Kong Lor, Laos

We took the overnight VIP Sleeper bus from Pakse to Thakhek. We had to pay for the entire way to Vientiene, even though we were getting off half way there at 2am. It was lovely bus, but since we were getting off early, they put us right by the rear doors, where the bathroom was, so we wouldn't wake people when we got off.  All night, people lined up to use the bathroom. I have never seen so may people with such small bladders. I only use a bathroom on a bus if I am past desperate. I will gladly risk dehydration and starvation to reduce the risk of using a bus bathroom. But no, tonight, everyone on the bus must have used the bathroom three times. Every time the bathroom door opened, which of course was every five minutes, bright light mixed with a heavy dose of bathroom odour and extremely amplified road noise wafted into our sleeping berth. But other than that, it was a lovely ride, and we actually managed to get some sleep. 

When we reached Thakhek, we got a room at a bus terminal guest house, for about $7. In the morning we took a tuk tuk to the central bus terminal. We had breakfast pho at the market in a lovely little family owned market stall. I do hope this one doesn't come back to haunt us… We took the 7am tuk tuk bus for 4 hours, up to Kong Lor. We found out that the bus to Vientiene doesn't come until the next morning, so we booked an all too convenient room where the bus dropped us off. It was about $6. Luckily the cave was only about 1km away, and there was still lots of time to see it.

The walk though the park to the cave

The cave was amazing. We paid our entrance fee to the park (about $2.50 each). Then we paid for the boat ride, which was about $15. We walked down across the turquoise river and into the mouth of the cave. Inside there were many little wooden boats. Half of them were filled with water, some were actually under the water, and a few were only slightly filled with water. Our guide was bailing one of the half filled boats. Hmmm. He started his home made lawnmower engine motor, and put the 8 foot long shaft out behind him. Greg and I looked at each other and double checked the straps on each other’s life jackets. We crept forward in the 2 foot wide boat and sat single file on the narrow low wooden seats, feeling the water slosh around the flat worn planks that made up the bottom of the boat.

The mouth of the cave from inside
Amazing formations
Finally the other end of the cave
The mouth of the cave at the far end near the isolated village
I love this photo because it looks like there are two big holes in the water because of the reflections of the mountains
beautiful with the mountains reflecting
With a squeal from the motor, or, maybe from me, I wasn’t quite sure, we lurched forward at high speed into the darkest dark that only a cave can possess. No port or starboard lights in this black hole, just the dim little spelunking lights on our headbands lit the walls. It was better than any ride that Disney could ever produce. Not quite as safe of course, but isn't that half the rush? Our adrenaline ride ramped up when we realized we were going slightly uphill over a small waterfall, and then dancing across the rocks that made up rapids. We could feel the bottom of the boat bend and twist under our feet, and hear the scrape scrape of our guide bailing with one hand as he steered into complete blackness at full tilt. 

After about five minutes, we felt the front of the boat slide up a sandbank and come to a stop. He waved us out of the boat. “Go!” He commanded in his broken accent. “Other boat side” he added with the only other three English words he knew. He shoo’d us out of the boat. We gathered our shoes and stepped onto the soft sand, and saw a trail heading off into the cave. We followed the trail for half a kilometre past some of the best stalagmite and stalactite formations that I have ever seen. They were lit with dim lights. The beautiful eeriness of walking barefoot on a sandy path through a cave that is several miles in by river to an unknown destination was something I will not soon forget. We got to the end and our guide was there with the same boat. We continued for another five kilometres in the little boat, bouncing upstream over more rapids and little waterfalls. 

Near the end, he asked us to get out and help him push the boat up over the final set of rapids. I’m afraid that we were not too much help, and that that small man managed pretty well single handed to drag that heavy little boat up over the rocks.

We emerged somewhat blinded into the bright sun of a valley on the other side of the mountain, and headed up to a little village that has only had electricity since 2011. We bought some hot Lao coffee, and some kind of home made rice krispy snacks. The snack bars were great, the coffee, not so much. But we sat on the little bench and enjoyed the sun shine filtering through the jungle canopy. 

Too soon, we got back into our little boat and raced back through the 7 km long cave in the other direction, down the waterfalls and over the rapids, racing faster with the current in the blackness.

I have to say that I have seen a lot of caves in my life, but this was different.

In the evening, we took a walk through the village of Kong Lor. It was really beautiful and followed the riverbank. It is a true village with many bamboo houses. There are a few houses at the are little variety stores. We saw one man staining the trim on his house a dark red teak colour and we gave him a thumbs up to say it looked good. He was quite happy with such a complement and when were on the way back he came out to shake hands and show us his final job. The kids were happy when we took pictures of them and even their parents were proud that we took photos of their children. We watched the families in the river and laugh and joke as they took their evening baths. The saddest mangy dog you have ever seen decided to be our friend and followed us the entire time, making sure that no other dogs go close enough that we could pat them. In the end, I felt sorry enough for this poor dedicated beast, that I patted him and said some nice things to him. He swelled with pride and would have come to the ends of the earth with us if he could have. 

little bridges in the village
happy village children - always so excited to see guests
The main crop here is tobacco
The houses are all built on stilts. In the dry months people sleep downstairs in the open air where it is cooler. 
The children all run together and pose for pictures - so happy for the attention!

Then they start putting on antics to keep you taking pictures!
So pretty with all the banana plants
These tractor-mobiles are very common here
quiet little lanes
yes, our large bus went over this small wooden bridge:)