June 6, 2005
Today we decided to tour some of the countryside around Vang Vieng. As we discovered when we arrived the area surrounding the town is quite gorgeous and is surrounded by limestone cliffs and caves. After renting some bikes we rode outside the town to do some spelunking. After riding about 15kms we arrived at the area where three caves were located. Our ride to this location was quite fun as we passed through about 5 villages and the people were as friendly as ever. At one point we had to slow our bikes to a crawl to avoid running into the cows which were standing in the middle of the road. I made a comment to Craig that we were on one of the major roads in Laos and alongside us were cows, roosters and dogs just doing what they do. Can you imagine an interstate in the states boasting the same diversity? Anyway, as we locked up our bikes we walked across the bridge, which was made with bamboo and in need of some major repairs, and decided on which cave to visit first. We chose the one which our Lonely Planet said the least about and hoped for the best. We had only walked 5 minutes through some rice paddies when two guys had asked if we were visiting the cave and accompanied us the rest of the way. One was carrying the traditional Lao garb of a sickle; which he laid down in a nearby field as we continued on. After about 10 minutes we reached the cave.
The first thing you notice upon entering is the large Buddha welcoming you.
Since we didn't know anything about this cave we both thought we'd take a couple Buddha pictures and walk a few minutes into the cave and that would be it. We couldn't have been more wrong. Our two guides turned on their flashlights and we followed them with ours. We walked into the cave for about 15 minutes when it dawned on us that this cave was huge. The ceiling of the cave was easily 15 feet high and the sides were 10 feet apart at times. Our guides pointed out the beautiful stalagtites along the way, some of which resembled a woman's nipple as they were dripping w/ water and came to a point. I laughed but the men seemed to really get a kick out of it. The cave was getting darker around the time where we came upon a decent size pond. Craig and I thought for sure this was the end of the tour but before I knew it both our guides were stripping down to their skivvies and asked that we do the same. Between our crazy boat ride and this I have seen more Lao men in their undies in 3 weeks than ever in my life, I think. Thankfully we both had our swimsuits on under our clothes so we stripped down to those and followed our trusty guides. Before we knew what we had gotten into we were wading into chest deep water and Craig was lifting our backpack above his head to keep our camera dry. The guides helped us out of the water and we continued on for another 20 minutes in just our swimsuits and shoes. I was laughing to myself the entire time because I had never gone into a cave this deep before let alone with two Lao guys in their undies guiding us. We passed one other couple doing their tour coming from the other direction and they let us know more water was up ahead. Sure enough we came to an underwater river which proved interesting to navigate because you had to step onto the cave floor at just the right place to make sure you didn't wipe out on the slippery rocks. Our guides got us through and stopped to light a cigarette and told us to swim. We both looked around and to our left we saw what they had meant. The river was created by a large underground lake in which you could swim. Craig got right in with one of the guides while I took some pictures and I joined him minutes later. The water was chilly but invigorating.
We relaxed and took in our surroundings for about 15 minutes and we then headed back. Before we took off however one of our guides' flashlights died as well as Craig's so this made for an even more interesting return. The stuff we didn't recognize in our giddiness at the beginning now was a tad bit scarier on the return. The water sections seemed tougher to get through and Craig knocked his head on the ceiling at one point. Finally we saw light flickering through the entrance and our guides instructed us we could put our clothes back on at this point. We walked out into daylight smiling our "was that cool or what?" smiles and heading back to our bikes. On the way back into town we stopped at the Organic Farm for some mulberry shakes which capped off the day perfectly. These have been the best shakes we've ever had! If I'd had only known how a mulberry shake tasted like when I was growing up in Story City I could've made a fortune from our mulberry tree.
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