What I thought was going to be only a quick one night stopover in Vang Vieng, Laos, turned into several days as I realised that there was so much more to this popular backpacker town than drunken tubing. The town itself is pretty much as expected – lots of backpackers, bars, guesthouses and laid back restaurants, however to really get the most out of Vang Vieng, you have to head out of town.
The day before, I had rented a bicycle and cycled out through the countryside on my own to explore Poukham Cave, and today I had joined a tour to go cave tubing and kayaking down the Nam Song River.
The typical potholed roads of Laos made the drive to the caves a lot longer than it should have been, but the beautiful scenery made the bumpy drive worthwhile. When we finally arrived at our destination, after a quick safety briefing, we had to hop straight in our kayaks and paddle across the fast flowing Nam Song River to the other side, where we hiked through the drizzling rain to the caves.
There was a small restaurant built on a picturesque waterhole next to a tall cliff, but I couldn’t see any caves anywhere. The tubes on the bank of the creek meant that it must be somewhere nearby. It turned out that I was looking straight at the cave the whole time, and it was the rushing creek itself that flowed out through the cave under the cliff in front of me.
The water was refreshing in the humid heat of the Laos wet season, and as I sat in my tube I had to fight the current by pulling myself along the guide ropes that had been put in place. At the cave entrance, I had to lie down flat to fit under the mouth of the cave, using the rock itself to get myself under. The cave opened up only slightly inside, and if I sat up I still would have hit my head on the roof. This is not a place for claustrophobic people.
With our head torches on, we explored the cave by pulling ourselves along the guide ropes, until the water ended and we ventured off on foot. What I found was some spectacular rock formations and patterns that have been formed by the flowing water.
Those of us that were more adventurous in our group went on further with our guides, squeezing through tiny gaps, at times having to monkey crawl just to get through. If it wasn’t for my guide, I would have been completely lost.
Eventually, as my legs and back began to tire, I found myself back in a fast flowing stream, and I used the water to carry me down the narrow cave, using my hands and feet to navigate the rocky bottom. This tunnel of water joined back onto the main water course where we rejoined the rest of our group, before exiting out of the cave the same way that we had come in.
If you’re claustrophobic, I wouldn’t recommend this experience, but if you’re adventurous like me, you will love it. Cave tubing is a whole lot of fun!