was a thick aqua blue that I’ve never seen in my life. There were these shiny fish swimming in such a way as to make the water look magical. There was a perfectly placed tree with rope swings, ladders, and a high and low branch perfect for diving. There were places to lounge, tubes to float in, and venders selling food.

People were doing backflips, front flips, and dives off the tallest branch. There were people (like me), scared out of their minds to jump, but were encouraged by everyone with clapping, countdowns, and cheers. With some encouragement, I got over my fear of jumping and made it off the lower branch twice. Luke, on the other hand, was jumping and flipping all day off the highest branch.

Tham Phu Kham cave

Another great part about the Blue Lagoon was that you could trek about 10 minutes (200m up) to the Tham Phu Kham cave. Definitely bring some good hiking sandals for this part, since the walk up was pretty steep and rocky. There were some bamboo railings to help, but it can be a bit nerve-wracking at times.

At the cave, we needed our phones’ flashlights to see. If you have head lanterns or more powerful flashlights, try and remember them! You’ll need your hands to brace yourself against rocks as you go. Slowly but surely, we made our way down into the cave on some slippery rocks. Once deep inside, the depth and height of the cave left us speechless.

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The air was damp but fresh, and there was a bronze reclining Buddha fittingly basking in the sunlight that shone through an opening. I stopped and let Luke carry on further inside of the cave. He said that as he went through some more tunnels, he popped up into another chamber about the size of a small stadium. The size of these caverns made us realize how small and fragile we really are compared to nature. And on a side-note, it also made Luke want to go camping inside a cave system some day.

We uploaded a whole bunch of pictures on our Flickr, so make sure to check them out here.

Tubing in Vang Vieng – what it looks like today

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The tube launch – where the fun begins

This past week we visited the lovely town of Vang Vieng, halfway between Luang Prabang and Vientiane. The town was nestled among a picturesque range of limestone karsts, the Nam Song river, and colourful buildings.

The incredible scenery nearby has turned this small community into a backpacker’s haven, and you can see the effects everywhere. With bars lining the roads, shops selling neon shorts and tank tops, and restaurants playing endless reruns of Friends, South Park and Family Guy, it was a little disheartening to see. The town was still lively with local culture, but you definitely had to look past the drunk westerners to see it.

We had heard that Vang Vieng was famous for its parties and tubing. In 2011, the hospital recorded 27 tourist deaths and countless injuries that occurred in the river. People would tube down the river, stopping at each bar along the way to get drunk on free shots of whiskey, try a magic mushroom shake, or swing into the water on ropes. There were no safety standards, and the fluctuating river levels hid logs and rocks from view.

Nowadays, most of the bars are shut down and the ropes and swings are no where to be seen along the river. Despite the dark past of tubing, it’s still an extremely popular and fun thing to do. There are only three bars open on the water now (six total, but they alternate days). We decided to give it a try when some of our friends we’d met encouraged us to come with (and yes, after much reading and researching on the safety nowadays).

After renting a tube and signing a waiver, we were dropped off at the tube launch. This was also the location of the first bar, and the party was in full swing by the time we arrived. Electronic music was blasting, and people were playing drinking games like flip cup, beer pong, and shotgunning beers. Whiskey shots are free and plentiful in Vang Vieng, since it’s a cheap local product.

We decided to skip the first party and head right to the second bar. We got in our tubes and floated about two minutes down river until we were thrown a rope and pulled in by some locals. The bar was really fun. There was a basketball court with water blasting out of the backboard, hammocks aplenty, and the obligatory soundtrack that included every Western hit from 1990-2010. We played beach volleyball with a bunch of Canadians teaching English in Malaysia, which was a lot of fun. Most were from Toronto, and on was from Halifax. The sun was scorching hot, so when it was time for a break, we decided to trek to the Lom Cave.

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Partway in – eroded limestone caverns

After walking several hundred feet up bamboo stairs, we got to a rather unimpressive entrance.
The opening was about the size of a double door, and there was a set of stairs descending down into the wet limestone. Using the flashlights we had been given, we explored onwards. After about 200 feet, the cave tunnel suddenly opened up into a room that would easily fit the average high school gym. The locals had built a small Buddhist shrine here, and apparently the cave kept going much further, had we had the time the explore.

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Bar #2 – volleyball, flipcup and water-basketball

Once we got back down, the party was in full swing as everyone from the first bar had now made their way here. Our friends from the hostel had also arrived, and we joined them for some lunch. We spent a total of $3 CAD for a plate of sautéed vegetables and a sandwich. Girls were dancing on tables in bikinis and taking selfies. Buckets of booze flowed freely and everyone was in high spirits. It felt like a freshman spring break, in the middle of the jungle.

The whole tubing trip takes a total of two hours to get downriver, and since we were only five minutes in and the sun was moving behind the mountains, we decided to hop back into the water.

The last bar was a bit dead, probably because the rest of the party was still behind us. So, decided to finish out our tubing journey. The view from the river is stunning and drifting slowly in a tube has got to be the best way to take it all in. We saw men working in rice fields, kids throwing fishing nets, and a cow swim across the river to join his family.

At one point we came upon little local boys jumping off a small bridge into the water. As we got closer, they spotted me and raced towards my tube. Luke pushed me closer to them, and once they caught me, they hung on for dear life as I floated towards the bridge. Laughing and splashing, they were ecstatic until they eventually hopped off to climb back up on the bridge. I guess in Laos it’s the little things, like commandeering a stranger’s tube for a few minutes!

Finally our journey came to an end, and the last stop had a gorgeous bar with hammocks and cabanas situated to watch the sun set over the mountains. Snagging a cabana with two hammocks, we dried off and watched the view while drinking smoothies. At $1.25 for a banana chocolate smoothie, with relaxing music playing in the background, we were finally at a venue where we fit in.

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Sun View Bar – this is how we party 🙂