THE LOOP - day 3

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

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Flag of Lao Peoples Dem Rep  , Bolikhamxai,
Thursday, October 20, 2011

Pulling the bike out of the mud yesterday and driving over 100km on road that resembled a building site has wreaked havok on our bums and our backs and we wake up seriously suffering from stiffness. We finally manage to crawl from the guest house just after 10 and go for breakfast down the road, where Jo's 'Bread and Jam' is actually a sugar and butter sandwich pressed and toasted in a Brovil toastie maker (the same popular in the UK in the late 90's), and Claire's egg fried rice seemingly has to be harvested before it can be served. Nevertheless we have enough energy to head onward, covering the short distance to the turn off for Kong Lor quickly, and then managing the 40km ride to the entrance of the cave there in under an hour, stopping to get a guesthouse room along the way. 

On arrival we pay our entrance fee and are taken across to the cave's entrance, at the foot of a beautiful karst mountain, by 5-seater paddle boat. Aboard are Jo, Claire, a driver and a guide each in possession of a torch. Here we swap boats for another with a motor and in we go. 
The cave's fame (what makes it different to the hundreds of others in Laos) is that it is 7km long and acts as a tunnel directly through a huge mountain. It is certainly pretty incredibly. 
We're given life jackets and as the first sign of a consciousness for health and safety in Laos its a bit alarming!
We're soon in virtual darkness, except for our torches, as we chug along through what we can make out is an ever expanding and contracting in size passage, with stalactites and mites looming out of the darkness all along. At times we can sense that the cave opens out into huge caverns with routes that split of in other directions, and on each bend there are silt 'beaches' that exist mostly in complete pitch black. We stop at one and get out so that our driver can push the boat around a section where the water level is very low. Here there are steps that mark a trail for a short distance along the cave, and we're treated to Laos very own interpretation of a light show when our guide switches on numerous blue and amber lights that illuminate the trail. Its a good opportunity to see how incredible the cave really is. Its less incredible that as we come back down to reach the boat he switches off the lights before we have clambered back in, leaving us to do it in the near complete darkness - reasons for the life jackets perhaps?

We carry on through the cave for another half an hour before seeing the light at the end of the tunnel. Before we can emerge into untouched jungle on the other side we have to go through a small section of rapids which our driver and guide have to paddle us through furiously (life jackets!?).
A short way on from the exit we stop for a rest at a tiny, seemingly deserted, village where you can buy coffee and pop and where our driver falls asleep almost on arrival for ten minutes. Our guide smokes Claire's cigarettes and smiles at our tattoos (his are less impressive), before uttering the only English he know: 'back now?'.

Going back (once past the rapids which we know sail through with the current despite taking on water and scraping the bottom of the boat a lot) we are completely over our feelings of being a bit daunted and that the journey resembles how Jo imagines travelling to Hades would be and we both really enjoy it, stopping at the final exit to watch people fish in the rapids there.  

Its early evening when we reach our guest house and its clear we are the only falang in the village (and the only gays?). The local boating team have a good look and a good laugh at us smoking our cigarettes on the porch, and the sweet little lady owner makes us rice and vegetables (there is no al la carte, just ordering). Most of what we ask for they are out of so when we have met a compromise her young son is sent out to get supplies including Beer Lao and eggs. After dinner there is a comedy 10 mins when the door to our room won't open and one of the boat team has to hack at it a little with a very big knife to finally get it open, much to the lovely little lady's embarrassment. The whole village is asleep by 9pm so we join in and get an early night.  
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