From Tha Khaek we intended to do the 'Loop' another round trip into the Laos outback and while discussing the route two friends of ours we had been travelling with in India three months back turned up at the hotel.As you can imagine Son's (and my) excited screams could be heard throughout town. We had also managed to have a group of 6 together all on our own bikes to tackle this one because its known to be tough, you never know who you'll need in case of emergency!
Day 1: No more than 3km out of town and I had the first bit of bad luck, a puncture, fortunately it was about 10metres away from the bike repair shop! A good start to the trip, well, funny at least! We drove to the Buddha cave, a cave high in a limestone karst filled with over 229 small buddha statues some of which dated back to over 600 years ago! From there we took in another cave, guided by local kids even though it was nice most caves are pretty similar, large, dark and chilly and this was no exception. The kids then joined us to Tha Falang,
a great place to swim in cool waters beneath tall limestone karsts, well need after climbing to see the Buddha cave, these religous people certainly did things the hard way! We had to then cover 100km to get to our accomodation which is when the road disintergrated, literally.
Smooth tarmac turned to loose gravel, dirt, sand and to top things off it was as busy as a highway with trucks steaming past us. I'm sure they thought we must have been mad, we all thought we were! Our pace had slowed and we started to worry we wern't going to make it to our stop point. The roads were bad because they were building the largest project in Laos, a hydro-electric power station and getting ready to dam the river and creating roads, bad ones at this stage... and we had decided to drive through the heart of it! Once past the dam site it became fun all six of us feeling like hells angels. Tom has just lost the rest of the blog he had written - the computer ate it so im taking over. It was amazing to look back and see 5 bikes snaking up and down a mountainside - there was no other traffic on the road now and we were having fun! Couldnt find the village though! our odometers showed we shouldve been at it but the hills just kept rolling on. As it began to get dark we stumbled across the yellow guesthouse sign. The owner hugged tom - we couldve hugged him he had 3 bungalows and hot food across the road
. after a much needed shower we trudged across and found out the reason for him hugging tom - they had been on the lao lao homebrewed whisky all afternoon with a canadian lad who had cycled there! we quickly joined them and ate and drank well. Sean entertained us later with his tin whistle - i felt like i was in ireland and we were all asleep by 11 when the generators were turned off.
Day 2: we were up and away quite early, we had only done about 100km yesterday to Tha Long and we had 180km to do today to Kong Lo Cave. Within 1/2 hour we had all stopped - Neil had run out of fuel! we were all in the red and the locals told us the next petrol was in 50km! Mike still had quite a bit and i (stupidly) pulled the wrong end of his fuel line out to fill up a bottle for Neil - watching the petrol spill onto the floor, i felt a right idiot! we managed to catch some and shared it out between neil and Mike - there was no way we were going to make 50km and all set off riding as economically as we could! The kms went very slowly as we followed a dirt road through dense National Park jungle. After about 30km we came across a village, Neil was running on vapours but we had found petrol! The local kids thought it was hilarious and screamed and ran away from us. Then the school kids got let out and gathered round in a big crowd to stare. they were all so shy and collapsed into fits of giggles when we waved at them. Back on the road 93km to go and it was about 3pm...we never learn! The road was still under construction and we regularly had to dteour past half made bridges through thick sand - suprisingly the crappy chinese 100cc bikes were holding up, just! I went down a newly wetted slop, lost control and the bike went over. they had wet the road to keep the dust down but it had just made it slippy! I (and the bike) was ok, bruised one leg and cut the other.
A bit of blood and a large crowd of locals made it feel a lot worse than it was! we all slowly limped to a guesthouse hidden from the road. we crossed paddie fields
and rode through a forest to find bamboo huts in a clearing next to the river. After a medicinal bottle of wine for me and a few beer laos we all slept very well!
Day 3: We left the guesthuse by 8am and drove 10,imutes down the road where everyone from the smallest boy to the oldest women pointd us through the village to the boat dock. Long boats were moored up and we split into threes and set off towards the limestone karsts, Kong Lo cave.
The river ran 6km through the cave and was as big as the Albert hall in parts! we had to get out the boat a few times to wade through shallow patches so the boat could get through. we even stopped to scrabble up a slope to see some amazing stalagtites and rock formations, it was by far the most impressive cave we'd been in.
I know in five years it will be lit up with walkway, handrail and signs but for us it was fun, the 'hard way'. we were back on the road by one with about 200km to get back to Tha Khaek. We set off and after 50kms of gravel hit tarmac at last, a relief for our bums and eyes which were full of dust. We stopped for petrol and Tom's front brake cable snapped, this added more time to the race to get back to base before dark and it wasn't till 4pm that we actually got away. Managed to do 70kms, it was getting dark, cold and the night insects were making an appearance... great. By 6pm it was completely black no street lights with animals still wandering around unsighted by us. Oncoming trunks would blind us with their lights as they passed, we all had to drop our speeds and tailgate each other for light. By the time we got back we were cold, tired, dirty, dusty, but thrilled to make it back... as a team. It was hardwork but loads of fun. while having a beer and talking over the events we met a guy who'd done it on his own and got back much later than us... he'd hit a cow!
Well having just finished the last bike loop, we headed north on the 'public' bus which contained a motorbike, a rooster, several bags of rice and people squashed into any nook and cranny possible, public is hardly the word. It took us 9 1/2 hours to do 250km. It stopped 4 times for about an hour a piece and each time the driver just vanished leaving us and all the passengers hot sweaty and a little frustrated with street vendors pushing every type of meat and fruit on a stick through the windows!. At one of the stops they decided to play a game of football at which point we realised that this was Lao time and we get there when we get there.