Journey To The Center Of The Earth

Trip Start Jul 16, 2012
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Trip End Ongoing


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Flag of Lao Peoples Dem Rep  , Khammouan,
Thursday, April 25, 2013

After a brief overnight stay in Vientiane were on the move again, unfortunately things did not start well this morning and Tim woke up with a bad stomach. Usually this would not be a problem and we would put our plans on hold, but we were headed halfway across the country on a 7 hour bus to the village of Kong Lor.  Out came the medical kit and the immodium instants, lets put this one hour promise to the test shall we?

Thankfully I can confirm that Immodium does indeed work within an hour and other than having clenched bum cheeks and a very nervous feeling for the entire journey, Tim made it all the way to Kong Lor without incident, phew.

The bus was a local bus, but there were a fair few farangs on it.  The local buses are quite comfortable, but they are distinctly lacking in air-conditioning and so we spent 7 and a half hours with the windows open getting blown around and dusty.  The road to Kong Lor was vastly straighter and nicer than the road to Phonsavan which was a huge relief. 

We knew that Kong Lor village was going to be small, but we were amazed at just how small, it was literally one road, with 4 guesthouses and two restaurants on one side and the rest of the village was made up of tobacco fields.  There were cows, water buffalo and chickens just roaming the street, in fact I think that there were more animals than people.

We had read a million reviews about going to Kong Lor and everyone made the journey sound terrible, so we were hugely relieved to have got their on one fairly comfortable bus.  We headed up the road to our guesthouse and after a game of charades with the staff who seemingly didn't have any idea of the concept that we had pre-booked a room, eventually we were presented with a key.

The room was basic but the view from the outside balcony was amazing, we were in a valley with mountains towering over each side and as far as the eye could see to the mountains were tobacco fields and the odd smokehouse for drying the leaves.  This was definitely remote and as off the beaten track as you can hope to get without having a local guide to hold your hand.  Seemingly the only other foreigners in Kong Lor were from the Stray Bus, a company which basically ferrys you around Laos holding your hand, it was as we suspected filled with posh little girls who were on their gap year and daddy had paid for them to go on a bus around Laos so they could make their way to Thailand to the Full Moon Party.  Oh boy was I glad we were not on that bus!!

With Tim’s stomach not 100% we skipped dinner that night and had an early night ready to visit the only attraction in the village and the reason that we spent 7 hours on a local bus, Kong Lor Cave!

That night it really hit home just how remote we were, as we laid trying to sleep all you could hear was a deafening screech of cicadas, grasshoppers and every other bug like critter that likes to chat to the moon.  Seemingly we also had a family of bull frogs out side our room, I actually quite liked listening to their gentle 'Moo’ over the screeching bugs.  Just as I had dozed off their was that familiar sound of a rumble and a clap and another and another.  The storm rolling in was deafening as it echoed through the mountains.  Next came the rain, so heavy it was splashing us through the vented windows.  This was one hell of a storm and left Tim and I snuggled under the duvet with pillows on our heads hoping it stopped soon.

Thankfully our little wooden guesthouse survived the night and we were awoken as the sun came up by the chickens and cockerels; nothing like an early morning wake up call.

So we set off down the road to the Kong Lor cave, we didn’t know much about this cave other than it is a two hour round trip on a longtail boat through the mountain and back.  As we got closer there were plenty of people hanging around with life jackets and oars so it was safe to say we were in the right place.  We paid for our ticket and followed our boat man down to the cave.  The entrance to the cave was really pretty, just a small dark entrance in the huge cliff surrounded by lush green trees.  Before we knew it we were in the boat in the pitch black steaming through the cave.  Our drivers had head torches and seemingly an uncanny ability to see in the dark as I could not see a single thing.  A couple of minutes into the journey we pulled up at a sandbar and got out of the boat and walked through a section of the cave that has been lit up to show the huge stalagmites and stalagtites.  Then it was back in the boat to continue our journey into the unknown.  As it was the end of the dry season the river was at its lowest so at a few places the driver had to either accelerate through the shallow sections and hope for the best or we had to unload and the drivers dragged the boat into deeper water.  This was all going well until I got out of the boat and immediately slipped and fell in absolutely soaking myself and all my belongings, thankfully my bag was slightly waterproof or it would have been the end of my camera.  With nothing more than wet shorts and a bruised pride we carried on.  Eventually we saw daylight and popped out of the cave the other side.  We moored up and got out and had a drink at some little stalls on the riverbank and then headed back to the boat.  Both we and the boats were wet and wobbly and despite my earlier fall I made it safely to my seat.  Tim on the other hand slipped as he stepped onto the boat and made a spectacular fool of himself landing on his bum on the muddy bank, my first instinct was to ensure I got a photo, such a bad wife!

We went back the way we came and this time there was no need to get at the shallow sections thankfully as we were going downstream and accelerating did the job just fine, we were really sad when the trip was over but could not believe that it had actually taken 2 hours to get through and back.  It was only when we came out of the cave and looked at the size of the cliff that we had been in did it strike me as just how mad an idea it was.  I don’t think I have ever been 7 kilometers through a mountain before and not sure I ever will again.  When we came out of the cave it seemed that the whole of Laos had arrived to take the tour which seemed odd as it had been a ghost town when we arrived. 

It turns out that Kong Lor village was having a ceremony to replace their Buddha statues in their temple and everyone had returned home to the village for the ceremony, the hotels were packed and the farangs arriving on the local bus were all standing around looking bemused as every guesthouse was telling them they were full, thank goodness we had pre-booked!

We went home and changed and decided to pop out for an early dinner and this is where Tim’s trip to Kong Lor went sour.  We arrived on the doorstep of our hotel and went to put on our flip flops and low and behold, Tim’s flip flops had vanished.  We looked everywhere, in the bin, under the tables, round the back of the guesthouse.  The flip flops were gone.  When you only have 3 pairs of shoes to your name having a pair pinched from the door of your guesthouse is annoying, for Tim it was infuriating and he literally had the biggest tantrum I have ever seen.  All through dinner he was looking at the feet of every passer-by and when we went back to the guesthouse he tried to tell the receptionist through Google translate what had happened.  The confused looking receptionist just kept waving a pair of pink flip flops at him, it didn’t help his mood one bit.

With Flip Flop gate still raging in Tim’s head we went to bed and were watching a movie relaxing ready for sleep and suddenly I saw something out of the corner of my eye.  Something ran over Tim’s rucksack and looked like a rat or maybe a big tokay lizard.  We both jumped up, tim grabbed the door and I grabbed a flip flop and it turned out to be the BIGGEST flying cockroach I have ever seen.  It was so big it wouild have easily filled a pint glass, no jokes, things in this town are huge.  Amazingly I managed to flick it off of the bag and out the door just as it was getting its flying gear out and Tim closed the door and jammed the gap to ensure no other beasties came in to ruin our night.  Needless to say I didn’t sleep to well that night with my mind telling me that every tickle or inch was a giant cockroach trying to get me.

Being a good wife at sunrise I ran down stairs to check the doorstep in case some crazy fool had accidentally worn Tim’s flip flops to the party for the night and returned them to the door step, no such luck, they were gone for good.

We didn’t entirely know how we were getting out of Kong Lor, but we knew we needed to get to Pakse so we established there was a local songtau (pickup truck with a lid and benches in the back) which took us to Thakheck where we could get the 7 hour local bus at 11:30 to Pakse.  We thought that the songtau would take about an hour or two, but we were wrong, 4 hours later we finally made it to the bus station.  This journey showed us that we have definitely become real travellers as whilst sitting in the back of a pick up ona wooden bench tearing through the Laos countryside at 80kmh we were both sound asleep holding onto the metal hand rail.  We arrived at Thakheck just in in time to get a ticket and get on the 11:30 bus.  But guess what, I went to buy the ticket and when I asked the man what time the bus was he told me 2:30.  I asked what about the 11:30 bus and I got the standard response "Bus No Have".  So we resigned ourselves to a three hour wait in the bus station.  Thankfully I found fresh French baguette and laughing cow cheese so I was more than happy to sit and watch the world go by.  Our bus turned up and we were the only farangs on it, we made ourselves comfortable and set off for the 7 hour run to Pakse.  About 2 hours in we pulled into a bus station where the bus was suddenly filled with locals trying to sell eggs on sticks and we sat sweating into the pleather seats for 30 minutes whilst the driver enjoyed some chicken on a stick.  Eventually we set off again and with the windows open to try to get some cool air we were choked with the smell of smoke.  Laos has a slash and burn farming system where they leave some land for years and then burn the crops as a way to fertilise the land.  The smells of jasmine and tea were lovely but we had developed something of a smokers cough by the time we arrived.

At about 9:30 the bus pulled over at the side of the road and there was lots of pointing at us which we took as a sign to get off the bus.  After a lot of bartering with a rickshaw man we eventually strapped our bags to his little bike and set off into the main town in the hope of finding our hotel.

After 14 hours of travelling, one songtau, one bus and a rickshaw we made it.  Seems the reviews about it being a nightmare to get to Kong Lor were true after all, thankfully the cave, the views and the experience made it all worthwhile.  Although Tim has a different opinion and it consists of a list of obscenities and there is a mention of flip flops in it!
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