(Also known as “The Trip of a Lifetime!”)
Getting to Tha Khaek
It was a hot daytime ride from the capital, Vientiane, to Tha Khaek in central Laos. Myself and Orna were joined by Ecuadorian Janeth, and Englishman Charlie on the seven hour journey that isn’t on the main tourist trail. Aboard the local bus one would never fear hunger as at numerous points along the road locals hopped on and sold their wares of chewing gum, fruit in plastic bags, water and pastries. It felt like a human zoo as everyone shouted and hung goods in my face. The toilet break didn’t even bring us to a dingy restaurant with squatters. We stopped by the side of the road, men on one side, women in the bushes on the other. It was open air squatting among mountains of tissue from previous users!
When we eventually arrived at the bus station it seemed as if the tuk tuk drivers weren’t bothered getting any work. It was bizarre. Eventually eight of us squashed into one tuk tuk, big rucksacks and all. We stayed in the Tha Khaek Travel Lodge, read of past experiences of previous Loopers in the log book and sang songs over an open campfire.
Day 1 – The Road to Hello (Sabaidee)
After trying to source ourselves some automatic motorbikes, we eventually set off with small school bags of provisions for our four-day adventure. The views were just glorious, travelling through karst mountains with the wind blowing through our hair (beneath our helmets of course). There was little traffic so we had the road to ourselves with Charlie taking the lead on the semi-automatic bike. We did the 10km dusty, bumpy ride to and from the Buddah Cave. Despite having trousers on, Janeth was forced to rent a wrap skirt. Charlie tried frog on a stick afterwards as we sat down and drank coconut water (in a carton!). As the sun began to set, we arrived at the small village of Sabaidee. It was just magical as we watched the sun fall below the horizon across a lake. The colours were a spectacular end to a long day of wondrous driving. We had a dorm to ourselves and fell asleep to the sound of a fan so big it seemed about to take off!
Day 2 – The Dusty Way
Face masks in tow, we set off on what was to be the most challenging day – 20km of red dirt road. As we bumped along I couldn’t help but laugh to myself about how the red, rocky, narrow (at times) road was the main road around that part of the loop. The earth cast off a brilliant orange/red glow full of life and energy, and was paired perfectly with the odd occurrence of green foliage as a backdrop. I loved bumping and maneuvering over the challenging landscape, much more than going 70km down a main road. By the time we stopped for lunch in Lak Sao (where everyone says not to stay overnight), I had a fantastic tan of orange dust.
It was beautiful and heart-warming to travel through small, dusty villages and have children shout “Sabaidee” in delight at the tourists that they hardly ever see. We took a few wrong turns but eventually made it to the village of Kuon Kharn and stayed in a luxurious room with two double beds for 2.50 euro each. Disaster struck when I couldn’t work the shower and got locked outside of our room for about an hour. Covered in dust and dirt, a hot shower was all I needed. Meanwhile the three others were content to remain manky for a while longer. The concentration of the day had me exhausted and I balled like a baby until I got help!
Day 3 – Konglor Cave
We made the easy, calming, glorious secluded ride to Konglor Cave. We passed small clutterings of ramshackle houses along a road surrounded by fields. The pure serenity and enjoyment as we glided along was astounding. Each of us in our own world as we took in the sights, sounds, and smells.
The cave itself was an experience. One hour one way in the dark on a little canoe with head torches was how it happened. The boat trip was exciting, scary and anxiety-wrenching, especially as we had to evacuate the canoe momentarily so that it could be sent up the current. Later a foreign man looked at me in disbelief as I made myself a crisp sandwich! We ended the journey with a dip in the river, fooling around like children let out for their summer holidays!
That evening we went in search of a homestay. We followed a man who got us to follow another man. He led us up a stairs to his wooden house on stilts that was to be home for the night. The four travellers sat cross-legged on the floor around a tiny round metal table to a dinner of sticky rice in a wooden basket with green vegetables and egg. Afterwards we were joined by the man of the house (grandfather), his wife and two daughters and their five children combined. The evening of sitting on the wooden floor with thin mats was a complete Laotian experience. The grandmother, whose back was so bent, probably from years on the rice fields, helped the girls with their homework and was able to chat a little with us. We tried our best to communicate with the few words we were given on the back of our hand-drawn map but used universal gestures as well as games to communicate with the glowing, smiling children. “Eeny Meeny Miney Mo” went down a treat, as did “Down By the River” and other clapping games. I felt humbled to be welcomed into their home. That night we went to bed at 10pm on thin mattresses laid side by side on the floor, with small hard pillows and one mosquito net over us all. We went to sleep to the sounds of cocks beneath us and were woken up the same way.
Day 4 – The Road Home (The Last Leg)
Breakfast at 6.30am was the same as dinner the night before. We said our goodbyes and hit the road at 7.40am. We retraced our steps down the beautiful barren road. At times we stumbled upon children walking, cycling, motorbiking or on buses on their way to school. Some waved and giggled while others were too cool to salute! Some grannies waved us on our way while a young boy of about four was work-bound with his mother and a shovel in tow. The long highway home was more about testing our speed skills rather than seeing many sights but our stop off for a noodle soup was delicious. There was only one or two choices for food so not hard to pick!
We made it back to Tha Khaek and the Travel Lodge. As the dust began to settle we devoured all food in sight and talked about the amazing adventure we had just completed, the one that made a big stamp in our hearts.
Our Travel Entry