On my birthday we got up early, and rather reluctantly, for breakfast and a relaxing bike ride through the countryside. We’d decided that we wanted to do something more than just get drunk whilst in Vang Vieng and wanted to see a bit more of the town. This was a decision made whilst drunk the previous night and seemed like a great idea at the time.
We had breakfast at a roadside shack with cushions on the wooden floor before we headed out on the get bikes we’d rented. Unfortunately, I’d rented a town bike, purely because it was pink, had a basket and a little tinkly bell and a ‘Hello Kitty’ sticker on the side. It was really cute but I later regretted this decision. They boys all got mountain bikes which were much better equipped for off-roading and up hills which we soon discovered was the track for the majority of the ride.
In Search of the waterfalls
We followed some handmade signs pointing us in the direction of ‘CAVES & WATERFALL’ and happily pedaled off towards some dirt tracks through rice paddies. It began as fairly simple off-roading. It was all uphill, rocky, stony, puddly and pot holey and to make it even worse, it was about 30C. But it was nothing I couldn’t handle so I kept my head down and kept pedaling. About 2 hours later, and after getting hopelessly lost in a rice paddy, people began dropping like flies. The excuses came thick and fast; tiredness, heat stroke, hunger, broken bikes, thirst etc.
So the stubbornest of the bike riders were left repeating the mantra, ‘We’ve come this far, we’re not turning back’.
We also got half his life story which included a basic rundown of what drugs he’d taken in what country.
Eventually we came to a random wooden stall with some weird, old guy selling over-priced, warm drinks. He promised to give us information about caves and waterfalls but he actually just gave us more than enough information about what drugs can be bought in the area. We also got half his life story which included a basic rundown of what drugs he’d taken in what country. He’d travelled alot and his English was perfect so if we weren’t so exhausted he probably would have been a really interesting guy to listen to. Instead of listening though we panted like dogs, chugged down our warm water and grunted in what seemed like appropriate places in his story and simply hoped that he would hurry up so we could get back on our bikes and feel some kind of breeze on our sweaty faces.
The Path of Doom
We eventually managed to escape and followed a path he had told us about. I will quite simply name this path ‘The Path of Doom’ as this just about sums it up quite nicely. Until that moment I have never known terror like it. I would have preferred to climb a sheer rock face than ride my bike down this path. We had just spent hours struggling up the rocky mountain and we were now expected to ride back down it via a rocky mud slide.
The path was covered by trees so it was dark, giving it a very ominous feel before we even set off down it. It was almost vertical and mossies and other vicious creatures hovered in swarms above our heads, ready to attack or suck our blood. Even the butterflied here spelt doom. They weren’t pretty little fluttery things in bright colours like God intended them to be. They were black and big as bats and instead of fluttering gently they swooped and dived and used their massive black wings to dart towards your face. You’d then scream and quickly release one hand from your handlebar in an attempt to defend yourself from the killer butterfly. This instinctive action would then lead to loss of control over your bike and it would accelerate and veer towards the deadly and jagged rocks and into the unknown jungle where yet more dangers lurked, ready to kill you on what was supposed to be your ‘Special Birthday Bike ride‘.
Every omen spelt danger. God had clearly been sending us every possible sign that it was time to turn back.
Every omen spelt danger. God had clearly been sending us every possible sign that it was time to turn back. It began with most of our bikes being broken, I nearly crashed into a cow, a walk through a rice paddy that resulted in our legs being shredded to pieces only to find that there was a lake half way through the path. Then the deadly uphill bike ride, then the drug pusher old man, then the Path of Doom with the mud slide and killer butterflies. Every sign said, ‘Turn back guys, your going to die!’ But for some reason we kept on going and slid all the way down the mud slide and managed to avoid most of the rocks.
We finally reached the bottom and ended up in some guy’s garden who seemed a little shocked to see us but nevertheless charged us a ridiculous amount to cross his land and rent a torch. The torch, however, was reassuring. The torch meant that there must be caves nearby and they must be big and dark. Perhaps the deadly bike ride was worth it after all?
We followed some white flags, zig zagging through the race paddy, around steams and other difficult obstacles until we came to a chocolate brown river with a sign saying ‘Swimming’. The river gushed forwards as though racing for the finish line but we thought that our lives had been endangered enough already for one day so we opted against a swim in the mud bath.
We eventually found a bridge to cross, hidden away behind an overgrown tree, but this was as equally unwelcoming as a swim in the river. It was made from bamboo and held together with rusty nails. A handwritten sign reassuringly read ‘One person cross at a time’.
Rachel crossed the bridge first and made it across alive, a little shaky but definitely alive. Melissa somehow managed to cross agilely like an expert-deadly-bridge-crosser and I tried to follow her lead but unfortunately didn’t manage so well and I got my flip flops caught in the bendy bamboo poles. It was surprisingly springy but I reassured myself with the thought that the scaffolding in Hong Kong was made from bamboo so I must be relatively safe.
…it was finally time to admit defeat.
We walked for a while, past some half built abandoned huts and eventually found the ‘cave’. This cave may have been there somewhere, along with the promised waterfall and lagoon, hidden from sight behind the looming limestone cliffs and perhaps another few deadly miles away behind a jagged and spiky rock face. Rachel began climbing over the rocks that blocked our path but the sharp rocks sliced through her flip flop and we thought it was finally time to admit defeat.
We trudged back to our bikes; hot, sweaty, tired and weak but mostly terrified about the bike ride back up the mud slide. The return trip involved more pushing and heaving and slipping and sliding and sweating and swearing until we finally made it to the top of the hill. We then free-wheeled all the way back into town, swerving along the path to avoid the rocks and pot holes. This part of the ride wasn’t too bad although suspension would have helped as my arms eventually went numb from the tingling that ran through my handle bars from all the stones.
This may have been one of the scariest bike rides of my life but is now one of my fondest memories from my time in Laos and possibly the best birthday of my life.