Full day trekking, Caving and Tubing with Riverside Tours
Cost : $15 but I think it drops to around $10 if more than 4 people sign up
I did contemplate exactly how exciting the whole experience would be on my own but on the other hand, I didn’t have a lot of choice based on the limited time I had in Vang Vieng.
To be completely honest, I’m not sure Riverside Tours should be in the Lonely Planet guidebook. I enjoyed the tubing immensely but the remainder of the tour was hugely let down by the fact that my guide only had a limited grasp of the English language. My questions received replies but rarely answers giving me the information I’d requested. Maybe I was spoilt with Dam at Nam Rin Tours in Mae Hong Son (Thailand) but the purpose of a tour guide is to provide you with a bit of backround information about the places you have come to see, to inject a bit of fun into the day and to satisfactorily answer any questions you pose. A good tour guide will totally enrich the experience for you. All mine kept telling me was how “beautiful” everything was, a fact I’d already been quite capable of noticing myself.
Firstly we visited Tham Hoi and Tham Loup. Tham Loup was the more interesting of the two, with some impressive stalacmites and stalactites. we then went on a short trek to reach Tham Nam (water cave), so named because a tributary of the Nam Song flows out of its entrance. The water was shallow enough to be able to wade through the cave, but dragging yourself through the tunnel on a fixed rope whilst sitting in a huge inflatable rubber ring was a lot more fun!
I had lunch at Ban Tham Sang with a group of others (2 Canadian guys, 2 Swedish girls and an English guy) who were on a kayaking trip, and I started to wish I’d done kayaking instead . . .
After lunch we had a brief look around the Elephant Cave (a cave which contains Buddha images, a Buddha footprint and an elephant shaped stalactite that gives the cave it’s name) before walking (it could hardly be called a trek) to one of the local villages to watch women doing embroidery and children scrambling around on a bamboo raft on the river.
We then caught a Songthaew to Phoudindaeng Organic Farm (near Vang Vieng) to complete a 3km tubing trip down the Nam Song. Tubing down this stretch of the Nam Song has become so popular with backpackers passing through Vang Vieng that several ‘bars’ have been set up along the banks of the river.
Tubing is an extremely fun and chilled out way to spend an afternoon : floating down the Nam Song in the blazing sunshine to the sounds of The Red Hot Chilli Peppers and Bob Marley. On the journey downstream you’ll see crowds of people queuing up to do ‘water jumping’, which basically involves climbing a bamboo ladder up to a platform and then swinging like a trapeeze artist over the river before deciding at which point you want to let go and make your impressive splash in the water.
There are also tourists who have succumbed to the incessant shouts of “Beer Lao, Beer Lao!” and are sat on the banks of the Nam Song enjoying their liquid refreshment and watching their fellow tubers float on by. Residents of the scattering of guesthouses (i.e. bamboo huts) that have been set up right on the river as you get closer to Vang Vieng, are sunning themselves on their bamboo balconies. There are fishermen (and women) wading through the water with their nets, and then there are the Lao children playing in the water. You get the odd Lao child clinging on to your rubber ring or trying to pull you down stream, and then asking you for money for doing so! The little entrepreneurs!
Final thoughts on Vang Vieng
Come here for the stunning scenery that surrounds this little traveler’s mecca. Come here if you want to follow the hoards of other tourists and spend your days tubing or kayaking down the Nam Song. Come here if you want to be able to drink well into the early hours of the morning (the bar owners do not close their doors until you are the last person to leave!) or if you want to spend your evenings getting high with friends in one of the numerous bars serving space shakes and pizzas, or simply selling bags of the herbs they sprinkle on top of your Margherita! Don’t come here if you want to escape tourists (Vang Vieng is riddled with them!), westernisation, football or episodes of Friends!
Photo is of two Lao women with large melons!