We’ve spent a lot of time over the last few days in buses. The trip from the Bolaven Plateau into Thakhek was seven or eight hours. The stop there was in part just to break up the trip to Vientiane (capital of Laos), but there was also a day trip we wanted to do. What we didn’t realize was that the day trip consisted of a total of about six hours in a van to and from a cave. Then the next day it was another eight hours on a bus to Vientiane. Now we’re settled here for a few days before continuing the trek north through Vang Vieng and Luang Prabang.
Arriving in Vientiane last night was quite the experience. After weeks bumming around Cambodia and 10 days or so in southern and central Laos we were feeling quite the rubes. “Look at the lights! The colors! Wow – did you see that bar? And that restaurant?!?” Vientiane doesn’t have a great reputation as a tourist stop, but after these last several weeks the big city seems pretty exciting to us. And we found a fabulous tapas restaurant, run by a Spanish woman and her Lao-French husband. Such a night!
As for that day trip out of Thakhek. Kong Lor cave puts most other caves to shame. Basically the Nam Hin Bun river goes through a national park in central Laos, but for seven kilometers it runs underground, creating a huge cave – at some points apparently nearly 100 meters high. So they put you in a long wooden boat with a driver and guide, strap a miner’s light on your head, and out you go. It’s very cool, completely dark except for the artificial lights. According to our guide, even the locals didn’t know the river ran all the way through until 1995; during the Vietnam war, soldiers carried weapons and gear up and over the huge karst hills instead of going through as we did.
Along with the cave, our day trip included an hour-long hike through the woods out to a great little waterfall with a perfect little pool to swim in. Other than that, though, the last few days have been travel days.
Oddly, we didn’t see much of Thakhek except our hotel. We caught a tuk-tuk the five kilometers from the bus station to our hotel. Our hotel had the best restaurant in town, and the tour company that we used to go to the cave and to get bus tickets out of town was in the hotel, too. So it was a late arrival on Tuesday and dinner at the hotel. Then an early departure for the long day out to the waterfall and cave, a late return for dinner, and out early the next morning. In other words, we didn’t walk so much as one building away from the hotel. Strange.