Adventure (and Irish Food) in Vang Vieng

When we arrived in the Lao town of Vang Vieng, our guide described it as a renowned party town with a recently cleaned-up reputation and many opportunities for adventure. While the closest we got to partying was drinking Irish beer and watching UFC fighting late into the night, we definitely soaked up all the adventure the town had to offer. From caves to kayaks to off-road vehicles, Vang Vieng was certainly the most action-packed town we visited during our time in Laos.

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Funny enough, when we got there we were in one of our laziest moods. The day before had been a very long one, and the morning began with a drive of over four hours. I wasn’t sure I was ready for our first stop at Blue Lagoon 1. Our guide paid our entrance fee and then sent us off on our own to explore. After taking stock of what the park had to offer, we decided to just go for it and tackle the hike to the cave first thing.

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The entrance to Phu Kham Cave is located up a very steep but short trail just past the swimming area. Staff members were offering flashlights to rent, but we had brought our own. And it is a good thing we did! We were able to explore far deeper into the cave than I ever would have imagined. Sunshine completely disappeared, and everywhere you turned there was complete darkness. Even with proper flashlights, there were moments that I doubted our ability to find the exit.

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Spray painted arrows on the cave walls (look for a red one near the center of the photo below) helped give a semblance of a trail leading through, making a haphazard loop over and under boulders. In a few spots giant Xs marked the spots of holes or ledges that should be avoided. It was exciting and lots of fun, but I admit I was relieved when I could see the light again.

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By the time we got out of the cave and down the steep trail, I was covered in sweat and very much ready for a dip in the water. The actual lagoon is a series of swimming holes with jumping platforms and a few nibbling fish. A refreshing swim and a big group cheer for a kid who finally found the courage to jump from the high platform rounded out our time at Blue Lagoon 1.

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That evening we all met up at Gary’s Irish Bar in town. The familiar food this place served up was incredibly welcome! I had been struggling a bit with food on the trip- a lot of flavors and textures in the Lao cuisine just didn’t agree with me. The cider, mashed potatoes, soup, french fries, brown gravy, and salad I ordered here tasted like home! The place had a great atmosphere too, and we hung out late into the night watching UFC fights and soccer games.

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Our late night made our early morning a bit rough, but it was worth it. It was down to the mighty Nam Song River for a long day of kayaking and caving. My husband and I shared a tandem kayak for the journey. I didn’t care much for the kayak itself, which I found rather uncomfortable.  But the scenery was fantastic. We made a few stops, one for tea, one for lunch, and one for caving.

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Caving was a pretty cool experience. We donned headlamps and sat in our tubes, guiding ourselves into the cave hand over hand on the rope that was in place. Eventually we were in so deep we could no longer see the light. We disembarked our tubes and walked in even deeper, with only the headlamps to guide us, before wading through waist deep water to exit the cave.

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The adventures of the day did not end with the cave. After kayaking to our river exit point and heading back to the hotel room to freshen up, we took the advice of our guide and rented a go-kart of sorts. This open-air vehicle was a little scary to me at first, mainly because the seat belts did not work. We were assured it was safe, but I knew a rental like this would not fly back home.

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Riding in the go-kart was tons of fun, even if I had to hold on for dear life at some points. We were able to go way out into the countryside, past farms and tiny villages, maneuvering around cows and (sometimes through) mud bogs. I had been curious, during our time the day before with our guide, about why he kept referring to the lagoon we were going to as “Blue Lagoon 1”, and today we figured out why. There are many blue lagoons! We stopped at Blue Lagoon 3, pictured below, for snacks and people watching during our go-kart ride. This one had one great big pool with zip lines and jumping platforms.

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Our last adventure of the day was discovering Blue Lagoon 8, which looked like it was once a really cool place that had recently closed. It was quite far outside of town and very far removed from the main road, not to mention completely deserted. We explored there for a little while before heading back to town for more comfort food.

It was back to Gary’s for our last dinner in Vang Vieng. This time Simon, our friendly waiter, entertained us with some musical stylings. As Simon humored our ridiculous song requests, we had a nice chat with Gary himself. Born and raised in Ireland, he relocated to Laos after marrying his wife, who was born and raised here. I was thankful for the comfort food interlude, and having one more meal with Gary was a nice way to end our Vang Vieng adventures.

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