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A Perfect Day In Laos

Yesterday was one of those days that goes down as perfect in my book. We slept well after all the crazy traveling from the day before, and we felt calm and refreshed for our first full day in Laos. We had no specific plans other than we wanted to do some type of outdoor activity. That is one thing that Vang Vieng is known for. The tourist offices offer guided rafting, rock-climbing, and trekking trips, but we just wanted a quiet day to ourselves to explore the area.

The manager of the guesthouse had recommended an area for walking and swimming called the Blue Lagoon, so we set off into the lush green countryside. The main road out of Vang Vieng took us over a bridge across the Nam Song River, which was full of dirty water from the previous night's rainstorm. We shared the muddy dirt road with fellow pedestrians, motorbikes, bicycles, and old-fashioned tractors, as well as friendly cows and chickens. We stopped for a bit and provided the cows with a bit of company by scratching their ears and patting their heads. The surrounding countryside was beautiful with its flat, green rice paddies, the workers in their wide-brimmed triangle hats, and the tall, jagged, rocky karst peaks towering in the background. Our only complaint was the intensity of the tropical sun, which made us sweat profusely all day long. As we walked along, we thought how it was bad enough to be a tourist walking in the heat, so it was hard to fathom what it must have been like to be a soldier in this area during Vietnam.

About 3 km into the walk, we found a drink stand and decided to sit down with the owner and have a conversation under a shaded umbrella. He recommended that instead of continuing on the road, that we enter a hiking trail across the way that would allow us to visit four caves without the hassle of multiple tourists, and we would "touch some nature," as he said. That sounded like a pretty good idea to us, and we promised to buy a drink on our way back. The hiking trail was covered with tall bushes and trees, providing us much needed shade. The only living creatures around were the critters, the birds, and a few cows. Eventually we came upon a very rustic farm that had no electricity but the owners charged a small fee to enter the cave area, about a half mile away. We paid the fee, and took two flashlights, and headed out on the path which took us over the rice paddies towards the karst peaks nearby.

As we neared the cave area, there were plenty of slippery, jagged rocks that turned our stroll into a scramble. I love a good scramble, but this was too slick to enjoy. It took us about twenty minutes to climb to the first cave. We slowly dropped down into the entrance, and were quickly thankful for the much-needed flashlights to guide the way as darkness swallowed us. The cave was really quite impressive, with stalagmites and newly forming mineral crystals from the continuous water drops. It took a lot of climbing and scrambling through very tight crevices, and I prayed the flashlight battery would stay alive. We were coming near the end with a glimmer of light shining in the distance, when Aaron noticed the largest spider I have ever seen right above our heads, guarding a passage that led us out of the cave. As we shined our lights on it, it would slowly creep along the slick, wet rock, its beady eyes reflecting in the darkness. It was me, Aaron and the spider. After a worrisome but successful photoshoot, we decided to face our fears and attempt to exit. Fortunately, Aaron went back into the cave to retrieve a bamboo stick that he'd seen. This weapon was used to move the spider, prior to our entry into the passage; sadly, that was the direction it chose to scurry. Being a bit of a wuss, I made Aaron crawl through the passageway first to make sure the coast was clear. Then I followed, and gladly, made it through insect-free.

After climbing out of Cave 1, we continued our scramble to two more caves, again sweating profusely and caked with mud from head to toe.  The other caves were nice, but didn't compare to Cave 1. After several hours, it was time to head back, and we decided to take a break and swim in a small stream nearby. The water was muddy and the current was quite strong from the rainstorm, but there was a little pool off to the side that looked very inviting. Once again, the clothes came off, and we were instantly cooled; the relief from the heat only lasted until we got out of the water. We were looking forward to getting back to the drink stand for a much needed cold beer. The hike out was uneventful but beautiful, and with evening approaching, there was a slight breeze in the air. Back on the road, we chugged a beer and had a quality conversation with a traveling Brit, and then we slowly took our time getting back to town.

Back in Vang Vieng, as we walked towards our guesthouse, it was clear that we were the dirtiest, grimiest couple of folks in town, which is a lot to say since this area is littered with Hippies. This is our favorite kind of day, to go out and explore the natural settings in solitude, away from tourists, and to earn a beer. We then showered up and washed our clothes in a bucket, turning the water into a muddy color. Then it was time to hit the streets for another beer and some Lao food. As Dad says at home, about this time of day, "It's Miller time." Well, here in Lao, it was Beerlao time. Cheers, Jess.


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I wanna see a pic. of the spider, ugghhh

sounds truly adventurous, guys.....fyi, they had Laotian beer here at the World Beer Fest a few weeks ago!! (without all the spelunking of course)

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