In between the tubing, stumbling tourists, and TV bars/restaurants, is the beautiful backdrop of Vang Vieng. The stunning karst topography is hard to miss, unless you’re face first in your whiskey bucket. Limestone cliffs jut out from the ground and seem to roll along into the far distance. While most people are drawn to Vang Vieng for it’s notorious party scene, those willing to venture beyond the hazy façade will be rewarded with scenery worthy of a day of (partial) sobriety. There are caves to be explored, rivers to be kayaked, and the alluring talk of a beautiful, picture-perfect, almost mythical blue lagoon that has people spending the day searching for. If there’s an anti-thesis to tubing in Vang Vieng, searching for the Blue Lagoon would be it.
After renting bicycles and being given what looked like a hand drawn map, the group of us pedaled through the town and crossed the toll bridge to begin our trek. The map indicated the trip would take us about 8km, just a little over an hour of biking on rough and rugged dirt roads.
Within 5 minutes, we met our first hurdle; a large mud pit that spanned the width of the road. There didn’t seem to be any easy way around it, except to hug the sides as best we could or walk our bikes across.
Except there was one extra obstacle; a group of young Lao boys who were also looking for a ride across… on the back of our bikes. Two of them managed to hop onto our friends’bikes with rather mischievous little grins, before we crossed the mud pit. Tristan and I opted to walk our bikes along the edge while our two other friends decided to ride right through, boys in tow. Laugher ensued, and we all managed to get across with no more than a few splashes of mud up our legs and some derrière groping, courtesy of one of the boys. Once we made it to the other side, the boys were told “this ain’t no free ride,” (more or less) but they didn’t seem to mind since they were already passed the mud and even made it to “second base”. Free of the excess weight, the four of us pedaled on our way.
Biking through the countryside was stunning. The scenery was even more beautiful than in the city, as we were nestled right in between rice fields and limestone mountains. I found myself looking at these boulder like mountains wondering how they were even formed. It was as if they had just fallen from the sky. The area was much quieter and calmer, and we could see the locals going about their daily routines.
Biking along the dirt road was fairly easy, but when we reached the first fork in the road it appeared we had been given our first “map challenge”. Studying the map, we concluded that this was the fork we had to take. Though on the map the fork looked much bigger and more pronounced (but considering it was hand drawn we couldn’t be too sure). So we took the road that veered to the right and hoped for the best.
We found ourselves suddenly biking along a dried up riverbed, a difficult and tiresome feat. Large rocks forced us to hop off the bikes and walk for about 10 minutes until we reached an area with a small raised platform and about 8 young Laotians sitting on top. In front of them was a sign wedged in the ground that read “Blue Lagoon 20,000kip each”. We looked at each other and openly discussed how we knew we had to bike quite a bit further and that if this were in fact the “Blue Lagoon” there would be more traffic going through. Something just didn’t feel right.
So we turned around and headed back the way we came. When we reached the fork in the road, we checked the map once again and decided we still had a ways to go before we reached the proper fork in the road. This wouldn’t be the last fake “Blue Lagoon” sign we would see, as many locals look to capitalize on eager tourists.
So onwards we went, pedaling up and down hills, sometimes having to get off and walk, as our cheapie bike rentals had only one gear. We noticed many signs that advertized stunning caves to explore, and ones that shouldn’t be missed. But given the karst landscape, it wasn’t hard to believe that there would be many caves around. But we had our end goal in mind.
As we pedaled further, we found what we felt certain was the fork in the road. As if to further cement our feelings, there was a fairly official looking sign that read “Pou Kham Cave, Tourist Location, Blue Lagoon, 1 km”. It seemed legit, so we followed it.
Not more than 5 minutes later we came up to a more official looking entrance way. A wooden shack erected on the left side of the road with a sign showing that the entrance fee would be 10,000kip per person. We could see in the near distance a group of people enjoying what looked to be a small pond and gleefully determined we had made it.
As we rode closer so that the water was in full view, I couldn’t help but say, “wow, it’s actually blue!” And blue it was. It was remarkable. People were lounging in the water, jumping off the tree, and swinging on the rope. It’s kind of what I envision dying and going to heaven should be like; a group of perpetually happy people, going about their day, amidst a too-good-to-be-true landscape. It was just too perfect.
We parked and locked up our bikes together, claimed one of the wooden platform rest areas, and immediately jumped into the water. It was colder than I expected, much colder in fact. But it was exceptionally refreshing after spending more than an hour on a bicycle. The water was deep, deep enough that I didn’t care to explore how far down it went, and a school of fish inhabited one edge of the pool. The water seemed to flow down from the nearby mountain and bulge out creating this lagoon, before tapering down again into a small river stream. It was rather surreal swimming in this lagoon, which seemed to be in the middle of nowhere.
Beside the lagoon was a path leading up the mountain to Pou Kham Cave. After spending some time relaxing in the water, Tristan and I decided to hike up to the cave. We almost turned back after 10 minutes, mainly due to the steepness of the climb and the fact that we were wearing flip-flops, but we pushed ahead and found the cave entrance only 5 minutes later.
Once we entered, the cave opened right up into a large atrium. To the left we could see a reclining Buddha lighted by the incoming sunbeams, and stalagmites and stalactites protruding out from the ground and ceiling all around us. We made our way through a pre-marked path and soon found ourselves getting further and further away from the light. We brought a flashlight along with us, but once we were in total darkness we only ventured a few more meters deeper before deciding to turn back around.
We had a great afternoon exploring the countryside and finding the Blue Lagoon. It gave us a chance to see the other, more picturesque side of Vang Vieng, and was the perfect way to cap off our time in the area.
What you need to know: Bicycle rentals cost us 15,000kip each, bridge toll 6,000kip each (with return), and Blue Lagoon entrance fee 10,000kip each. At the Blue Lagoon is a small shop selling drinks and food (though you could bring your own if you wish), and toilets are located onsite. The total pedaling time is about 1 hour in each direction, depending on your fitness level and quality of bike (and how handy you are with a map). Be sure to find out what time your bicycle has to be returned to avoid paying any overages. And make sure your camera batteries are charged so you can capture the amazing scenery!