The rural beauty of Vang Vieng, Laos hugs the banks of the Nam Song river, with a backdrop of picturesque limestone cliffs. The city looks like an traditional wood block painting, when life was just a bit simpler and raw adventure still possible. Rent a bike, hit the dirt road, and you just might catch the spirit of adventure in a cave high up in the limestone cliffs.
Ready to get lost in the lush Laotian jungle, Shane and I rented a road bike and ventured onto the pebbled dirt road leading west of Vang Vieng’s town center with no particular destination in mind. Traversing the town’s main wooden bridge, just wide enough for a single car brought me to the countryside where local farm animals wander and children play, laughing in the streets.
Cycling brought us to fork in the main road West of Vang Vieng’s town center, and we of course, chose the narrower dirt road winding off to the left. Cycling over bumps and disturbing a kaleidoscope of resting butterflies, the vegetation grew more and more lush. We arrived at a hut with hammocks slung and local rice farmers taking an afternoon rest. Friendly greetings of Sabaidee were exchanged and we paid a toll to enter their farm and venture toward the limestone cliffs where, armed with headlamps we were told we’d find two caves to explore.
Log bridges just a couple feet wide flanked streams and narrow muddy paths led through the farmland to the limestone cliffs jutting abruptly from the flat landscape. Taking a right and looping around the side of the cliff brought us to a crevice with a ladder going straight into limestone darkness. I strapped on my headlamp and climbed down to find a bamboo platform submerged in a meter of cold, clear spring water perfect for a refuge from the tropical heat and sun.
Looping back to the main path brought us to a rocky ascent leading straight up flanked by bamboo and twine ladders and boulders, luckily the vegetation camouflaged the steepness as we ventured up the cliff face, not exactly sure what we’d find there. Each step was placed with calculated care as we scaled upward watching butterflies, dragonflies, and lizards make their way through the forest. After about an hour we arrived on a little plateau and a small hole in the limestone.
I tucked my head and ventured into the cliff, entering into a spectacular chamber of glittering stalagmites, stalactites, silent but for the occasional drip of water falling from the ceiling to the cave floor. The chamber was huge, with a narrow path leading to the back of the cave and a crevasse leading ever deeper into the ancient cliffs. It was altogether one of the most spectacular and intimidating experiences.
Vang Vieng’s untamed natural wonder is inspiring. The many caves carved into the mountains beg to be explored, the river beckons to be swum, and the jungle promises adventure. I still have yet to find the names of the trek and caves. Maybe the mystery is better that way.