- 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 we left the little village, we had a few hours of bad roads ahead of us. We picked our way through the obstacles in the road slowly, stopping a bunch of times to take pictures of the very strange and unique, post-apocalyptic-looking landscape along this section of the motorbike ‘loop’. We also stopped once for another flat tire, this time on a different bike though.
Since we were in the middle of nowhere, we had to drive around a bit to find someone who could fix it, but we managed to get back on the road before too long. Eventually, we made it to a town called Lak Sao, where we found ourselves on a paved road again. We also found ourselves staring at a sign that promised a natural hot spring a few kilometers to the east, toward the Vietnamese border.
We were actually heading west, but we didn’t have far to go that day and after several days of bouncing around over rough roads on hard motorbike seats and a long night of drinking home-made liquor with dead animals in it, an hour or so in a hot spring sounded pretty appealing.
So we headed toward the border on what turned out to be a pretty fun road. There was a lot more traffic than before, especially trucks heading to and from Vietnam, but aside from that, it was newly paved and had many twists and turns through the hills. We actually ended up going almost all the way to the border.
I think we all realized that we should have passed the hot springs a while back, but we were enjoying the ride too much to really care. It was just such a nice day, the scenery was beautiful and the road was paved and windy. We did finally turn around and actually ended up making several more u-turns, before we determined that the hot springs had to be near a restaurant we had now passed several times.
It was full of locals having lunch, so we went in to ask about the hot spring and came out knowing less than we had a minute before. The people in the restaurant were all Vietnamese and they clearly understood some English and some Thai, which one of my friends could speak, but they refused to tell us anything. Instead they just laughed and continued to obnoxiously chew their food.
Since they obviously had no interest in helping us, we walked behind the restaurant and found a bunch of empty rooms in a row, with no doors and old broken down beds inside. Clearly this had once been a guest house. We also found a second row of door-less rooms, with a concrete tub in each. If there had been two of these, we would have figured they were the bathrooms for the row of guest rooms; since there were four or five, they had to be something else.
Naturally, the thought that these were the hot springs we were searching for entered our minds, but the sign had clearly said “Natural Hot Springs” and there isn’t really anything natural about a concrete tub. Plus, hot springs generally contain water.
We walked around the back of this complex and followed a path that led to a bridge over a swamp. Or part of a bridge. It didn’t lead anywhere and was really more like a dock than a bridge, except there’s no point in building a dock on the edge of a little swamp; then again, there’s no point in building a bridge to nowhere either, so we didn’t really know what to make of this whole thing.
It all made no sense and we ended up leaving the area thoroughly confused. I have since learned that all hot springs in Southeast Asia are basically concrete pools or concrete tubs, so I guess it’s reasonable to assume those waterless cement holes were the ‘Natural Hot Springs’ promised on the sign.
So, if you ever find yourself in Lak Sao in front of this same sign, save yourself the trouble. In fact, I’d say don’t bother with any hot springs in Southeast Asia, especially if you’ve ever been to Japan or anywhere else where a hot spring is actually a spring of water that is hot.
Once we were heading east again, we quickly arrived at Nahim, our destination for the day. It was still early, so we enjoyed a nice quiet afternoon and evening of playing cards and went to bed. The next morning we got up early and took another detour.
Unlike most of our other detours, this one involved a good road and a destination we would have no trouble finding: Kong Lo (Konglor) Cave. One of Laos‘ premiere, but still relatively unknown, attractions, this 7km long cave has a river running through its length and tourists can hire boats to take them to the other side. It’s even possible to do a home-stay in a remote local village once there, but we didn’t know that at the time—we just wanted to take a boat through and back.
When we got near the cave, we were greeted by the standard array of way-too-many speakers blasting the same horrible and way-too loud Southeast Asian pop tunes. The whole area was crawling with Laotian tourists swimming in the river as it emerged from the cave, eating at the numerous food stalls that had been erected everywhere or just sitting around on blankets and having picnics.
Apparently, we had run into another festival of some sort. Some of the areas near the river, far away from the speakers looked pleasant enough, so we figured we would hang out here for a bit. But first, we wanted to get inside the cave.
When we got to the entrance we saw the ‘ticket office’, which was little more than a table with two chairs and two guys we knew immediately we would hate just from looking at them and seeing the expressions on their faces. We had to deal with them though, so we walked up to the table and were immediately told to pay 200,000 Kip (US $1 is about 8000 Kip; €1 is about 10,000).
The rude tone and the fact that this was 120,000 Kip higher than the price we were told to expect, let us know without a doubt that our first impression of these two had been dead on. Apparently, the price of a boat had been raised from 80,000 to 100,000 Kip, but what that really meant was that these two (they were most likely cops) were supplementing their income. They also insisted we take two boats for the four of us, because the boats were too small to handle four adults.
They explained this as a group of ten Laotians was piling into one boat directly behind them. When we pointed this out, they informed us that Laotians, being normal sized, weigh less than fat foreigners. Of course half the Laotians in the boat clearly weighed more than any one of us and the other half weren’t really all that much smaller either. When we pointed that out, the two guys suddenly lost any and all ability to understand English, although they retained the ability to tell us exactly how much we had to pay.
Usually I would just leave, but in this case I was with other people and this cave was far out in the middle of nowhere. I doubt anyone would make the long, long trip all the way out there and then decide not to hire a boat over a $14 difference ($3.50 per person). Of course the two cops or whatever they were knew this, which was why they had taken it upon themselves to raise the price.
In the end, we paid, but the whole incident left us with a bad taste in our mouths. The cave was amazing, but despite that, the bad taste only increased.
Series continued in part 9: Exploring Gigantic Kong Lo Cave by Boat