- 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
At the rental place, we tried to get the owner to pay for the tube that had to be replaced, but shockingly, he refused. He claimed that we had agreed we would pay for any damage to the tires, which was technically true, but we understood that to mean we would pay to have any punctures sealed that happened while riding over the often rough roads along the central Laos motorbike ‘loop’; we did not expect to be replacing a tube that was already completely worn out when we got the bike and that blew out twice on a near-perfect, paved road.
On a positive note, the repairs on the other two bikes had been completed, so we would be able to set out the next morning. On a hunch, we checked the gas tanks of the two bikes and—what a surprise—they were both completely dry. If you remember from the previous part of this series, we had filled them up before realizing they needed repairs and returning them to the bike shop. It’s a good thing we checked.
When we brought this up to the owner he decided to play dumb, “You’re right! They are empty……I wonder how that could have possibly happened?” After some back and forth, he deduced that the people at the garage where the bikes had been repaired must have drained them. And he acted shocked that they would do that.
Of course we explained to him that, having brains of our own, we know that any repair shop in a small town like Tha Khaek is not going to damage their reputation by siphoning gas out of customers’ bikes, customers, like our blatantly lying friend, who live and work in the same town and have used the same repair shop for probably the last 20 years.
We also explained that we gave him the bikes with full tanks and we expected to get them back the same way. It doesn’t matter who took the gas, we left the bikes with him, making him responsible. In the end, he agreed to refill the tanks. I made that sound relatively quick and easy, but he whined and complained and yelled and cussed for a good hour, clearly hoping we would just give up, but that was never going to happen.
In this case, it’s not even just a matter of principle; it was actually about the money as well. Gas in Laos is expensive—it was about US$ 1.20 per liter or $5 per gallon (so if you’re American and you ever feel like complaining about gas prices, make sure you complain to another American or maybe a Venezuelan; no one else wants to hear it, especially not a Laotian who makes an average of $2 to $3 per day).
So after listening to him cry for an hour or so about rich foreigners like us coming in and bankrupting his business and taking food out of his starving child’s mouth, ensuring he would not live to see his next birthday, he finally replaced the gas. And before you feel bad for the ‘starving child,’ it was clear no one had ever taken any food out of that kid’s mouth—he was a porker and at five or six or however old he was, he probably already outweighed me.
Once we finally had all four bikes—and in seemingly working condition—we went back to our guest house and turned in early. The next morning we finally set off on our trip.
The road on the first day was paved the whole way, but we avoided any comfort we might have enjoyed by leaving it as much as possible to follow random dirt trails in search of sights that may or may not have existed. It was difficult to tell where exactly we needed to turn off to find a given sight and how far we might have to go. One look at the most accurate map we could find will tell you why:
We did manage to find some of the caves, waterfalls and lakes we went off looking for; coincidentally, it happened to be all the ones that were either located right next to the road or that had a large and visible sign right by the side of the road. I specified visible, because many of the signs weren’t, in an apparent attempt at a practical joke by Laotian road engineers, also known as “the local pig farmer who earns some extra cash in his spare time by both designing and constructing national highways.”
One of the first caves we visited was preparing for the Laotian New Year, which is basically the same as the famous Thai New Year where everyone throws water on each other. It would take place few days later and I’ll get into that in a future post in this series.
For now, a few hundred Laotians—basically the whole village—were busy assembling stages, props, decorations and costumes using pretty much anything they could get their hands on. The whole process was fascinating to watch and maybe most fascinating of all was that, with the exception of a few curious children, everyone completely ignored us. That’s a pretty common theme in rural Laos, though and very refreshing after some of the other countries in the region.
After watching the preparations for a while, we climbed a bunch of stairs to visit the cave we had actually come to see. It was meant to be filled with numerous statues and it was; however, the most interesting part to me, was the Buddhist monk just lounging around having a smoke. I tried to snap a crappy photo and succeeded admirably by using Step #5 of my 5 steps to taking crappy photos.
We saw a bunch more caves, went swimming in a lake and had some more trouble with our motorbikes before the day was over. I mixed a few photos of one of the caves into this post, but I’ll get to the rest of the day’s events next time.
Series continued in part 4: Monkeying Around on The Motorbike Loop