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My expectations for the Blue Lagoon in Laos might have been a little high, considering I was thinking of the attraction in Iceland with the same name. There are actually three lagoons in Vang Vieng, Laos which are (sometimes…kinda…not really) blue, but the similarities end there.

A Short History of Vang Vieng

I’d never heard of Vang Vieng before two years ago. My first introduction was on the slow boat down the Mekong River. A group of backpackers told me about the famous town in Laos where you can get on an inner tube, grab a bucket of alcohol (possibly with some drugs mixed in) and float down the river…to the next bar where you’d get your bucket refilled.

As you probably know, I’m quite opposed to drugs. I’ve never done a drug in my life (except for a bit of alcohol and caffeine) and I’ve never had a puff of anything. So the idea of a place where everyone went to get stoned or high or baked or whatever you call it didn’t really appeal to me.

Except that it was actually far worse…and now it’s better.

Vang Vieng only really went onto the map about half a century ago when the US plopped down the Lima Site 6 airstrip right in the center of town. The so-called Secret War of Laos lasted for nine years, during which the US dropped four billion pounds of bombs on the country (which you can learn about at the UXO Museum).

Apparently, it wasn’t until around 1996 when a local landowner known as Mr. T allowed his hired help to float down the river in tractor tires after a hard day’s work. The trend quickly caught on with Westerners flocking in to park take in their favorite rice in this communistic village.

The idea was that you could rent an inner tube on the river, get a bucket of alcohol (and perhaps some drugs mixed in) and float down the river, to the next bar, where you could get a refill for your bucket. This would continue all afternoon. But not everyone was so lucky. Some people would overdose from the heavy drugs and fall off the inner tube to drown in the river. The death toll was high, with people dying nearly every day.

Nam Song River in Vang Vieng

Finally, just before an international conference held in Laos in 2012, the government pulled the plug on the hedonistic revelries. Most of the places where you could get drugs closed down, although buckets of vodka are still a fad.

While the vice of the town might have been mitigated, the tourism in Vang Vieng continues to flourish. Similar to places like Krabi in Thailand, it seems that every second building is a tour operator…although they all sell basically the same tours (with the same tour guide). All told, there are about twenty main activities. I only did two of them, both for lack of time and a tight budget.

Visiting the Blue Lagoon in Laos

Of all the attractions in Vang Vieng, I chose to visit the Blue Lagoon. Specifically, Blue Lagoon One, as there are actually three! My guesthouse directed me to a cheap scooter rental down the street. I paid 70,000 Laotian kip for a 24-hour rental, which is about $8. Chiang Mai is cheaper for scooter rentals, but not by much.

Vang Vieng is on the Nam Song River. There are two bridges spanning the river. One is a rickety metal toll bridge. The toll is 4,000 kip ($0.50) for a round trip as a pedestrian. A bicycle costs 6,000 kip, a scooter is 8,000 and a dune buggy is 15,000. About half a mile up from the river, there’s an alternative, free way to cross. It’s a bamboo walking bridge! This bridge is unusable during the rainy season when the water level is higher; I was there in April. Although it’s a walking bridge, you can actually take your scooter across! Then ride down the river bank on the other side and connect up with the road that has the toll bridge.

Toll Bridge Across the Nam Song River

The Blue Lagoon is about 20 minutes from the town center. Other than by scooter, you can also rent a dune buggy (for considerably more money) or jump on one of the dozens of tours.

At the lagoon, there’s a large parking lot that’s free to use. The scooter parking has a covered area and a couple of attendants who will give you a token to use to get your bike back. I left a few things in the seat of my scooter (which is unusual for me) and found everything there when I got back.

I arrived at the Blue Lagoon about half an hour before noon. The entrance fee was 10,000 kip ($1.25). The temperature was getting up around 100°F, but for some reason I figured it would be better to explore the cave before getting into the water.

Phu Kham Cave

I’ve been to a lot of caves in Thailand. And I know there are hundreds (or thousands) more throughout the region. The largest cave in the world is down in Vietnam. That cave, Hang Son Doong, is over 3 miles long and has its own river, jungle and climate! Part of the Blue Lagoon in Laos is the Phu Kham Cave, located not far up the mountain. The entrance fee to the lagoon includes the cave. There are flashlights you can rent at the entrance, but I figured the flashlight on my phone would be sufficient.

It’s a bit of a climb up to the entrance of the cave. It’s not far, but it’s really steep and you only have a rickety bamboo railing to help you up. I think it took me about 10 minutes of climbing with sweat pouring off of me to reach the top, and I climb fast.

The Climb to Phu Kham Cave

As with most caves in SE Asia, the opening to Phu Kham Cave is really small. Not so small that you have to crawl in, but I still wonder how people find these places. After all, new caves are being discovered all the time.

Entrance to Phu Kham Cave

Inside the cave, it’s not much of a challenge to move around. There’s a trail that wraps around a massive column in the center down to a lower cavern where there’s a small shrine built up. There are very few caves I’ve found in Asia that don’t have a temple or shrine in them…or several. The Batu Caves in Malaysia have a couple large temples, and Mueang On Cave in Thailand has a massive reclining Buddha among several other shrines.

Shrine in Phu Kham Cave

To the left of the statue is a deep pit with a danger sign next to it. To the right is a deeper chasm in the rocks. I made my way slowly into the darkness, taking care not to slip on the wet rocks and using my phone to light my way. There is a fairly simple trail into the cave with only a few points where I had to maneuver between boulders. There are also several more deep holes along the path with red x’s on rocks next to them. I suppose you could fall into them if you’re not watching where you’re going, but otherwise the path is quite safe.

Hole in Phu Kham Cave

I climbed through the dark, using my phone as a flashlight, for a good half an hour. The air was thick. It was one of the deepest and darkest caves I’d ever been in. It felt like I could feel the whole weight of the mountain above me, even though the cave was quite large. In places, the roof was probably a good 50 feet above my head. I’ve been in deeper and tighter caves, but this one was different. I loved it!

Finally, I came to a wall covered in handprints. Apparently this was the terminus of the cave. Around this cavern were several dozen massive stalactites, stalagmites and pillars. Turning off my light for a moment, I got to experience completely, absolute blackness and quiet. It was wonderful…and it scared the crap out of my hiking partner.

Selfie in Phu Kham Cave

Walking along the wall, I found another cavern leading deeper into the hill. The path was a lot smoother. Before long, I saw an opening back out into the jungle. I climbed down a slope of boulders…and found the shrine in the cavern where I had started. I still can’t figure out where I got turned around, or if the cave was really just shaped like a big doughnut!

I went back out into the heat (it had been a bit cooler in the cave) and down to the lagoon. By this time it was 1 p.m. and I was starving. After getting a few videos of some other tourists jumping into the lagoon, I went off in search of a good place to eat lunch.

Lunch at Cafe Parisien

There are a couple different local restaurants around the lagoon serving staple Laotian food – fried rice, sandwiches and bowls of noodles, but Vang Vieng is known for its foreign establishments. I went to Cafe Parisien outside the entrance by the parking lot. They were a bit more expensive but had the Western food I was craving. I’d heard that Laos served really good pizzas so I ordered the meat feast – pepperoni, ham, two types of sausage, mushrooms and black olives. The pizza base was actually better than it is in Thailand, and it was big enough to really fill me up. Probably not the smartest thing to do before going swimming.

Pizza at Cafe Parizien by the Blue Lagoon in Laos

Swimming in the Blue Lagoon

I showed my receipt to get back into the lagoon. Choosing a spot a little ways away from the crowd, I didn’t hesitate to shuck off my shirt and sandals and dove right in. The water was deliciously cold. It surprised me. I love swimming in cold water, but I honestly expected it to be quite warm. For one thing, I had the silly impression that the water was from a hot spring. Furthermore, the water doesn’t move that fast and I’m surprised that the sun didn’t warm it up more. But I certainly couldn’t complain.

Just like the Blue Lagoon in Iceland, there isn’t a lot to do other than relax and enjoy the water. A few swings are hanging from the trees in the water (yeah, they’re more seats than swings). The main attraction is a tree that’s grown out over the water. On two of the massive branches, platforms you can jump from have been built. They’re not really that high – perhaps five and fifteen feet – but it’s still fun. There’s also a rope you can use to swing out into the water, but you have to avoid the tree jumpers.

Jumping into the Blue Lagoon in Laos

Somewhere up in the trees, there’s also a zipline you can ride. I don’t know what the price was and since I’ve been on some pretty epic ziplines around the world, I chose to skip this one and spent my time in the water instead.

To be honest, the lagoon is quite small and there isn’t a lot to do. I liked the cave and getting to swim, but I kinda wish there had been more activities. Then again, it was well worth the $1.25 entry fee. I realize now that the Blue Lagoon in Laos is just one of many stops the tours take their passengers to, and I’m guessing they only spend an hour or so there (which isn’t even enough time to fully explore the cave).

If you’re trying to decide which tour to take in Vang Vieng, I’d recommend one that includes the Blue Lagoon. If you’re planning to go there on your own, bring a book to read on the grass perhaps, or just plan to spend a couple hours there and then move on.

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The Blue Lagoon in Laos is Nothing Like the One in Iceland 1

Further Reading

Planning to visit Laos? Here are my other stories on what to do there, and some of my personal adventures.

Here’s some extra reading to save hundreds on your next vacation or stage of your journey.

Are you planning a trip to Ostrava and looking for things to do? Perhaps you could consider visiting the Jeseniky Mountains. If you like nature, hiking, adventurous activities or sunbathing on the shores of a lake, the Jeseniky Mountains will be perfect for you.

The Jeseniky Mountains are a little over 60 miles northwest of Ostrava near the Polish border and take about two hours to reach by car or bus…although there aren’t a lot of direct trains or buses. Better to rent a car. Rental companies from the Ostrava airport are as little as $15 a day (plus insurance).

I had the chance to visit the Jeseniky Mountains on a day tour with a group of other bloggers through TBEX. Within ten hours, we learned all about the mountains, what kickscooters were and how much fun (and dangerous) they could be, and how the Slezská Harta Dam helped to save the region.

Praděd National Nature Reserve

Our first stop was at the Praděd National Nature Reserve. At 4,893 feet high, Praded is the highest mountain the Jeseniky Mountains, and the fifth-highest in the Czech Republic. Our bus had to wait quite a while for the final stretch of the road as it narrows down to a single-lane up in the mountains. We parked at the Chata Sabinka chateau and from there hiked to the radio tower atop the summit of Praded.

The radio tower was completed in 1983 and rises another 531 feet above the summit. You can buy a ticket for the viewing platform halfway up for about $5. Unfortunately, the platform is fully encased in rather dirty windows and the photos from there aren’t the best. The tower also has accommodations you can rent. A group of my friends did so a week after I was there, although I don’t think they had the best experience. It’s not exactly a 5-star hotel.

Jeseniky Mountains from the Radio Tower

The best views were from the base of the tower, which afforded a panoramic view of the surrounding mountains. Our guide pointed out a particularly interesting rock formation to the south called Petrovy Kameny (Peter’s Stones). Locals used to believe that witches lived there and practiced rites among the stones, kinda like the standing stones in the UK. Nowadays the area around the stones is off-limits due to the rare flora (plant species) growing there.

A Crash Course on a Kickscooter

How do I describe the kickscooter we used. I used to think of a kickscooter as one of those little Razors that kids would race around on. The Czech version is quite different. It looks more like a bicycle, with a regular-sized wheel on the front, a smaller one in the back, and a skateboard-like platform between.

Kickscooer in the Jeseniky Mountains

We rented our kickscooters from the radio tower at the top and without further ado, took off down the mountain trail. Kickscooters are popular on the trail, and the hikers are used to making room for them. There was a small section at the beginning of the trail when we actually had to “kick” our way up a short incline, and then it got fast. Really fast. There were a couple of bloggers who took it easy. A couple others, myself included, went all out, barely using the breaks at all! We continued down the road far beyond where the bus was parked, learning that the single-track road also afforded us more safety on our way down without having to dodge oncoming vehicles.

At one point, I attempted to get a selfie video while riding. I captured just a few seconds before I started really picking up speed and had to put the phone away. Later I found out that another blogger on a different tour had tried the same stunt, but with less success. When I saw him a couple days later in Prague, he was missing significant patches of skin on his arms. Yet another girl had been run off the road when a car got too close to her. Not that kickscooters are inherently dangerous, but you need to know what you’re doing on them…just like a bicycle.

To book your own tour on the kickscooters in the Jeseniky mountains, click here.

Lunch at Centrum Slezska Harta

Having worked up an appetite, we went for lunch at Centrum Slezska Harta. After a week in the Czech Republic, I was thoroughly in love with the local cuisine. I started with a beef broth soup with noodles, and then went for the pork schnitzel with french fries and vegetables. For dessert, I had the apple strudel. Somehow with all the fried food and french fries that I had while in the Czech Republic, I still managed to lose ten pounds within three weeks!

Lunch in the Jeseniky Mountains

Boating on Slezska Harta Dam

Our next stop was the picturesque village of Leskovec nad Moravici on the shores of Slezska Harta Dam – the newest reservoir in the region. When it was finished in 1998, it was said it would take ten years to fill. Instead, later that year there were heavy rains which filled the reservoir completely. At the same time, it’s believed that the dam saved Ostrava and other cities from severe flooding. Also, there were six villages at the site of the dam. Five were partially flooded, while the sixth was completely destroyed.

Boat Rental on the Slezska Harta Dam

Unfortunately, our lunch ran way too long and we arrived an hour after we were scheduled to take the boats out. We were initially told that we had missed our window and there were no boats left for us, but I pleaded with them and found that there was one boat available. They were small, electric boats and I had 20 minutes to take three other bloggers out onto the lake for relaxation and some wonderful shots. We couldn’t get too far as there were strong winds that day and the manager of the boat hire was concerned we wouldn’t be able to get back in time.

Selfie on Boat Ride on the Slezska Harta Dam

The lake is massive, and a very popular vacation spot for the locals. Even though it was a Wednesday, the shores of the lake were packed with families and sunbathers, and the boat rental was fully booked.

Summary

Our tour got us back in Ostrava by 7 p.m., an hour later than scheduled. Although the tour lasted nearly ten hours and we had a wonderful adventure, it wasn’t nearly long enough to really enjoy the Jeseniky Mountains. If you’re planning to go, consider going for more than just a day. Besides the radio tower and Centrum Slezska Harta, there are plenty of other accommodations available in the region.

Click here to book your accommodations in the Jeseniky Mountains.

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Excursions from Ostrava_ Exploring the Jeseniky Mountains Pin

Further Reading

Are you visiting Ostrava and looking for other activities? Here are some other articles to help you out.

Here’s some extra reading to save hundreds on your next vacation or stage of your journey.

It’s been 18 months since I visited the Chiang Mai Quarry, and a lot has changed. Most notable is the addition of the Chiang Mai Water Park, and the closing down of the high jump I went off of in 2015.

How to Find the Chiang Mai Water Park

The location of the quarry obviously hasn’t changed, but the awareness of it has increased greatly. When I went in 2015, hardly anyone knew about the quarry. Now you can tell nearly any songthaew (local taxi) that you want to go to the Grand Canyon and they’ll take you, but for a pretty steep price as it’s outside of town.

Easier is to either get a tour going there, which you can organize from most of the hostels and guesthouses in town, or rent your own scooter. Take Suthep Road or Huay Kaew Road to the highway running along the canal, and then head south. After about 10 miles, you’ll see a PT gas station on the left. Take the first right across the canal and follow the signs to the Water Park.

Three Locations to Choose From

The one small shack and cafe last year has multiplied. There are now three entrance points. The first is simply called The Canyon Beach. Not much to it, which makes it better if you’re looking for a more private, personal place.

The Canyon Beach

The Chiang Mai Grand Canyon is the original one I went to in 2015, but it’s changed a lot. First of all, they renovated. There’s a professional little stand to sell tickets, a much larger and nicer cafe and paved paths to walk along. They’ve also installed a zip line across the quarry, which they were charging 200 baht for when I arrived. The bamboo rafts were still in the water, and they had built a professional diving platform at the 7.5-meter (25-foot) jump point.

Chaing Mai Grand Canyon High Jump

Other additions include nicer and bigger shower facilities, palm trees and small shelters to with tan in or escape from the sun (depending on where you sit). There are several more lifeguards (there was one in 2015).

Chiang Mai Grand Canyon Benches

It is also now mandatory to wear a life vest anytime you are in the water, although you don’t have to jump with it on. The lifeguard will throw it into the water before you and another lifeguard will be in the water waiting.

Chiang Mai Grand Canyon Jump

However, I was disappointed that the high jump location has been shut down with a warning not to enter. There was an accident near the end of 2016, since which safety and security have been increased.

The entrance price is still 50 now 100 baht, and you no longer get the free herbal drink. Hours are roughly 8 a.m. to 6 p.m. Absolutely no outside food or drink (including water) is allowed in the park.

Chiang Mai Water Park Entrance

The Chiang Mai Water Park

Sometime in the past few months, a new water park was built in the south section of the quarry. When I first arrived back in Chiang Mai in December 2016, friends at the hostel said they had visited but weren’t impressed. It was several months before I finally made it out myself.

Chiang Mai Water Park Entrance

While all three parks essentially share the name of the Chiang Mai Grand Canyon, the Chiang Mai Water Park is far more advanced than the other two. At this park you get large bathroom and shower facilities, lockers and several food stalls to choose from, as well as a higher-class restaurant.

Chiang Mai Waterpark Restaurant

This park also has a zip line available, although considerably shorter than the one at the second park, and only in one direction. There is also a diving platform. This one is higher than the other park, almost as high as the original diving point in the other park.

Chiang Mai Water Park Jump

The real attraction is the massive inflatable bouncy…um…thingy in the middle of the water. It’s a little hard to describe, so I’ll just let the photos speak for themselves.

Entrance to the Chiang Mai Water Park is 300 baht. Opening hours are 8 a.m. to 7 p.m.

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Resources

  • Attractions – Get up to 40% off attractions across Thailand and SE Asia with Go Voyagin.
  • Lodging

Find great deals on hotels and hostels with Agoda. Read my guide on whether you should book ahead at a hostel.

If you’re traveling with more than one person, I’d recommend using Airbnb. Some locations can be fantastic.

Couchsurfing is my favorite way to stay in a city. Chiang Mai can be a little more tricky to find hosts, but not impossible.

You can also find opportunities to volunteer in Chiang Mai via Workaway.

Please note: Skyscanner, Go Voyagin, Agoda and Airbnb are affiliate links, and using them here will help to support me financially in my travels.

Jumping off the 10-15 meter high cliff into a water-filled quarry was one of the most adventurous activities I’ve engaged upon this year. It’s not for the faint of heart, but is something everyone should try at least once.

[button color=”blue” size=”medium” link=”https://www.flickr.com/photos/skyetravels/sets/72157661314430300″ icon=”fa-flickr” target=”true”]Photos of Chiang Mai Grand Canyon[/button]

Update: This point was written after my first visit in 2015. The information has been updated in 2017, and I’ve crossed out the points which no longer apply, but left them in so you can read what it used to be like. Also read my blog post on the Chiang Mai Water Park next door (publishing soon).

Location of the Chiang Mai Grand Canyon

The Chaing Mai Grand canyon, also known as the Chiang Mai Quarry, is located about 30 km southeast of Old Town. There are two ways of getting there: the 121 highway or the 108 highway. Many songthaews and tuk-tuks don’t know where it is, and they would charge quite a bit for a trip that far if they did. Some guesthouses offer tours there for cheap, but the cheapest way is to rent a motorcycle from Old Town for 24 hours. There is a motorcycle rental shop on Sri Prom Road just west of the Chang Phueak Gate with 24-hour bike rentals for 99 baht.

Admission to the Grand Canyon

The entrance fee to the quarry is 50 baht, which includes no longer includes an herbal juice drink valued at 25 baht. Average price of the meals is about 100 baht. The menu depends on what they have in stock. The entrance fee is good for the entire day. The cafe has toilet and shower facilities to use, but no soap, towels or tissue paper.

Jumping Into the Chiang Mai Grand Canyon

There is a ramp leading from the cafe down to the water, if you want to start by getting your feet wet. Or you can simply go for the adrenaline rush and jump off the cliffs of the promontory leading out from the cafe. There’s no accurate measurement of how high the jumps are, but the lower spot at the beginning is about 5-10 meters and the raised portion at the end of the path is close to 15 meters. My first trip there I jumped off the lower platform five times, and my second trip I mustered the courage to do the higher jump twice. Update: The high jump was shut down at the end of 2016 following an accident.

Skye at the Chiang Mai Cliff Jump
Skye at the Chiang Mai Cliff Jump

The feeling of the impact is very minor if you land feet first with your feet pointed and your hands up or clasped against your legs. There is a sign with pictures on how to jump safely. If your feet or hands hit the water flat, they will sting for a few moments. Landing in a belly flop or on your back is liable to give you some bruising, but nothing major. Certainly not like the bone-breaking impact jumping off the 22-meter Stari Most Bridge in Bosnia and Herzegovina.

Mostar Panorama
Stari Most 22-meter bridge jump in Mostar, Bosnia and Herzegovina

There was a Chinese girl who landed on her butt. She was also wearing a life vest. The back of her thighs were bruised and she was in pain, but she was fine and walking. I certainly wouldn’t recommend jumping in a life vest. If you can’t swim, perhaps this isn’t the sport for you. Update: Life vests are now mandatory for anyone entering the water. You don’t have to wear it when you jump; the lifeguard will throw it in before you, and another lifeguard will be waiting in the water for you.

Luckily there is a lifeguard on duty who will quickly jump into the water with a life vest after anyone who falls…I mean jumps…incorrectly. As far as I can find, there haven’t been any serious injuries or deaths from landing on rocks or jumping incorrectly. There were three accidents within 2014, which is minor compared to how many people jump on a daily basis.

Girl Falling Off Cliff
Girl falling off cliff with lifeguard jumping after. Don’t worry, she landed perfectly and was fine.

Random Tidbits

There isn’t a lot of shade at the quarry. By the ramp down to the water there might be some shade on the south side next to the cliff depending on the time of day and year. Otherwise consider bringing sunscreen. Palm trees and small shelters have been built to offer shade near the cafe and down on the ramp. A new zip line has also been installed, which is advertised at 200 baht per ride.

Swimmers in the Water
Swimmers in the Water

Rafts in the water are available to rest on after a jump or swimming from the ramp. There are also inner tubes for rent to get around the lake. The quarry is not really an all-day activity, but the time spent there is exceedingly fun! Take the plunge and…well… plunge!