compass Ouch! My Ass hurts! - Lao Part 2 compass

Fairy Bus

Typical Service Centre

Tuesday April 26

Our tuk-tuk to the bus station was scheduled at noon so we had a yummy lunch of olive dip and fresh bread we found at the foreign food store.

Pulling up to the bus station we parked beside a fairy bus! It was covered with fish and waves and a giant pink fairy. I went to get our seats (1&2) and pointed to the fairy bus. ďIs that ours?Ē Yup! Inside was a sea of pink: pink seats, pink carpet and pink curtains with pink valances. Nice!

Why was I so excited to get seats 1&2? Itís the seats right up front, especially great if itís a double decker. You donít have anyone in front of you and you can see everything. Other than the near misses (a cow, a goat, a car, a scooter carrying a family of five, an old man on a bike) itís our favourite seat. Picking your bus seat wisely can mean hours of hell if not done properly. You never want the seats at the very back because they usually donít recline and if by some freak chance you have a toilet itís usually in the back sloshing around and smelling wonderful (sarcasm). You want to be aware of what side the sun shines on if you donít have air. If the scenery is supposed to be good, what side? If you are doing a mountain, you want the side looking out or you get nothing but dirt and green trees for the ride. On overnight busses being up front can be very noisy with the driver and crew yapping but to far back and you get the vibrations and sounds from the engine. If possible you want to take a quick sit down and wiggle around to make sure itís not broken, especially for long hauls. Nothing worse than no recline on a 12 hour overnight bus.

I digress.

Our fairy bus arrived on time to Tha Khaek where we loaded into a tuk-tuk with pretty much every other backpacker and headed to the Tha Khaek Travel Lodge. A relaxed hotel with a camping lodge feel to it complete with a fire pit crackling every night and a decent restaurant. Itís also a great place to do the famous Lao Loop from.

Beautiful scenery and village on the loop

The loop is a three or four day motor bike ride through central Lao. The route usually starts with several hours of relatively easy riding heading east past caves, waterfalls and lakes that you can stop and visit. Paved road eventually ends and this is where most people stop for the night, some push through. The unpaved bit is horrible. Soft gravel, large rocks, deep ruts and pot holes make these 62 kms a 4-5 hour ride. Something like 25% of bikes breakdown on this bit and even more get flat tires. Paved road begins again and you have a few short hours until the cave. Konglor Cave - the star attraction. Most people stop here or go through the cave and do a homestay. The last day is a 190 km, 4-5 hours, drive on decent paved roads.

That back unpaved bit sounded like hell to us and we are past the age where we have something to prove so we decided to do our own version, an easier less chance of being broken down and stranded version.

My sexy husband

One of many gas stations

Wed April 27

Our plan was to drive to Konglor Cave, see it, spend the night and drive back the same way (paved highway) and do the caves and waterfalls the third day. The drive to the cave only took 4.5 hours with gas and ďoh my god my ass is numbĒ breaks and the cave only took about 2 hours. We really only came to see the cave and not to swim or visit the village so decided we would just drive back. We made pretty good time and only had about 2 hours in the dark. I felt bad for James when we went through a kilometer and a half of prickly bugs (James later said they were moths, who knew there we so prickly?) and I was able to use him as a human shield. James says that was not nearly as bad as the cloud of dragon flies we went through just before dark.

Jamesí Lengthy Note: Susan mocks the bugs, but as the human shield I can tell you it was quite an ordeal. When all the bugs came out for that hour around sunset it was like riding through hail. With the light failing, I couldnít use my sunglasses or tinted visor anymore, and spent most the time riding one handed while I rubbed bug goo out of my eye with the other hand. I usually finished my goo cleaning about three seconds before I got another in one of my eyes. The dragonflies felt like being hit by paintballs, particularly the one that got me right in the throat. By the time we hit the cloud of moths, it was almost pleasant in comparisonÖjust a white blizzard, as opposed to hail.

Sore asses aside it was an amazing day. Iíve already raved about the scenery in Lao and to be out of a bus on smaller side roads seemed to make it even more stunning. Everyone we passed waved and yelled ďsaibaa deeĒ (hello) to us. We stopped and bought our pop bottles of gas from the locals in tiny straw huts. The sun was crazy hot and traveling through the mountain we enjoyed cool fresh breezes. We had to stop while cows, goats, pigs, water buffalos and waddling ducks crossed the road. It was magical.

James says the Konglor Cave is his second favourite ever. (Second to Actun Tunichil Muknal in Belize) I was a bit worried. I skipped it last year and it was a must do this time but James was the one doing the almost nine hours of biking while I enjoyed the views. I hoped he would think it was worth it.

Entrance to the cave

Just inside the cave

Struggling up the rapids in the cave

Village at the far end of the cave

The mightly Konglor Cave is a 7.5 km cave with a shallow lake running through it; you take a local wooden long boat through. At times it is a huge open echoey cave with stalactites the size of a Matiz hanging down then a few minutes later the walls feel like they are closing in on you and you can touch the sides with both hands. Even more impressive is that of all the boats we passed most were locals coming and going from the village on the other side and/or transporting supplies. I think it is dry season (thatís my version Ė not that we weighed too much) and we bottomed out a few times so our guides had to get out and pull us along the rocky bottom. We had to get out once each way for a small rapid and at one part they send you along a walk way so you can get a better look. Very cool!

Once back at the Lodge we pried our asses off the bike and hobbled up to our room. James headed to the shower to wash bug guts off himself. Ewwwww. (Jamesí Note: it turns out my beard was exceptionally good at retaining bug corpses)

Working my way to yet another cave

Thru April 28

Still limping we climbed on to our bike and rode out. Within a few hours drive there were a bunch of caves, waterfalls, swimming lakes and a cool temple to see. We made it about half way through our list and our sore butts got the better of us. We headed back to town for a late lunch and called it a day. The first half of the list consisted of a cool temple in a cave, a spooky big cave filled with squeaky bats that we could walk through to the other side and a lake where locals swam.

At the cool temple we spotted a monkey, not sure the kind but it followed us up the stairs, waited for us and I think wanted us for lunch. It turned out to be an almost tame monkey that the ticket ladies fed and treated like a child. Oops. This temple was found in 2004 by a guy out hunting bats for his dinner, lucky guy. Inside the cave he found 228 bronze Buddhas that are about 600 years old. I wonder how many young locals are crawling into every cave opening in Lao looking for hidden temples hoping to be famous and rich. I would have (the gotta search for treasure pirate gene is strong in me) but James informed me that one in four villages in Lao have unexploded ordinances. Joking aside, thatís scary and sad.

James looking relatively small for once in asia

This picture gives me gooseumbs

Friday April 29

Day Off! We had a hard time remembering the last day we had where we werenít traveling, sightseeing or doing errands. Easter Island, about a month ago? We sound awful but we were exhausted! Other than a walk to the market for a little yogurt and bread we sat around the lodge and caught up on our internet stuff. At the market I was eying up a silver butterfly belt that is unique to Lao and asked the girl how much. She said 15,000 Baht (Thailand)Ö$500 CAD. I thought she made a mistake and asked for it in Kip (Lao). She put 4 million on her calculator. $500 CAD. I started to laugh, but she was for real. She had a case of about 20, thatís a lot of inventory. I suspect it was a tiny bit overpriced for the foreign girl. (Normally I get quoted $15-$20 CAD for them)

It was a wonderful day.

Click the pictures below for links to videos shot from a bus and our scooter

Saturday April 30

We spent the morning doing more internet stuff and packing. After four nights in one spot our bags were pretty much empty and everything was all over the room.

At 2 pm we caught a tuk-tuk to the ferry and a short 10 minute ride had us in Thailand. I have to laugh at myself. I was excited to be in Thailand again. I was hopeful as I climbed aboard my VIP bus bound for Bangkok (only 10 hours?) and saw a stewardess. A few minutes into our ride instead of stopping to fill the isles with plastic chairs we got coffee and cake and cold grape juice boxes. Ahhhh Thailand, how I missed you.

One flat tire and 12 hours (not that bad) later we were in Bangkok.

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