Vang Vieng in Laos is one of those places that you hear mixed reviews about. But if you go cycling through Vang Vieng's Countryside, you'll see something different.
Cycling Vang Vieng
Some people have the time of their lives while others can't wait to get out of there.
The general apprehension is that if you're a twenty year old backpacker wanting to get drunk and go tubing down a river, you'll love it.
If you fit into any other category, you'll hate the place. I wanted to find out for myself.
I awoke on my first morning in Vang Vieng ready to explore the laid back little town and see what it has to offer. I had no interest in getting sloshed and tubing down a river, so after a hearty breakfast I decided to rent a mountain bike from a small shop on the main street.
Cost of the Trip
The bike cost me 30,000 kip ($3.80) for the whole day, and the lady gave me a rough map of what I can go and see in the local area.
I decided to head across the river and make my way to Poukham cave, which I had heard was interesting to explore and had a nice swimming hole nearby. I hadn't ridden a bike for quite some time but I soon got the hang of it again (It's like riding a bike).
As I came to the bridge I paid the 5000 kip ($0.60) toll and rode my bike over the wooden bridge, crossing the beautiful Nam Song River that flows through the town.
Read More: Is Cycle Touring Right for You?
Riding down the dirt, potholed road I soon entered the surrounding countryside, dominated by beautiful green rice fields that stretch across the flat areas of land between the huge limestone karsts that rise up above them.
Farmers tended to their fields while chickens scratched in the dirt and cows grazed on the side of the road.
Enjoying the Scenery
I stopped often to take photos and just enjoy the stunning scenery.
As I continued along the road I passed through several small villages, with their basic bamboo houses sitting amongst bunches of banana trees and little vegetable gardens. It was a Sunday and all of the local kids were out playing, riding their bikes, swimming in streams and chasing dogs and chickens.
Women bathed and did their laundry in the small fresh water streams that came down from the mountains, while other people went about their daily chores, chopping wood and preparing food.
I decided to stop in at a small swimming hole, as I had built up quite a sweat from the bike ride.
Some local kids ran beside me as I made my way down to the stream, and soon joined me for a swim in the lovely cool water. They couldn't speak a word of English but a simple “Sabai dee” was enough to get a smile out of them.
As I rode away they ran beside me to show me how fast they could run, and then waved goodbye with a big smile on their faces.
I was fascinated by the peacefulness of the typical life in the Laotian countryside. It was so good to be having a true local experience, away from the hordes of tourists that can take away that something special from a certain place.
Local Life in Vang Vieng
This was a place where I could be on my own, and truly see what life is about in this amazing country.
Here, life is simple, people have very little and yet they are so happy. Here kids don't need video games and brand named clothes to be happy.
All they seem to need is their imagination.
When I got to the entrance of Poukham cave I paid the 10,000 kip ($1.20) entrance fee and crossed the bridge where I parked my bike, before climbing up the steep path and exploring the large, dark cave on my own, an adventure in itself.
By this time the heat and humidity of the tropical climate had me drenched in sweat, and I was ready to cool off in the Blue Lagoon, located near the cave where I had parked my bike.
The cool fresh water was a lovely blue colour, coming from a small mountain stream, with schools of fresh water fish swimming against the current.
Some locals were also enjoying a swim in their local swimming hole, floating around on tyre tubes and enjoying the rope swing, while I just floated in the cool clear water, relaxed and enjoying the natural scenery.
Once I was cooled off I began to make my way back to Vang Vieng, stopping for some lunch at a little local restaurant in one of the villages. My huge plate of noodles cost just 10,000 kip ($1.20).
I had passed only a handful of other tourists throughout the day in the local area, and overall it was an extremely peaceful and rewarding experience. My whole day out only cost me $6.80.
It goes to show, you need to explore a place on your own to really experience what the place has to offer. As I found out about Vang Vieng, there is always more to a place than what you may hear or read. For me, this type of experience is exactly what travel is all about.
You can learn so much about life from the local people, even without any words being exchanged. From that moment on I would seek out these kinds of experiences everywhere that I travelled.
Dean Wickham is an intrepid traveller from Australia with a thirst for adventure.
He has travelled extensively in Australia, New Zealand, Italy, Nepal and South East Asia, trekked to Mount Everest Base Camp, climbed through ice caves on glaciers and for his next adventure, plans to climb Mount Kilimanjaro.
He is always planning his next trip, and writes about his travels on his travel blog: The Road to Anywhere, where he hopes to inspire other people to travel the world through his stories, destination tips and travel photos.
You can follow him on Twitter, or become a fan on Facebook.