Last Thursday I realized I would have a 4 day weekend, so I decided to take a trip and see some other parts of Laos besides Vientiane.
On Saturay after I finished working, I took a bus to the Southern Bus Station, and then got on another bus going to Thakeak, about 6 hours south of Vientiane, on the Mekong river. I arrived around 10 pm, and took a tuk-tuk to the guest house where I had made a reservation. I hadn’t eaten dinner, so I went in search of some noodle soup. It was about 11 pm, but the entire city was completely silent. I saw some guys sitting around a table at a beershop and I said “Do you have food?”, and they said “Eat beer!” and tried to offer me a glass. I said thanks and kept walking. I came across a group of girls sitting on front of a house. “Where can you get food around here?” I asked in Lao. They discussed between themselves. “Ok, I’ll show you.” one said, and then got on her motorbike. I said “Somewhere within walking distance?”. Again they consulted between themselves. “No. Come on, let’s go!” she said. I said “Ok.” and got on the bike. She drove me about 5 minutes away to the only shop in town still serving food. I got a bowl of noodle soup and we had a halting conversation in my shitty Lao. I discovered that she was 20 years old, and studying in the environmental science department at Dong Dok, and was home on holiday. I tried to offer to buy her some soup but she said she had eaten already. After I finished the soup she took me back to my guest house, and again I thanked her, and tried to give her some money for driving me around town, but she wouldn’t accept it. It was a very lovely evening and it felt good to be on my own in an unfamiliar place and able to get by with my knowledge of Lao, in a situation where I’d put myself somewhere between tourist and local.
I woke up really early the next morning and some very tan guy in the bed next to mine was doing pilates. I was so totally bewildered and confused about where I was for a few moments I had no idea what was happening. Then I fell back asleep and when I woke up again, everyone was gone except me, even though it was only 8 am. I went for a walk into town, and tried to stop at the tourist information centre to book a 2-day trek into the Phu Hin Boun National Protected Area, but after walking 20 minutes, I arrived at the centre to find it closed. Not wanting to spend another day in not very interesting Thakeak, I decided to get back on a bus, go north about 1 hour to Vieng Kham, get off the bus, take another bus to Ban Na Hin (another hour west of Vieng Kham) and then the following day, go to Tham Kong Lo.
Tham Kong Lo is a cave (Tham) about 8 kms long with a river running through it, underground. I had heard a lot about Tham Kong Lo from other people who had been there, all of whom told me how amazing it was. I also knew that a 2-day trek from Thaekak would cost me about $100, so I ended up saving myself some money and getting to meet a lot of interesting people along the way, including randomly running into a guy I know from Vientiane on the bus to Vieng Kham.
Ban Na Hin is stunningly beautiful, completely quiet and peaceful, and full of lovely, friendly people.
I felt like I was a million miles away from the motorbikes and noise of Vientiane. Children even grown on trees there!
The next morning I went to the market to catch a bus to Kong Lor Cave, a 8 km underground river that goes through a mountain. The bus was supposed to leave at 8, but didn’t go anywhere until 10. Along the way we picked up a few more “falang” passengers, and eventually arrived at the boat dock around 11:30 am, and for about $12, hired a boat for 3 people to take us into the cave and then back to the bus. We got into the boat, and took off down the river. The bright sunshine and birdsong quickly became total darkness. I was completely terrified.
It was unbelievable.
It was like something straight out of Harry Potter and I expected some evil zombies to come up out of the river at any moment, but some how I made it through and then back out alive.
It was really amazing and I highly recommend going, though be warned – it’s really quite far off the beaten path, and you need to be patient, flexible, and open-minded to enjoy such a trip! Like anything in Laos… bor pen nyang!
Here’s a website about the cave: