At its entrance, Kong Lo (Konglor) Cave is relatively narrow, but once you get in a ways, it widens considerably. In some places it apparently gets up to 90 meters wide and 100 meters high. At narrower points, the river fills the cave from wall to wall; when the cave widens, you even get a beach at one point, with what appeared to be pure white sand, although it was impossible to tell for sure in the dark.
For much of our time in the cave, the bottom of the boat was scraping over the rocks in the shallow river. Several times, we got stuck and had to get out and wade for a bit, while our boatmen dragged the boat to deeper waters. This wouldn’t have been a problem, if I hadn’t worn shoes. Obviously, I just took them off, but the rocks in the water were incredibly sharp and quite painful to walk on.
On the plus side, I was providing our boatmen with endless entertainment and I swear they started running us aground on purpose, just so they could laugh at the wimpy foreigner with the ultra-sensitive feet as he gingerly felt his way over razor sharp rocks they barely seemed to notice. I probably should have worn my flip-flops, but they would have definitely gone missing in the current.
At one point, they let us out of the boat to explore the cave on foot and check out some of the rock formations up close. They had installed various colored lights to illuminate them from different angles, which sounds kind of cheesy, but actually looked pretty cool. Besides, without the lights, we wouldn’t have been able to see anything.
The lights highlighted the stalagmites and stalactites in various colors and cast dark, creepy looking shadows on the cave walls. I took a bunch of pictures, but while the effect looked great in person, it just ended up looking like a multicolored, blurry mess on film.
After about an hour, we exited the cave into a jungle setting straight out of a Herzog movie, complete with muddy water, lush vegetation, swarming insects and the warning calls of hundreds of birds. After a few turns in the river, we started seeing families of water buffalo cooling off in the water and before long, we reached a village. Actually, it wasn’t so much a village as a couple of little shops selling the standard assortment of junk food and candy.
The prices were a little inflated naturally, but that’s to be expected given the remote location. I would have happily bought something to put a little money in their hands, but they didn’t sell a single thing I consider edible; and I would consider most insects edible. I did get a bottle of water, though and my friends bought some chips and various candies of completely unnatural colors.
On the way back through the cave, we were heading downriver, so we asked the boatman if he could cut the engine and just let us float through. The long tail motor on the boat was incredibly loud, even more so within the rock walls of the cave, and the noise kind of took away from the eerie atmosphere of the place.
He agreed to cut the engine, but only for certain parts. We were happy with that and the difference was amazing. Floating in silence down an underground river is pretty incredible on its own, but without the engine noise, fish, bats and other animals started showing themselves as well.
At the end of the previous post, I wrote that our moods only got worse, but that wasn’t quite true. The cave itself was amazing and by the time we walked back out and started looking for a good spot by the lake near the entrance to sit down, eat some food and play some cards, we were all in really good spirits.
Unfortunately, that didn’t last. Apparently, one of my friends had somehow managed to feed the fish in the cave with her motorbike key. At least that’s what we assume must have happened. Shortly after we had found a spot to hang out for a bit, she noticed that the key was no longer in her pocket.
We spent the next hour searching everywhere from the cave entrance to the parking lot where we’d left the bikes, but couldn’t find the key anywhere. That’s why we figured it was somewhere in the cave—it was the only place we couldn’t look for it, since it was way too dark. Plus we’d be forced to buy another overpriced boat ticket.
It took us a while, but after a bunch of searching, we eventually found someone who was able to start the bike without a key. Of course he had to take out the ignition and rewire the bike which not only looked ridiculous but was going to cost some money to repair at the end of the trip. It also apparently caused another pretty annoying problem, but more on that later.
For now we were at least able to move the bike out of the parking lot by the cave and to our guest house. The next morning we had a little trouble getting it started, as you might expect from a bike with no ignition and a bunch of loosely connected wires hanging out of the hole where the ignition once was. Once we finally got going, we set out on a long day of riding.
We had four times more ground to cover on our final day of the motorbike ‘loop’ than on any previous day, but the road would be paved and mostly straight the whole way. We expected it to get a little boring, but we also expected to fly down the road, hitting speeds we’d only dreamed of on all the bad roads we’d been enjoying most of the trip. We did just that in the morning and made great time, arriving at a pass through some hills far earlier than expected.
Heading up the pass was pretty horrible for my bike. As I’ve mentioned, it was the smallest and by far the weakest one, so I had to stay in first or second gear most of the way up. Trucks were passing me—big trucks moving at speeds I could top while hopping on one foot. It took me so long to get to the lookout at the top that I swear my friends had visibly aged by the time I arrived.
Series continued in part 10: Finishing the Loop With a Tour of Lao Bike Repair Shops