A Travellerspoint blog

November 2010

Phonsavanh and the Plain of Jars

sunny 27 °C

We were picked up from our guesthouse by a very plush minibus, that we hoped was taking us all the way to Phonsavanh. Unfortunately it was not to be as we were moved onto an older, but actually more comfortable bus for the journey. However, the bus was only 7 hours, not the 10 we had been led to expect, and so we were happy when we arrived at 4:30pm.

We let ourselves get scooped up from the bus station by a guy who promised us a 40,000kip room. Done! It ws surprisingly nice as well and we were pleased with the decision we made!! We wandered into Phonsavanh to have a little look round. There wasn’t much there, but there was an interesting UXO (unexploded ordinance) information centre. This area was one of the worst affected in Lao during the Vietnam war, and there are still a lot of bombs that havent exploded that are all around the area. During the Vietnam war (and the secret war that America fought with Laos at the same time: more on that in our next blog post), America dropped 2 tonnes of bombs per person living in Lao at the time. This makes Laos the most bombed country per person in history, and the bombs total more than all the bombs dropped in Europe during the 2nd World War. The centre was about how the bombs that didn’t explode are affecting Laos now, since a lot of them didn’t explode, and they estimate that they’ve only cleared 1% of everything there. Apparently 30-60 people are killed in Laos each year, and an average of one person a day is injured by UXO. They also affect a lot of people by making land unavailable for use as farmland. People get injured and killed by accidentally hitting the UXO during farming,trying to take the bombs apart to use the gunpowder inside, and children get hurt because one of the bombs that is very prevalent looks like a tennis ball, and so they play with them, only to have it explode. The centre was interesting, if very scary, and the company that’s running it is doing a lot to remove UXO from the surrounding areas.
IMG_2806.jpg
A map of where was bombed in Laos
IMG_2807.jpg

After this, we went on the internet for a while, and then had rice and tofu for dinner and went to bed.

The next day was our trip to the Plain of Jars. The Plain of Jars is exactly what it sounds like...lots of jars on a plain! They are a lot of boulders on fields all around this area of North Laos, and the biggest are near Phonsavanh. At some point, estimated to be 2000 years ago but nobody really knows, a group of unknown people carved them all into jars of varying shapes and sizes, with the biggest being an estimated 6 tonnes!! Nobody knows why they were carved, but theories range from them being storage containers for rice wine, to them being burial casks. Something this ludicrous we just had to see!!

We woke early and had a huuuuuuge bowl of noodle soup for breakfast.
IMG_2814.jpg

We then headed off to find our preferred method of jar discovery transport....a motorbike! We rented one for 100,000kip (£8, $12.50), and after a quick bit of tuition from the guy at the shop, John was off, with Susie on the back, both of us feeling slightly scared, but feeling more reassured by the minute, as it turns out John is a natural on a motorbike!
IMG_2819.jpg

We went to the first jar site, which is 15km from Phonsavnh, and paid our 10,000 kip a head entry fee. The first thighng we saw was a sign about how they’d cleared a thin path through and around the jars of UXO, but warning us to stay inside the white markers, as there could well be UXO outside these. Apparently they’d cleared 127 pieces from the two fields of this site.
IMG_2883.jpg
The markers - the white path in the middle is the only safe area.

The jars themselves are completely ridiculous, and are just as they sound – lots of huge stones carved into jar shapes! There were also several bomb craters around the site, and a cave.
IMG_2821.jpg
IMG_2823.jpg

Then we set off to the second site...or so we thought. Somehow we missed the turning in our motorbike excitement, then scared an old lady by asking her where we had to go! With a lot of pointing and hand gestures, she pointed us back the way we’d come. We went, thought we’d found the road so turned off, and ended up on a 1 hour, 12km long exploration! Using the sun as a compass, we eventually found our way back to where we were going. It was really lovely to see some really untouristy villages, and the countryside was really beautiful. It was a slightly stressful induction for us motorbike novices, but at least the track was empty! We were relieved when we found ourselves again, because we didn’t fancy going all the way back, especially along the bumpy, tiny dirt tracks we were on!
IMG_2848.jpg

Once we were on the main track again, which was still a dirt track, albeit a larger one, we headed to a waterfall. We climbed over the rocks down the side of the lovely, wide waterfall.
IMG_2862.jpg
IMG_2866.jpg

Next, John taught Susie to drive the motorbike, and she drove the next few km to another jar site. This was over a larger area, and quieter, and we had fun wandering around, looking at the countryside and the jars.
IMG_2872.jpg
IMG_2884.jpg

As we headed back, taking it in turns to drive and both getting quite confident, we stopped and saw a Russian tank that had been blown up.
IMG_2891.jpg

We got back to Phonsavanh at 3pm, saw a cow in a truck on the back of a makeshift tractor motor,
IMG_2892.jpg
had rice and spring rolls for a late lunch, returned the bike,
IMG_2895.jpg
and then collapsed for the rest of the afternoon! We were both very tired and saddlesore, but really enjoyed our day.

Later, Susie went and bought some cool rice pots from the market, and got her toes repainted (it’s become a bit of an obsession – they’re now green with gold sparkly tips).
IMG_2897.jpg
We had steak and chips for dinner – YUM – and then went to bed.

Posted by Susiep539 23:34 Archived in Laos Tagged plain_of_jars motorbike phonsavanh phonsavan uxo Comments (0)

Luang Prabang

We got picked up at 10am from our Guesthouse by a bus with an excessively shiny interior.
IMG_2701.jpg
This picked up various other people and then delivered us to the bus station, where we were transferred to a double decker bus! You could only sit on the top deck, and we headed for the backseats, which meant we got all 5 seats to ourselves for the journey. Hurrah!

However, this didn’t save us on this horrible journey. It was really hilly and bumpy the whole way, and although the scenery was beautiful, this didn’t quit e make up for it!
IMG_2722.jpg
John fell asleep for a while which saved him, but Susie just felt iller and iller until we finally arrived at 4:30pm. Hurrah! The tuk-tuk driver at the bus station tried to charge us 70,000kip ($9) for the 3k journey into town, so we walked instead! A rather long but money saving walk later, we arrived at the Guesthouse we’d picked. It was too expensive though, so we went to the one across the road. This was cheap at only 40,000kip (£3.50, $5) per night, but did feel and look rather like a prison cell!

When we’d dumped our bags, we went for a wander through the pretty night market into town. We went and got dinner; Susie went western and had a burger, while John had a disappointing curry. We went for a walk along the river, and then went to bed.

The next day we got noodle soup for breakfast and then followed the walking tour that was in the Guidebook. It started with a fresh produce market that was really interesting and had lots of ridiculous things to buy!
IMG_2724.jpg
Live frogs for dinner anyone??
IMG_2725.jpg
IMG_2728.jpg

Then we wandered along the river, where we saw some pretty boats.
IMG_2730.jpg

After that, the walking tour mostly taught us that there are too any Wats (temples) in Luang Prabang!!
IMG_2737.jpg
IMG_2739.jpg
IMG_2745.jpg
Susie in a Wat garden

An hour and 8 temples later, Susie started to feel ill so we headed back to our Guesthouse, where Susie had a nap and John read. At 12 we went to get lunch, and ended up at a rather posh (although not too expensive) restaurant where we had papaya salad and curry for lunch which was very tasty, if rather spicy!! The restaurant was outside and had a lovely pond and was so nice and peaceful that we sat there for 2 hours, reading and enjoying feeling upmarket(especially since it was still only $3 a head!!!
IMG_2754.jpg
IMG_2759.jpg

After that, we went up Phu Si, a hill in the centre of Luang Prabang. On the way up was a temple that had a “Buddha’s footprint”...didn’t look much like a person’s footprint to us though!
IMG_2765.jpg
What do you think???

We continued our walk to the top, which had such lovely views that we sat down, got our books out, and spent another 2 hours reading and enjoying the view and peace and quiet.
IMG_2789.jpg
IMG_2790.jpg
IMG_2793.jpg
Monument on the top of Phu Si
IMG_2795.jpg
John reading...and yes, that is a fiction book!!

Until 5pm that is when all the tourist IN THE WORLD came to the top to watch the sun set. We mae our escape and went and booked bus tickets to go to Phonsavanh the next day. We went and enjoyed a beer by the river, and then went to try to find somewhere to eat. As we’ve said before, we are not fans of Lao food, and we thought we ought to be able to find something interesting to eat. However, when an hour walk had provided nothing but more of the same noodle/rice meals, we gave up and had curry. This wasn’t what we felt like, but it filled a hole! After dinner, Susie went for a walk around the night market and bought a few bits and bobs, and then we went to bed.

Overall, we like Luang Prabang, and we felt it is somewhere anyone could come and experience all the niceties of Asia, without any of the less desirable bits. Lots of winding streets, monks, temples, colourful markets, etc. But it all feels a little fake, and after all the other places we've been, we weren't completely taken with it. A lot of people rave about it, but we aren't quite that positive. Nice enough, but not all that!

Posted by Susiep539 03:29 Archived in Laos Tagged luang_prabang phu Comments (0)

Vang Vieng

semi-overcast 26 °C

The minibus picked us up, as well as 5 other boys from other guesthouses, 2 of whom were already drunk. Fanastic! We were soon moved onto a VIP bus, BUT the aircon worked!!! HURRAH! We were joined by a lot of other tourists, and there was a very high idiot:seat ratio. We were starting to wonder whether Vang Vieng was going to for us, but we decided to appeal to the idiot tourist side of ourselves for a couple of days!

An uneventful 4 hours later, we arrived in Vang Vieng. We walked up towards a Guesthouse we’d read about in Lonely Planet, but were accosted midway by a drunk guy who persuaded us to go to the Guesthouse he was staying in. The room we were shown was only 50,000 kip ($6, £4), and the room was rather huge, with 2 double beds and another double mattress on the floor! We were slightly worried we’d accidentally found ourselves in a dorm, but never mind!

We wandered out to get dinner. Vang Vieng is definitely the most touristy place we’ve been to date, Siem Reap NOT excepted. The whole place is full of drunk westerners, and bars, restaurants and guesthouses catering to them. Even when we went for a walk the next day, this is all we really found in the whole place: unlike everywhere else we’ve been, there doesn’t seem to be a “real” town away from the tourist area. Undetered, we decided that a couple of days of tourist land never did anyone any favours, and we went to one of the riverside restaurants and had dinner. We had fried noodles, with a BeerLao, and had a good chat, and didn’t go to bed until 9pm. What an achievement!!

The next day we woke at about 6:30, chilled until 8 because we knew nothing would be open, then went and got bacon and salad baguettes for 10,000kip each ($1.10, 85p), which were super tasty! We then went and asked about rooms in the GH we’d wanted to stay in originally, they told us 60,000kip inc breakfast which sounded good to us, so we got our bags, and then the other member of staff told us there was no rooms. Grr! So we tried to find somewhere else, failed, went back to see if we could wait and see if anyone checked out, then magically they had a room, so we moved. It’s a lot more basic, with a shared bathroom and thin mattress, but it’s so pretty, with a lovely view and nice and open. We love it!
IMG_2565.jpg

Then we walked to a cave about 2km away. It cost us 2000kip each to walk across a hotel’s grounds to get there, only 20p, but the principle made us cross!
IMG_2569.jpg

Nevertheless, when we got to the cave, we had a good swim in the pool outside it, and slightly into it, but we didn’t walk into the main cave because it cost 20,000kip, and we figured that Kong Lo cave was enough for anyone!
IMG_2582.jpg
IMG_2591.jpg

John did try to get to the cave through a little back route, but it got too dark and we had no torch, so we gave up!
IMG_2594.jpg

We went back, and John went on the internet while Susie had a nap. We then had lunch – chicken/sausage sandwiches this time – while watching ‘Friends’! A lot of restaurants show continual re-runs of it, and ‘Family Guy’, and although it’s horrifically touristy, it’s a nice little touch of home after nearly 10 weeks! Definitely a touristy thing we appreciate!

In the afternoon, we walked to another cave. We thought it was only 6km away...turned out to be over 8km. Phew! On the way, we went past a group of butterflies that were kind of swarming, and they were so beautiful.
IMG_2602.jpg

We arrived, walked up some steep stone steps to the cave, which was very pretty,
IMG_2615.jpg
and then we went and enjoyed ourselves in the river swimming spot at the bottom, which had a great rope swing (which Susie was unfortunately useless at!).
IMG_2617.jpg

Then we set off on our very long walk home! The scenery made it acceptable though!
IMG_2609.jpg
IMG_2596.jpg

When we got back to Vang Vieng at 6pm we, nervously, went and asked about our passports at the guesthouse we’d been told would give us them back. The first man we spoke too was grumpy and unhelpful, tried to give John some random guys passport, didn’t know anything about it, and did nothing to reassure us! He then sent us down the garden to little office, where a much friendlier and more helpful guy produced them straightaway from a filing cabinet. A quick check showed us that they had our new visas in them. Hurrah! Susie was very relieved, and although John insisted he’d always known it’d be fine, he was relieved really!

In the evening, we had a dinner of fried rice, and watched more Friends, then headed to a second bar for another beer, and more Friends, and then went to bed.

The next day was the day we’d set aside for tubing. For those of you who don’t know, this is where you get the inner tube of a tractor tyre, and float down the Nam Sam river, which runs through Vang Vieng. It’s become a real thing to do in Laos, and there are a lot of bar set up along the river, and so it’s a bit of a boozy thing too! Since we’d decided that we were making the most of our time as idiot tourists, we decided to embrace it (although not as much as some people, who seem to come to Vang Vieng for a week or so and go tubing every day. Excessive.)

We chilled out in the morning, had Pad Thai for lunch, and then headed out for our tubing trip!

The first couple of bars were right at the start before any tubing at all, and were good fun but neither of us felt quite drunk enough for the party that was in swing, despite it only being 1pm!
IMG_2629.jpg

John had a go on this ridiculously massive rope swing/trapeze that was above the river, which Susie thinks was terrifying, but John enjoyed it!
IMG_2626.jpg
Scaaaary!!

We then headed a little way downriver to a ‘Jungle bar’, where John loved, and Susie hated, the music, and from there to a bar where we had great fun playing volleyball (or kind of) in this massive muddy pit they had. Absolutely disgusting, but good!
IMG_2639.jpg

Both feeling a little drunk, we headed further downriver, where the scenery of the river really started to be amazing, with limestone karsts rising up right next to us. It was completely ridiculous floating along a river like that in a rubber ring!
IMG_2647.jpg
IMG_2657.jpg

We stopped off at one more bar, where we chatted to a few people, got a little too drunk, and then set off (too late) for the end. It was very pretty floating downriver, but it was a long way from the last bar to the end, and John got really cold, so we walked the last bit back. When we got back, we were both tired (and drunk) so we went to bed early. We both woke up at about midnight, very awake and dehydrated, and then couldn’t get to sleep, and ended up having a 3 hour ridiculous conversation, that only half asleep, slightly drunk people would have had!!

We did have a lot of fun tubing, but I think we were both a bit disappointed by it really. We thought the stretch of river would have the bars spread along it, and everyone would sort of move down as the afternoon went on, and party their way downriver. But in reality, all the bars are in the first 1km of the 3.5km stretch of river, and most of the ones that seemed to have party atmospheres were in the first 400m or so. This means that you can’t really have a fun time in the bars, and a fun time floating down the river, you kind of have to pick one or the other. It seems that most people go for the former option, but we’re glad we got further downriver, because there would be very little point having the tube for the section most people seem to do. Nevertheless, it was a lot of fun, and I think we’d both do it again, and think that more rivers should do it, because that element of it was just fantastic!!

Posted by Susiep539 20:33 Archived in Laos Tagged tubing vang_vieng Comments (0)

Vientiane

semi-overcast 25 °C

As it turned out the early bus wasn’t a big problem, since we fell asleep at a ridiculously early 6:30, so we woke up at about 6 the next morning! We certainly had deserved that 11 hours in bed!! After showering, we went to the bus station, via the morning market, where we bought chicken on a stick, sticky rice and doughnuts for breakfast.
IMG_2496.jpg

It was very tasty, and we felt very local, munching on our chicken and waiting for our bus! The 7:30 bus eventually came at 8:15 – we’re so used to Laos/Cambodian time now that it didn’t even really phase us – and we (just) managed to find two seats together. The bus rapidly filled up, with lots of plastic stools down the aisle and quite a few people standing too. But it’s OK, it was a VIP bus, so we’d paid 60,000kip (only £5, but far more than other buses) to be in luxury...oh wait, the air con was broken. Plus, there were no windows because of the “air-con” which meant it was hot, stuffy and smelly, and they played loud Lao ballads on the television the whole way there, which were all awful and all the same (although some of the video storylines were fairly amusing). Needless to say, that’s the last time we’re getting a VIP bus, and we were very happy when, 6 hours later, we arrived in Vientiane.

Once we arrived, we were helpfully bundled into a shared jumbo (big tuk-tuk) which took us into the city centre. We walked to the guesthouse we’d picked out from our Lonely Planet, which in the 3 years since our guidebook was written has gotten rather more swish, and we ended up in their new extension, Mixay Paradise. Our room was 80,000kip a night (a whole $10, £7), but we were placated by the free breakfast, free wifi, nice downstairs seating area, and hot power shower in the (shared) bathroom. Mmmmm! Definitely worth the extra! They even ha a lift and everything. Wow!!
IMG_2549.jpg

We went out for a walk, and were shocked by how modern and western Vientiane feels. We were expecting another Siem Reap, but it’s much more built up, and so much more shiny, from the carefully maintained gardens, to the modern eateries everywhere, to the promenade that they’re just doing up, it felt like there was a lot more money around than anywhere we’ve been for a while.
IMG_2526.jpg

We went and got lunch at a restaurant called Lao Kitchen, which was a little overpriced, but fairly tasty. We had one coconutty curry type thing that was very tasty, and one tasty but stressful soup thing, that had these weird peas, buffalo skin, etc in it. We were unsure about that one!! We went back to the hotel and chilled for a couple of hours, then in the evening went for another walk around Vientiane. We went for curry for dinner, and then went to sleep at about 8:30pm, despite promising ourselves earlier that we’d make the most of being somewhere with lights in the evening! We’re hopeless!
IMG_2508.jpg
IMG_2505.jpg
IMG_2518.jpg
IMG_2521.jpg

The next day, we woke up at 7am, far too early for tourist land, and so went for a wander around several of the nearby Wats (temples).
IMG_2527.jpg
IMG_2533.jpg

Then we went back for breakfast at our hotel,
IMG_2534.jpg

and then went out to Patuxai, a large monument that’s Laos’s answer to the Arc D’Triumph, and was built out of a load of concrete that the Americans gave Laos to build a aeroplane runway! The views from the top were lovely, and then we wandered down back to the centre along a road that, as the guidebook puts it, “is sometimes (very) generously described at the Champs Elysees of the East”!
IMG_2535.jpg
IMG_2537.jpg

We also went to Talat Sao, the morning market, a few more Wats, past the presidential palace, and to some random monument they’re building on the river (don’t know what it’s for – like I said, our guidebook is old – but all the locals seemed to love it, with lots of flowers and bowing going on!).

For lunch, we treated ourselves to a rather expensive all you can eat meal...but it was SUSHI. Yum, yum, yum! And 85,000 kip ($10, £7) isn’t that much really!! Plus, we certainly did justice to it. Mmmmmm!
IMG_2550.jpg
Just some of our sushi!

In the afternoon, we chilled out to allow our (very full) stomachs to recover. We watched television, read, went on the internet and skyped our parents (once Susie’s mum finally bothered to come online. Humph). Very lazy we’re sure, but we think we’ve deserved it after all our long journeys and our time at Ban Khoun Kham! In the evening, we wanted a small meal, so we ended up sharing a curry again. Teehee! Very tasty, but we got cross at the sneaky way the man there tricked us into paying lots for water, grrr, so we’re now eschewing all Nazim Indian restaurants. A shame because there’s one everywhere and they’re tasty, but we’ll find better ones!

We also realised that evening that we’d made a bit of a woops....in the morning we’d handed in our passports to the hotel to sort our Vietnam visas (you can’t get them at any overland borders) which we were getting back at 4:30pm the next day. No problem, until we decided in the afternoon we’d leave on the afternoon bus the next day, bought our tickets, and then suddenly realised that leaving 3 hours before our passports arrived wasn’t the brightest idea ever. The hotel staff were really nice about it, and helpfully offered to send them on the bus the day after, which we (slightly worriedly) agreed to. Let’s just hope the system works!!

On our final morning in Vientiane, we went on a long, 5km each way, walk to Pha That Luang, Laos’s most famous and important monument. All well and good, but it wasn’t that interesting – just a pointy gold blob – and women had to pay 10000kip to rent a Lao style skirt to go in. Boo, like we were going for that sexist trap (it made Susie very cross). As we were leaving, we bumped into Jenny, the lady we were volunteering with at Grace House, and who is travelling Laos the opposite way to us! Was nice to see her, but she’s on a tour, so had to head off after a quick catch up chat. Very random to see her out off everyone in Laos!!
IMG_2555.jpg

We then walked back to the centre, via a locals market (where Susie got even more disgruntled because she needs new flip flops, but no nice ones fit her because Lao women have little feet), and past the gardens near the Patuxai monument (where Susie was dehydrated, so even even more cross. Not a good morning!). We bumped into Jenny again at the monument, and then went back to the hotel, where we packed up (everything except our passports....), went and got lunch (we really branched out, and got....curry! From a cheaper, and just as nice place, so we felt vindicated against the nasty water). Then we sat and waited for our bus for Vang Vieng!

Posted by Susiep539 17:58 Archived in Laos Tagged laos vientiane patuxai vientiene mixay_paradise nazim_indian Comments (0)

Ban Nua Hin for Tham Kong Lor Cave...and other adventures!

sunny

We left Savannahket on a local bus headed for a random town on the way to Vientiane called Thang Beng (50,000kip, $6). Here we would have to get off (not knowing whether the bus would stop by itself) and take a shared bus from there to Ban Nua Hin. Being a local bus, by the second stop it was completely full with Lao sitting on stools in the aisle and children being piled up 3 to a seat. Apparently buses in Laos are never full, something this journey made pretty clear!

The journey itself was rather uneventful, and despite some worries we wouldn’t know where to get off, and frantic calculations of km to go, we did manage to find the small crossroad town we had been looking for. We also found the shared bus without any problems, however unfortunately so did a rather excessive amount of locals and their goods! One woman had enough stuff to be moving house, fortunately there was enough space on the roof! This amount of people made the journey rather squashed and uncomfortable but for 25,000k each, we couldn’t complain too much and we were soon on our way into the mountains. The bus had some trouble climbing up the hills but it was worth it f
or the view from the top! Unfortunately we didn’t stop to take it in, perhaps that glimpse would have to be made proper tomorrow.....

With more worries the bus wouldn’t stop we thankfully arrived in Ban Nua Hin and started a 2km walk to the hostel, “Mi Thuna” LP had raved about. The views around the town, even from ground level, were incredible. The town is tucked into a sprawling valley with beautiful limestone cliffs and outcroppings surrounding it. After the endless flat rice paddies of Cambodia and Southern Laos it was certainly welcome! Most people who visit Laos miss this entire area and it's such a shame. It was so beautiful and unspoilt, though perhaps the fact that most people haven't discovered it adds to its appeal.

This was a long walk but given the rave reviews it had got we figured it would be worth it. We were greeted by a fairly indifferent lady who showed us to our 80,000k room. She told us it had aircon and a fan, great we thought! Except the fan didn’t work and the plug kept falling out of the socket, and the aircon didn’t work, and the bed frame was totally broken to the mattress sagged through it. As the most expensive room we’d stayed in in Laos yet we were severely disappointed and the unfriendly manner of the owner didn’t exactly make up for it. We resolved to move out the next day, once we’d made use of the free bikes in the morning....

We didn’t do alot the first night, well, there wasn’t alot to do, the town was tiny, we got dinner and went to bed. This was probably for the best given the day we had planned for tomorrow! We woke up at 6am as usual, partly thanks for the cockerel living outside our room who crowed every hour from about 3am onwards, had showers and took out our bikes. They were pretty dire, with barely any breaks and being far too small for us, but we decided we’d give them a go and set off up the mountain we’d arrived over yesterday to have a better look at the view. We’d worked out that the “sala viewpoint” was about 6km away, but almost entirely uphill. Of course for some reason we forgot to take water, or susie’s inhaler, which didn’t make the whole endeavour the most sensible. Susie’s chain kept slipping off before we’d even got to the base of the hill (which John managed to fix because he’s a genius). In any case, the hill was far too steep for bikes so we pushed them most of the way up, earning us several crazed looks from people passing by on motorised transport. There were a few crises of confidence, asthma abounded and we never really thought we’d made it to the top. But, nearly 2 hours later we did it!

IMG_2281.jpg

And there was quite a reward.....

IMG_2279.jpgIMG_2283.jpgIMG_2282.jpg

After a long rest we resolved to head back down, but then John’s brakes broke, and Susie realised hers didn’t work too well, but we continued anyway, with Susie walking the steeper bits, and John physically pulling the brake cable to slow down. In the end going down was easy enough, and the end part was steep but gentle enough that you could freewheel most of a km. So fun!

2IMG_2299.jpg

We got back, returned the bikes and checked out of our hotel at 9.30am. Another 1km walk back towards town took us to “Xok Xay” a cheaper, nicer and friendlier hostel just down the road. In future we’d remember to follow our noses, not our guide book! Once we’d checked in we headed to the tourist information centre (donated by Australia don’t ya know Flic) to find out when the to Tham Kong Lor cave would leave. He told us it would go at 10am (it was 9.50!) so we ran to get it, and just in time too, as it pulled away not long after. We just had enough time to pick up some stickyrice from a street seller. Breakfast finally!

The journey was around 40km and cost 25,000k each, each way, which was nice and cheap for us and we passed through some amazing scenery on the way. In fact, we would pass through the amazing ravine we’d seen in the distance from the sala viewpoint earlier and follow the course of the cave to the river.
IMG_2437.jpg

At the cave we paid 2000k for the bus to park and another 100,000k to hire two boatmen and a boat to take us the 7km through the cave to the other side. With some trepidation we boarded our little boat (filled with water, reassuring!) and headed off into the dark. The cave was fairly narrow to begin with and before long we’d run aground. PANIC! This seemed to be intentional however, and was necessary as we were going against the current and the river was flowing downwards. Though of course no one told us this to begin with!

IMG_2433.jpgIMG_2334.jpg

Soon we were ordered out of the boat and led up a small hill (yes a hill inside the cave) where the boatman turned on some lights. Suddenly a large cavern was revealed, covered with incredible stalamites and stalagtites, stretching from floor to ceiling!

IMG_2348.jpg

We took in the view for a while and headed back to the boat back into the dark. After the lighted area, the cavern really opened up to be perhaps 40m across and 30m high. It’s difficult to convey just how massive it was inside because it was far too big for a camera flash, but you certainly couldn’t see the ceiling at times and some of the bounders inside it were enormous!
IMG_2402.jpg

It was, as we kept saying throughout the journey, simply ridiculous just how big it was inside, and totally unexpected from the fairly small opening we had entered through earlier. After the best part of an hour we reached the otherside:

IMG_2374.jpg

Which was a bit of a relief, despite how impressive the cave had been. On the otherside were a few tourist trappy stalls selling overpriced water and snacks. We decided to pass, despite still only having eaten sticky rice all day, and headed back to the boat to go back into the dark. The journey back was, obviously, similar to the one coming, only this time we powered down the small weirs and didn’t have to get out for grounding nearly as often. After another hour or so we emerged in awe and headed back for the bus, which had helpfully been waiting for us.
It took us back to Ban Nua Hin and lunch, finally!
IMG_2448.jpg
The most earnt noodles in the world!!

That afternoon we’d planned to walk to a nearby (3km up hill) waterfall and since we’d had a fairly ridiculously action packed day so far anyway we decided not to change our plans! We followed the sign to the waterfall, which took us to the tourist information, where he charged us 10,000k each and told us we actually had to go further down the street past the temple. Sneaky. Anyway, we figured the paths had to be maintained by someone so we paid without too much fuss.

As we set off the guy sent his dog after us to be our “guide” to the falls. We thought he was joking, but 1km into the journey of the dog leading us along (or following us when he ran off to find something he’d smelled) we realised the dog was really leading us! At about this point we were joined by a monk novice and a small child who also started following us. They even sent us the right way when the signs became unhelpful. Having all these people (and dog) following us made Susie nervous, and this wasn’t helped by the increasingly rugged terrain, shedloads of giant ants and general difficulty of the climb. Anyway, we continued on undeterred, but pretty convinced 3km actually meant 5...
After just over an hour we reached the falls and the child and monk dived into the pool at the bottom. Not to be outdone John also joined them in the rather chilly water in his pants and had a little swim. They also led him up to the main part of the falls where the novice started smoking...hmm very monk like! Susie was pretty exhausted by this point (and didn’t really see how she could appropriately go swimming in just her bra and pants) so she stayed at the pool.

IMG_2455.jpg
IMG_2459.jpg
IMG_2477.jpg
IMG_2474.jpg

After a while the sun had started to drop in the sky and since we really didn’t fancy climbing down the mountain in the dark, we started back on down. At the bottom the children unfortunately asked us for money, but since we hadn’t asked them to help us, and didn’t want to encourage them to make this a regular trip we declined, which they accepted without a fuss. We think they’d enjoyed going for a dip as much as us and thought it was just worth trying it on!

“But what about the dog?!” I hear you ask. Well he had run off about half way down the mountain to chase something in the woods and we were slightly worried the assistant would be upset if we didn’t return his guide. Luckily, just as we emerged from the woods into a beautiful sunset....

IMG_2482.jpg

the dog dutifully appeared behind us! What a clever thing! However, he then wouldn’t leave us and followed us all the way to a much deserved dinner!
Phew! It’s tiring just recalling that epic day but that just about brings it to a close. The next day we were headed back to civilisation in Vientiane, but we wouldn’t get a lie in....the bus left at 7:30am!

Posted by John_713 19:26 Archived in Laos Tagged monk cave waterfall mi_thuna ban_nua_hin tham_kong_lor tham_kong_lo xok_xay Comments (0)

(Entries 1 - 5 of 12) Page [1] 2 3 » Next