- 1 - Tha Khaek – Why Are We Here?
- 2 - Still in Tha Khaek – At Least the Mekong Was Beautiful
- 3 - Solving the Mystery of the Disappearing Gas
- 4 - Monkeying Around on the Motorbike Loop
- 5 - On the Dusty Road Again
- 6 - New Year’s Lao Style – Water Fights, Karaoke and Drinking in a River
- 7 - New Year’s Party in a Tiny Laotian Village
- 8 - Another Detour in Search of Another Nonexistent Attraction
- 9 - Exploring Gigantic Kong Lo Cave by Boat
- 10 - Finishing the Loop With a Tour of Lao Bike Repair Shops
The next morning we got some breakfast, then spent an hour at the bike repair place waiting for our new tire. Naturally the whole family hung around and waited with us, offering us beer at eight in the morning before a long day of riding motorbikes. I guess years of watching backpackers pass through had given them the impression that all westerners drink beer all day, every day.
In the end, we settled on freshly pressed sugar cane juice. As we were sitting there, a local mentioned an interesting temple just to the south. Even though the motorbike ‘loop’ continued East on the main road, we decided to take a little detour to check out the temple real quick before doubling back and heading east. It turned out to be one of our less brilliant ideas.
You’d think we could have seen this coming, as just the day before, after the last cave and before the flat tire, we decided to hunt for another cave. It sounded pretty amazing in the Lonely Planet description: “…a cave where the Don River emerges from the ground. It’s quite a physical marvel to see the water coming up and out from the cave, and the lagoon that sits at the bottom of the tall limestone karst is a beautiful swimming spot.”
It would have been nice if they’d put forth the same effort in describing how to get there. They give you one short sentence with two ‘abouts’ in it; as in, turn about 9km from the place located about 10km from the other place. The only accurate part of their description are the words ‘rough road’ and even then, only the first word of that fit what we saw.
It was most definitely rough, but it was only a road for the first few kilometers and we’re guessing that’s as far as the writer bothered to go—most likely, they just glanced at the turn-off as they were driving past and called it a day.
After the first few kilometers, the dirt road turns into more of a trail; a trail used by local farmers and their water buffalo, judging by the hundreds of hoof prints. After a few more kilometers, the hoof prints ARE the trail. As you can probably imagine, that does not make for a smooth ride. And despite being the dry season, there were several parts that had somehow collected water and turned into mud pits.
At one point, the ‘trail’ crossed a little stream. By then, we had been following this ‘trail’ for a good 10 kilometers and had just passed through a town where three people assured us the cave was somewhere ahead of us.
Of course one of them pointed ahead and toward the left, while the other pointed ahead and toward the right, but at least the ‘ahead’ part was consistent. Another guy pointed behind us while his friend pointed at a pig, but in cases like this you basically have to just go with the majority. That said, never once on the motorbike ‘loop’ did we ever find anything when getting directions from locals, so ‘majority rules’ is probably not the best policy in Laos.
Anyway, with this new found assurance that we may possibly be going in the general correct direction, we didn’t want to turn around and head back, so we decided to just gun our bikes and drive through the water. We went one at a time and the first three got through pretty easily. I’ll let you guess who didn’t quite make it.
If you remember from earlier in this series, my bike was a bit smaller than the other three and that meant that some part that is not supposed to get wet was just low enough to get wet. My bike got halfway through the stream and died. For a second or two, I just sat there with my legs held up, thinking maybe I could balance here for a bit and the bike would start working again, but before I could even finish the thought, the current started tipping us over.
I had no choice but to jump in the water and push the bike to shore. It turned out to not matter too much, though. It was so hot that the bike dried out in about 5 minutes and even my shoes were dry in 20. So we continued on and eventually hit some sand. Have you ever seen someone ride a bike on a beach? Me neither. And there’s a reason for that.
But we kept going, our front tires digging into the sand, while the back tires spun out to the left or right as we used our feet to hold them upright and forced our way through. Then we came to a fork in the sand and had to make a choice. By now it was starting to get dark, so we could only follow one of the directions. Each led to a different karst mountain and obviously the cave was in one of them.
If not one of those two, it was in one of the other 17 or so karsts that surrounded us and it was that realization, along with the setting sun, that finally got us to give up and turn around. We still had a long, annoying ride back through the same obstacle course, including another refreshing wade through the stream for me and we did not want to risk having to do any of it in the dark.
Given this little adventure from the previous day, you’d think we’d have been more reluctant to chase after a temple with nothing more than a recommendation and some very vague instructions from a guy we could barely understand. And it’s not like we hadn’t already seen a temple or two or eight hundred in our time in Asia.
Nevertheless, off we went, in search of what was apparently the most spectacular temple in all of southeast Asia, despite no one ever having heard of it and no guide book ever mentioning it. Supposedly located right next to the road just a little to the south, we were promised we couldn’t miss it. Those who’ve read previous parts of this series know that we very well could miss it. And miss it we did.
We ended up following another dirt road for 30 kilometers, before we finally gave up and turned around. But unlike the very rough and almost impassable dirt road from the day before, this one was flat and smooth and easy to ride on. Unfortunately, that made it worse.
One truck after another flew by us or came at us from the other direction, each one kicking up and spraying us with huge clouds of dust and gravel. Most of the time, we could barely see a few meters in front of us. Given the near constant cloud of dust that enveloped us, I guess it’s no real surprise we failed to see a temple.
We did see a sign for a temple when we reached the point where we turned around and headed back; it informed us we were a mere 60 kilometers away. I don’t know if this was the temple the guy was referring to when he assured us it was just a short ways down the road, but given what I now know about the average Laotian’s perception of distance, it very well could have been.
Either way, we decided not to find out; and after eating another rice paddies’ worth of dust, we found ourselves at a little shop directly across from the bike repair place where we had begun our day a few hours earlier. We had left as white tourists and returned looking like Laotians. Seriously, we were at least ten shades darker from a thick layer of dust.
The owner of the shop gave us some water to clean up a bit, but we were spitting out dust and blowing dust out of our noses for the rest of the day. On a positive note, we did not suffer from a single motorbike related problem and made it to our accommodation for the night without any further difficulties.
Series continued in part 6: New Year’s Laos Style – Water Fights, Karaoke and Drinking in a River