Laos, Vang Vieng Ballooning and Off-road Biking
Da had her heart set on the sunset hot air balloon trip which was not cheap at $90 per person. I didn’t have much of a choice so we booked it and would be picked up later that afternoon. We were driven to a field on the outskirts of town where a Chinese company ran the balloon operation. A team of 17 people busied themselves inflating the beast while the pilot, a Chinese version of Tom Cruise complete with mirrored aviators, sauntered out.
As soon as the balloon was up the four of us and five other passengers were rushed into the tiny basket while ‘Maverick’ squeezed the gas which put out so much heat I actually lost some hair. We were airborne and once the jets were turned off it was pretty surreal floating a few meters above the tree line and towards the town. Increasing in elevation to around 1100 meters the balloon floated over Vang Vieng offering some spectacular views of the valley and surrounding mountains at sunset. The Chinese dollies on board were more interested in their phones and makeup than the views.
Landing was interesting to say the least; the support team was spotted barreling down the main road in two minivans chasing our descending dirigible as Chom Chruze sought a suitable sized field. With a bump or two the basket hit the deck as the team scrambled to keep it from floating off again and less than an hour later the ride was over.
We’d enjoyed the day in the buggies so much that we decided to rent a couple of dirt bikes and head back out into the valley. Bike rental is a little more expensive in Laos, but this is probably because they cost more to buy and the roads are worse! A KLX 150 cost 150,000 LAK for the day (550 baht), we gassed up and headed west to a lookout point called Pha Ngern. The climb that followed was grueling to say the least but about an hour later we were rewarded with a stunning view. A further viewpoint involved another 400 meter climb but we democratically voted to head to blue lagoon 1 instead as it was 5 minutes ride away.
This lagoon is the busiest of the lot with Chinese buggy groups and bus loads crowding the place out so after a quick dip we headed to a local restaurant for lunch. From there it was back up the valley for some off-roading and to get some more photos as the sun started its afternoon descent before stopping at blue lagoon 2 again for a swim and cold beer. The roads and scenery reminded me of Burma and it was great being on a motorcycle again in rural countryside on empty tracks without lunatics in high powered pickup trucks trying to kill you every ten minutes!
Since the tubing day was such an enjoyable one we decided to have another go for a last day in Vang Vieng. This time though it would be through a water cave which was one of the main attractions for the area. On the way we stopped at the ‘elephant cave’ which was one of the most underwhelming things I’ve seen so far. On to the cave then, with hundreds of Chinese tour groups and their bizarre rituals it appeared. In what was more like a fluid conveyor belt we pulled ourselves into and through the semi submerged cave and were then ushered along the tour production line to a lunch spot by the river.
Our final night was spent at a riverside restaurant near an old wooden bridge that spans the river and attracts the selfie crowd. It was time to get on the road again.