Too old for backpacking in Laos?
Trip Start Oct 20, 2010
14Trip End Feb 07, 2011
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We found out that we were the only people in the guest house. The weather turned cold and windy and for the first time on this SE trip, we were freezing cold. Some hot tea helped to thaw us out but we were not interested in doing much in this weather. We tried for a short bike ride in a nearby park. Since I had never rode mountain bike over big rocks before, I had a hard time handling the bike. We ended up leaving the bikes along the path and walked the 2 km toward the waterfall. This was a forest with some really big trees not at all like the orchid trail. The last 1 km was straight up. After we went for about 500 m and it got really dark and started raining. I decided that I was not really interested in seeing another waterfall anyway and we turned around to go back. I felt down twice in the dim light but luckily was not hurt. We came back to the guest home and tried to keep warm and ignore the hollering wind outside
The weather improved on 2nd day and we were ready for the 50 km bike ride before getting to Kalgore Cave. The road was nice, flat , straight and no traffic. I rode for 25 km and took the rest of the way inside the support truck. Ray sped down the road and impressed the truck driver with his energy. Puk brought two plastic kayak and pull them through the cave by long tail boat. We would paddle them downstream on the way back. The entrance to the cave is beautiful but riding in a boat in a pitch black dark long cave with only a few miner's lights showing where we were going was quite an experience. We stopped for a short walk to see the stalagmite and stalactites inside the cave. The village where we would be staying for the night was 2 km from the exit of the cave. We rode on a long arm farm tractor to get there. Some locals huddle over a fire and made conversation with gestures to Ray. Most villagers were out working in the tobacco farm and only older people and children were around. Puk took us into an empty house and told us to make ourselves home. He carried water from the well and started a fire to cook our dinner. This village is quite remote from town and relatively poor. People moved into this region many years ago to avoid wars. Although there is another road, villagers prefer to drive through the cave because it is shorter and faster to reach outside.
We were up at 5 am to walk around the village. This is a pretty good size village with a new temple and a relative new school. Our host father performed a Baci ceremony to bless us before we leave. This one is simpler than the one we had on Don Khone Island. It doesn’t have the fancy flowers arrangement but the basic was the same and we added more friendship cotton threads on our wrists
We went back to the river and started kayaking through the cave. Puk and I took one boat and Ray and the driver the other. A long tail boat followed us with our luggage. Puk gave each of us this clumsy minors battery operated head light. It was very heavy but we needed the light for kayaking inside the cave. There is one rapid immediately after entering the cave, Puk tried to run it but veered too close to the big rock and we tipped over and went into the water. Luckily the water was not very cold but I was totally wet (luckier yet becasue Ray told me not to carry my iphone). Ray and the driver learn from our mistake and walked on the rock and let the kayak runs pass by itself. Kayaking inside a cave is totally different than floating in Missouri rivers. Since we can’t see the flow of water, we couldn’t judge where the water is deep and where is shallow. I figured Puk knows the way so I let him paddle and hope we don’t run into any more rocks in the dark. Ray’s head light went out and he was angry with such lousy equipment. We went for another 2 hours and reached another rapid near the end. This time Puk didn’t take any chance and put Ray and I in the long tail boat and he and the driver paddled the boats out.
On our way back to guest house, John, an American from Tampa, Florida, came and asked for a ride into town
Our next stop is Luang Prabang. We took a VIP bus this time which is more expensive but more comfortable than local buses. Almost all the passengers were wimpy foreigners like us. By this time I had enough adventures with mountain biking so we changed our biking tour through Laos ethnic villages to riding inside a van. Luang Probang is quite different from the rest of Laos, it is full of restaurants, café that catering to tourists. I think there are more tourists than locals in this town. There is also a night market selling the special Hmong quilts and embroidery items. We went with tour guide Joey to visits nearby villages including his own Hmong village way on top of the mountain. Hmong people originally came from China and was forced by wars into high mountains. They got involved with CIA during Vietnam War and was persecuted mercilessly by North Vietnam. Over 60,000 of them immigrated to USA (mostly settled in Minnesota and California) and that was where I first saw their intricate style of "cloud" or “elephant foot” type of curve embroidery and quilting
We took another long 10 hour ride in a crowded van to Luang Namtha. This is the last Laos city we stayed before crossing over to Yunnan, China. Laos is indeed a beautiful country but is more suited to young backpackers who are seeking adventures. For “senior” folks like us who preferred “softer” bus seats, we needed to travel in more conventional way. What a awaking call to find out that I am too old for backpacking in Laos!