13/01/2013 - 16/01/2013 31 °C
One of the top destinations in Laos according to Lonely Planet is the Kong Lo Caves, roughly halfway down the country. The guidebook recommended a 3 / 4 day tour on scooters that includes more caves and scenic views. As I'm quite fond of driving I chose to do this. For my night in Tha Khaek I stayed at the lodge popularised by 'loopers' and easily found a group.
We started out quite late on the first day and visited one cave. You're never quite sure how good or big they will be but you always have to pay up the road, before you can even see it. The cave we visited felt very artificial as it was filled with multi-coloured strip lights and concrete staircases! That evening we stayed in bungalows beside a smaller picturesque river.
The second day was a bit strange. My group consisted of 2 Dutch people in their early 20s and a French guy who was about 50. Throughout the day we gradually realised just how stubborn and irritating the French guy was and tried to politely make plans to go separetly on day 2. (To give you an idea of what he's like, he refused to spend the equivalent of £1.50 to visit a cave yet was very proud of himself for managing to steal a chocolate bar from a snack stand owned by a poor Laos family). I set off slightly later and managed to overtake him, and the poor Dutch girl who was stuck with him, as he sat in a restaurant. While trying to make good time I managed to fall off my moped during a tricky dirt track section of the morning ride. Thankfully it was thick dust that caused it as this is actually not that bad to fall into. There was a slight graze on each knee and a bit of cosmetic damage to the bike. Some people might blame this accident on the Metallica I chose to accompany my relaxing mountain drive.
Later that day I bumped into the Dutch guy from the original group and we completed the rest of the loop together and that same afternoon we got to the Kong Lo cave in time to do the tour. The caves were very big and impressive. Perhaps not as 'wow' as I thought but then I have been visiting a lot of caves recently. The fun started on the way back as the 2 boat guides were a bit drunk from the beers we bought them at the halfway break area. The water is very shallow in the caves and the guides kept on running aground, meaning we all have to get out the boat as they drag it over the rocks. At one stage we met a boat full of heavy cargo that needed to be dragged up and over a ridge of stone. We all helped out and it took about 8 of us to get it upstream.
That evening we really wanted to experience a homestay so drove into the nearby village and were offered a bed and food within about 30 seconds. It was the same price as a guesthouse but felt much better for putting money straight into the hands of a local family (of 8 children!!!). It was an eye opening experience seeing how the rural Laos people live; cooking around a small fire inside the living area, 3 bedrooms for the whole family and telephone connected to a satellite outside.
Getting back to Tha Khaek the following afternoon meant we completed the loop in 3 days and were able to take an overnight bus that evening to Southern Laos – at least we would be able to sleep easily on the bus! The bonus was being able to return the bike without any problems over the minor cosmetic damage caused by my fall.