Virtual meanderings

Laos | La Countryside

    OK, not la Countryside, but Lao countryside. Remember the gorgeous scenery that I saw while tubing down the Nam Song river? Back in Siem Reap in Cambodia one of the most enjoyable things was my bicycle ride around the vicinity. There were bicycle rental shops at Vang Vieng too. I went to the Spicy hostel, got a map of biking routs around town, went to the town center and rented a bike.

A View from Vang Vieng

 That heavily urbanized environment of Vang Vieng just forces you to get out, right?

     There were several routes on that map, and I opted for the longest that promised to take me to a beautiful cave and something called the “Blue Lagoon” – seven or eight kilometers outside town. First, I crossed a bridge over Nam Song that was free for locals, but paid for the foreigners. What I really liked about it was that you only paid in one direction – the way back was ‘free’ :P.

     Then the road turned to dirt and started going through rice fields and simple Lao villages where Lao people still lived off the land (although the first signs of the inevitable transition – guest houses and some shops had already begun to pop up). Along the road there was the occasional cow munching grass and it was really hot – perhaps this was one reason there were very few people around.

Vang Vieng Vicinity

Look, Ma, no people!

Around Vang Vieng Vicinity, Laos

  By the way, now that I am looking back at my photos, I realize that I did not take any of the Lao village houses – which are very simple, yet in  harmony with the environment that surrounds them. Judging by what I shot at, I’d fallen – again – for the more peculiar sights that popped up before my eyes. Oh, well there is always Google Images for the inquisitive mind.

First I ended up at a kind of crossroad. A sign there was trying to lure me away from my “Blue Lagoon” destination to visit another of the caves in the area. It was yet another display of Lao English language craftsmanship.


Tempting that the sign was, it could not lure me away from my lagoon destination. Next was this gas station at a village entrance.

By the time I took out the camera, the older woman on the left side of the picture (the gas station operator) had finished fueling the younger lady’s scooter. If you look closer you will see that the gas station served two types of fuel from two different hoses. In a similar vein back in Cambodia people along the road had stalls offering plastic bottles full of gasoline.

       The dirt road was going along one of the Nam Song tributaries. At the end of the village where the gas station was I came across a bunch of naked children happily playing in a makeshift pool. Their screams and shouts – an unmistakable indicator of the immense fun they were having. Next to this ’pool’ was another one, which – I guess – was for adults. At that moment a young woman was taking a bath there. I am not able to provide a photo as to take one would be, of course, impolite. Suffices to say that, unlike the children, she was fully clothed. (If you ever wondered how local people bathe, I guess this is the answer – or one possible answer).

     Slowly, but surely, the road took me all the way to the Blue Lagoon and the famous Forgot-Its-Name-But-Oh-Well cave. A local Lao calf was quietly grazing, paying no attention to the happy screams and shouts of the British girls in the lagoon behind.

Blue Lagoon Cow, Vang Vieng Vicinity, Laos

     I’d just paid 10,000 kip (1 euro) to enter the ‘Lagoon’ area. Of course, I was given a ticket – Lao authorities do things the proper way. Then, it turned out, to enter the famous cave one had to buy another ticket (I do not remember how much but I believe it was another 10,000). Better yet – if you wanted a head light to see anything at all inside, it was another 10,000. And if you wanted a guide, it would be another 35,000. Well, I told them I had a head light (which I did have in my bag for no particular reason), and that I did not need a guide, thank you very much. They smiled back and me and let me go. In retrospect – after I got out of the cave, I could realize what that type oif smile had been. The “’boy-you-have-no-idea-what-you’re-up-to” smile. Because, as usual in South East Asia, it was again ‘caveat emptor’ (buyer beware). Think about it – if you break a leg, drown, fall from a cliff or get bitten by a monkey – who has a problem – you or somebody else? The answer is obvious.

So, the cave visit turned indeed memorable. Its entrance was about fifty meters up almost vertical slope.

Vang Vieng Vicinity, climbing up to a cave entrance

    But once you got got up there, out of breath, and entered inside, you realized that you made a big mistake by turning down the guide offer. First of all, the cave dome was so huge, that the head light was pretty useless – it just did not reach through. Second of all, there were absolutely no safety measures in the cave. It was slippery as hell from the dripping water, dark as … I’d rather not use any comparisons here…, and – best of all – if you were not extremely careful when getting near the marvelous Buddha statue in the cave, you could just slip down and fall a three-story high pit that surrounded it from all sides with no balustrade at all to keep you from falling.

Vang Vieng Vicinity, Buddha in a cave

    Rather than being a place to honour Buddha, that particular spot looked the perfect site for worshipping a deity that required human sacrifices.

I am not joking. There is the Buddha statue from a bit further away.

I am not joking. There is the Buddha statue from a bit further away.

I do not know whether the statue was placed where it was to symbolise the abyss that separates the common men from the Buddha. What I do know is that making one step further from the position where I took the photo, I’d fall 15 meters down.

The Buddha statue was near the entrance – you could actually see it immediately upon going in. Getting to it took me about ten minutes of very slow and careful advancing. Once there, I did not feel like going back just yet. That would be like admitting my ‘defeat’ to the locals (whose offer to hire a guide I’d turned down, remember?). Instead (feeling rather hesitant to be honest) I continued forward – looking for the supposedly available signs on the stones that marked the main ‘route’ inside the cave.

Just at that moment I heard behind me someone else going through the cave entrance. It turned out to be some British guy, who – just like me – had decided to go at it on his own. I shouted at him to watch out and that it was super slippery. At least it was two of us there now (better than being on my own). The further I went inside, the more intimidating and confusing it got. In the meantime the British guy managed to make his way to the Buddha statue. He shouted to ask me if it got any easier afterwards. I shouted back that it did not – rather the opposite. He shouted – no way I’m going further then, screw that. Beign where I was, I could not agree more. So, I too called it quits and carefully headed back for the exit. We got out of the cave and down the slope. The guy said that he’d come to here on bike from Vang Vieng. So, after dipping our bottoms in the Blue Lagoon, we eventually headed back for Vang Vieng together, having a nice chat on the way.

As I mentioned, in some of the villages along the way there were guest houses – if I’d known that earlier, I’d have probably moved in one. (One should be careful what one wishes for, of course. Side effects of such a decision could be using an outside toilet and having no running water. Yet there was electric power, so the door to convenience and amenities was wide open. Besides, let’s not pretend we were completely in the middle of nowhere. The goodies of civilization – pubs, restaurants, Internet cafés and tourist offices were a 15 minute bike ride to Vang Vieng.

Dog on a Restaurant Table, Vang Vieng

And the occasional dog resting on a restaurant table


One response to “Laos | La Countryside

  1. Pingback: Laos | The Growing Divide « mastercopycat

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