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

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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!

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And there was quite a reward.....

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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!

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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.
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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!

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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!

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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!
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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:

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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!
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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.

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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....

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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)

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