VANG VIENG – APRIL 2015
I awoke to an overcast forecast and with an overcast disposition. Plagued by my indecision about whether I was brave enough to go tubing, I asked the advice of the owner of my guesthouse. He suggested I visit Tham Chang caves set high in the nearby karst hills instead. He gave me somewhat vague directions drawn in the margin of a map that the caves themselves weren’t actually on.
I set off feeling deflated by tubing-related-cowardice and uncertain also of my path. I kept on though, checking in with a few people along the way once I’d left the maps borders to make sure I was still pointed in the right direction. I eventually came across what may or may not have been the unmarked dirt track I was perhaps looking for. I didn’t know what lay ahead or how arduous it would be. I slowed pace as our counseled myself that I shouldn’t feel a failure because I don’t measure up to the standard of others when it comes to physical pursuits. My strengths lay elsewhere.
After all, it’s a fine line between trying to be something you’re not and becoming more than you are. I just couldn’t tell which this was.
Having already disappointed myself once that day, I decided to make it a theme and turned back. I’d only backtracked a few meters though when I stopped, about-faced. I said to myself “just to the bend in the path and see”. I reached the bend and of course, the path became clear. I pushed on as it continued to reveal itself and soon enough a small trickle of people confirmed that I was almost at my destination.
The climb up into the cave was steep and challenging in the day’s heat. About a third of the way up, I dropped my sunglasses and had to go back to the beginning to retrieve them. Despite the setback, I eventually made it to the top where I was greeting by a small round of applause from amused local tourists who appreciated my effort. A few even had their photo taken with me despite my protestations at being a sweaty mess. Seriously, what are they even going to do with those photos? I always find that very strange.
I should say that it’s actually very accessible. There is a staircase, I wasn’t scaling the mountain face and I was hardly standing on the peak of Everest. It’s just that I’m more of a house cat than a mountain goat. I’ve spent most of my life very intellectually and emotionally engaged in the world. I can’t truly expect the same level of expertise in the physical realm. I really only started that journey in earnest a few years ago.
The caves themselves were nice enough but nothing mind blowing, perhaps having their thunder stolen in my case by previous visits to similar caves. From the top however, there was a beautiful lookout back towards Vang Vieng with barely a cloud in the sky, definitely no sign of a storm but by the time I got back and changed, it would’ve been a little late in the day to set off on the tubing expedition so I fritted away the remains of the day here and there, met and spent time with inspiring people on bigger trips than mine and generally pottered about town.
Now that I’d conquered the mountain though, it was time to tackle the tube!