- 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
After the statue cave, we saw another cave. I can’t remember a single thing about it, so it must have been spectacular. Moving on…. Our next stop was a lake located a few kilometers off the main highway down a dirt road. It was our first experience with dirt roads on our week-long motorbike trip around the central ‘loop’, but far from our last.
We handled this road without any problems and found ourselves at a lake that is apparently pretty popular with the locals during the rainy season. We were there in the dry season, however, and it was completely deserted. We didn’t really understand why, since it was a beautiful spot to swim. We figured the locals knew something we didn’t; like maybe the lake gets contaminated with sewage when the water flow is low or something equally undesirable.
We didn’t get sick though, so it couldn’t have been too bad. We spent an hour or two swimming and jumping off a boulder in the middle of the lake. Being Southeast Asia, there was naturally a bunch of trash lying around, including broken bottles, but we managed to avoid those for the most part.
After the lake, we stopped at another cave. This one had a fully functional temple inside, which basically meant a bunch of candles, Buddhist artifacts and a monk to give blessings in exchange for and accept donations. If you’ve read pretty much any part of my blog, you’ve probably deduced that I’m not a huge fan of temples, but this one did have something that set it apart from the others: this bearded fuzzball.
In order to reach the cave temple, you have to climb a bunch of stairs leading to a platform just outside the cave. You take your shoes off and leave them with all the others on the platform before entering. The procedure is pretty much the same as at every other temple with one small problem.
You guessed it: the monkey. I’m going to call it a monkey, but it could just as easily be a gibbon—if I were to call on my extensive knowledge of animal species I’d have to say it’s a……squirrel. I really don’t know. You guys tell me. Anyone know what that thing is?
Anyway, whatever it was, as soon as it saw an opening, it would dart in and grab a shoe or two (or a purse or sunglasses or anything that looked interesting, really) and play around with it for a bit before dropping it off the platform into the bushes below. When the owner of said shoe exited the cave, freshly blessed and somewhat poorer, they would find that Buddha’s blessings have a bit of a lag time.
Perhaps their luck would turn tomorrow, but for now they would have to climb down the stairs and search around in the jungle with one foot bare. That’s if someone who witnessed the monkey’s little practical joke was around to tell them about it. If not, I can only assume they would think they’d been robbed by a one-legged thief. Naturally, I carried my shoes with me into the cave.
After the cave, we headed on down the highway a bit to see………a cave. This one was quite a bit larger, completely deserted and had no signs of recent visitors whatsoever. It had a few relics inside, but it was clear no one but the occasional local had been there in a while. So naturally, it was by far the coolest cave of the day.
At first it seemed like all the others, but once we had walked in a ways and turned a corner, we were greeted by a beautiful turquoise lake, glowing under a beam of sunlight that was shining through an opening in the ceiling. On the other side of the lake, the water disappeared into a dark tunnel. We considered swimming in a ways, but we knew the lake was considered sacred and swimming was not allowed, so we decided against it. I did try to capture the scene in about 150 different photos, but I failed about 150 times.
Toward the end of the day, right around the time it dawned on us that the bikes had held up pretty well on a lot of rough roads, one of them broke down. It was the same bike and the problem was with the same tube that had been replaced yesterday. This time it looked like this:
None of us know anything about bikes, but we were pretty sure that wasn’t normal. Unfortunately, it was getting pretty late and everything was closed. We were also in the middle of our search for a place to stay. So we sent one person off to look for rooms and one to look for a mechanic. It took a long time to find either, but eventually we were successful.
Then we got the bad news. The whole tire had to be replaced. Apparently it was in such bad shape that it had not only rubbed a hole in the old tube the day before, but it had also destroyed the brand new replacement. Naturally, we were not happy; least of all, the girl who had to pay for it. It turns out a new tire is quite expensive.
Now, I have a theory. Some, maybe many, will call it cynical; but let’s face it, cynical is just a word used to describe a hard truth. That’s hard as in difficult or uncomfortable; basically, a realistic view of a situation or the world as a whole that contradicts the rosy (and usually naive) view favored by many. In this case, we have absolutely no evidence to support my theory, but I still think it’s definitely within the realm of possibility.
My theory is this. We already know that the guy we rented the bikes from tried to make as much money off us as he could in his pathetic attempt to drain our tanks (see the previous post in this series); I don’t think it far-fetched at all to assume he probably puts old tires and tubes on all bikes he rents out, knowing they will need to be replaced at some point during his customers’ trips around the ‘loop.’ When the bikes are returned with several new parts, he immediately replaces those parts with old ones and makes a nice additional profit.
Maybe I’m giving him way too much credit, as his handling of the gas crisis the day before had left many impressions in my mind but none of them “criminal mastermind” or really anything involving the word mind. At least not unless prefaced with “out of his.”
Whatever part he may have played in our tire troubles, this one had to be replaced, so it was. We left the bike at a local shop overnight, since the mechanic preferred to work in the morning when it was light out and he could see. A fair request. We retired to our cabins for the night and went to bed after a couple of rousing card games. And yes, you read that correctly; we got cabins! It was easily the nicest place we stayed during our trip and naturally, also the hardest to find.
Series continued in part 5: On the Dusty Road Again