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See you next time, Vangvieng

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By Thipphaphone Channavong Does nature mixed with a little bit of adventure sound appealing to you? If so, then Vangvieng is your destination. Vangvieng is a small district in the north of Vientiane province, just four hours’ drive from the capital and a perfect weekend getaway. The first day I arrived there on a recent trip, I went to explore Jung Cave. Entrance costs 10,000 kip if you’re Lao and 15,000 kip if you’re a foreigner. Before you get to the cave, you have to cross an orange bridge which looks like a smaller version of the Golden Gate bridge in San Francisco. I love how the temperature changed once you reached the cave area. You suddenly feel cooler and more relaxed. There’s a saying that if you don’t count the steps uphill to the cave, you won’t be lucky. So I counted each step of the long winding staircase up and up. It turned out I was just a number short. Carved into the stairs, it says 147 steps. Once I was at the top, I realised that it was a way to distract you. If you were busy counting the steps, you wouldn’t realise how far you’d climbed. There wouldn’t be as many complaints. It’s quite cunning actually. Inside the caves, it’s a tradition to go sieng si (fortune-telling). You make a small donation and then pick up a bottle containing several wooden sticks. Then you shake it until one comes out. It will show you a number. I got 9 so I went to pick the little piece of paper numbered 9 and read my fortune. A swim outside just outside Jung cave was wonderful. I swam upstream into the tunnel so it was quite hard going. In the end, I was too tired to get all the way so I climbed out through a hole instead of swimming back out. I thought next time I will swim to the very end for sure. On the second day, we went on an 8-km kayaking trip along the Nam Xong river. The water was very tame at this time of the year so it wasn’t that scary. However, one must consider the rocks that could harm us when the water is not deep. During the trip, I enjoyed the green river and the quiet, mountainous scenery. A trip like this costs 100,000 kip a boat including hotel pick up. Once you’re tired from rowing the boat, you can’t miss the food stalls that sell pancakes, sandwiches and burgers. The toppings and fillings are unique including banana, egg, chocolate and coconut milk. The price starts from 10,000 kip for one filling. I was quite surprised about the expensive price of the food as everything cost almost the same as in Vientiane. In the afternoon, we went to Phou Kham cave which is a 15-minute drive along a recently built road. The moment had come to challenge yourself and jump off the tree into the Blue Lagoon.After watching many rounds of tourists jump off, I deemed it deep enough to safely jump. Climbing up the wooden ladder into the tree, there is anticipation from the long line of jumpers. When I was up there on the tree branch, I looked down and it suddenly seemed so far down. I thought if I hesitated too long, I would chicken out. So I spread my arms and just jumped. And if you’re wondering if it hurts, it does. My arms were red as if someone had repeatedly slapped me. Upon reflection, I should have protected my chest from the drop, which is about 7m high. What if I fell face first into the water? I might have died. I wish there had been a sign to explain the safe way to jump. Sadly, I did not go into Phu Kham cave or take the zipline, which cost 120,000 kip per person, because we didn’t have enough time. So I promised myself I would come back another time and do it. We stayed at the Malany Guesthouse which cost 50,000 kip person, opposite the Sakura Bar. It’s not a bad hotel based on the price and location. It’s great if you want to enjoy a bit of clubbing at night. When I saw a bunch Korean and European tourists leaving the guesthouse by minivans, I went to ask the receptionist about the price. He told me that it cost 40,000 kip to go from Vangvieng to Vientiane and the van stops near the National Culture Hall. I nodded, the information memorised for next time. Throughout my whole trip, a recurring thought keeps popping up in my brain. Next time I’ll do this. Next time I’ll do that. That’s when you know you like a place a lot. You’re already planning your next visit in your mind. • Thipphaphone Channavong is an intern at Vientiane Times
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