Friday, April 2, 2010

Vang Vieng - Caves, Tubing, and Expensive Mistakes

Today should have been an awesome day. Should have been. Really, aside from being ungodly expensive and leaving us feeling dumb and clumsy, and creating totally unnecessary stress for ourselves, it was an awesome day. We booked a tour last night that involved some caves in the morning, lunch, and then tubing down the river in the afternoon. The tour itself was fine. Great really. I'll get into that in a minute after I get the bad news out of the way.

1. Slipped and fell on the camera and broke it.
2. Lost the key to the hotel room in the river, had to pay $35 for replacement.
3. Knocked a lens out of Josh's glasses and into the river (but incredibly retrieved it).


Our first stop was the Elephant Cave, which was a very small cave-shrine with some Buddhas and a giant stylized Buddha foot. It is named for a natural rock inside that just so happens to look like, you guessed it, an elephant.

From Drop Box

From Drop Box

Next was a brief walk through a village, during which our guide pointed out a cashew tree to us. The interesting thing about the cashew tree is that each cashew nut grows under another fruit, which appears to be a fruit we've seen at the market a lot in Thailand: it is shaped roughly like a strawberry, but has the size and texture of an apple. The flavor is quite boring. Nothing to write home about, at least not until now.

The second cave, Loup Cave, had several large caverns full of incredible stalactites. We spent a leisurely time exploring it and taking pictures. Should have brought our own headlights as the ones they provided were weak, but it was still incredible. In one area, our guide had us bang on the hollow stalactites to make music. The floor of the cave was strangely textured. Most of it was like clay, but there were these ridges winding around on the floor and sticking up around a foot. They seemed a lot like the ridges forming the wonderful pools at the waterfall in Laung Prabang. I wonder what causes those harder bits of limestone to form in those patterns? [Note: We eventually found the answer to this question in Croatia.]

From Drop Box

From Drop Box

From Drop Box

From Drop Box

Our third cave, Hoi Cave, was right next door. It was a fairly boring tube of a cave that must have once been an underground river or something. Our guide said that it was possible to follow it for two hours to an underground lake, but that we didn't have time and it didn't get much more interesting. I don't even know why I had the camera out in my hand, since the cave wasn't that interesting. But I did, and so I smashed it on the rocks when I fell. It is no more.

We walked another 10 minutes or so to Water Cave, which is an underground river. We piled into inner tubes and paddled our way upstream into the mountainside. It was really cool. Actually, quite a lot cooler than I would have expected. It was really tranquil and pretty, plus pretty unlike anything else I've ever done, seeing as I've never been swallowed by a whale.

After water cave we had chicken-vegetable skewers and fried rice for lunch, then piled back into the minibus. We drove most of the way back to town, then were dropped in the river with our inner tubes. In was a nice relaxing float down the river with some good conversation, great scenery, and a couple stops at the riverside bars for the giant water slide and giant swings. The water slide and swings are two (or too) exciting ways to get into the river from a great height, but would have required more alcohol than Mary has had in her entire life to get her to try them out. Josh, in contrast, didn't need any alcohol at all to enjoy them, while the rest of our tour group just went for the alcohol without additional thrills.

Oh, and on our way down the river, while Mary was supposed to be keeping Josh's glasses safe, she accidentally knocked one of the lenses out. For a miracle, she was able to recover in from the bottom of the river a minute later.

So, had it not been for the mishaps, it would have been a really awesome day. However, the point of going on the tour instead of doing stuff on our own was to have a totally relaxing day and not need to worry about anything. Clearly, it completely failed to be that.

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