THE LOOP - day 1

Trip Start Jun 25, 2011
Trip End Dec 24, 2011

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Flag of Lao Peoples Dem Rep  , Khammouan,
Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Day one and we are off! We leave at 9am to make good time, the first stretch past the local caves is tarmacked because it leads on to the turn for the Vietnamese border and the Chinese dam/hydroelectric station. Its amazing scenery on this stretch with bright blue skies and karst mountains all around. We miss the turn offs for numerous caves - probably a bit on purpose as we are having too much fun on the bikes  - but decide to stop at the last one on the map, Tham Aen. It is deserted when we arrive apart from one Lao couple with their kids. As soon as Claire is off her bike, the little boy sidles up to her and the father motions that he wants to take a picture. "Me? A picture with me?" says Claire and the man smiles and shrugs his shoulders as if to say, I don't know why the kid wants it either. And so Claire stands next to the awkward child and awkwardly puts her arms on his shoulders while they both stand awkwardly for an awkward photo. Also she had helmet hair. "maybe they thought I was Drew Barrymore." says Claire afterwards. Jo laughs.
The cave is very nice, with staircases built up to it and through it and lights set up inside. There are also man made pools to swim in, but we don't as we want to get on to the bad road before too late.

After the border turn off and the dam site, the road starts to weave back and forth and upwards and the scenery gets even more spectacular with jungle hillsides on one side and lakes on the other. 
The road continues to rise and all of a sudden we are driving up a mountain. On the other side of which, we see the pot holes that people have talked about. The pot holes last an hour and a half and we take it slow, but we think that it is no worse that Vang Vieng and far less muddy. The surroundings make up for the road. 
At around 2pm we arrive in Thalang, pretty exhausted and get a room at the 'Sabaidee' guesthouse. The bungalows are set behind a large (and empty) restaurant that overlooks the river. It is so peaceful and the only people other than us there are one staff member and an old lady asleep behind the counter. 
We go for a short walk through the sleepy dusty village behind, and look out to the lake with flooded out trees poking out everywhere. We return to the restaurant hungry, but with no one in sight. After half an hour or so Jo walks into the kitchen saying "kin?" (food) and we are quickly served a lovely meal of fish and rice. Music is put on loud for our benefit, including 'Hotel California.' 
After a while Mr Tun Tun (also known as Mr Sabaidee) arrives and the place comes alive with his presence. His English is good and he has a great sense of humor and instantly invites us outside behind the restaurant where he has a bonfire. Although we have just eaten he makes us sit at the table outside while he, his mother (sleeping old lady) and his staff eat the salted, barbecued fish he caught today and bamboo soup. We eat a little but are stuffed by this point. Ignoring our cries of "Kin Li Li!" (too much food!) he orders a huge plate of fries on top. He is an interesting guy, originally from Vientiane where he worked in a hotel and learnt his English, he came out to Thalang to work on the dam project and now runs his guesthouse here. He tells us that he divorced his wife in Vientiane and seems deeply ashamed about this. He also wants our opinion on his guesthouse and also was eager for us to stay and volunteer with him, setting up an English school for the local village kids. A few village kids hang around and we give them some sweets. They are very cheeky and every time Mr Tun Tun laughs, they imitate him and copy some of the words he says in English.
At one point when Jo is in the loo, Mr Tun Tun says to Claire, "you have boyfriend" Claire says, "naaah"  to which Mr Tun Tun says, with much hilarity, "Whaa? you don't like men? You like Lady-boy? You lesbian!!" and breaks into fits of laughter. Claire does too, and says, "each to their own Mr Tun Tun."

After some Lao Lao and banter with some 'patang' playing Lao guys who are also staying in the guesthouse, we go off to bed.       
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