When we finished our rest days in Vang Viegn we were full of commitment so we left for another adventure. There are caves and lagoons on the West from Vang Vieng where all the tourists goes from this little town. But our intention was different. We found a tiny road going South from caves through a jungle and little villages, so we decided to explore it. It was amazing ride just until the road turned into a different direction than was shown in our map.
When I realised that we went wrong way I prompted to turn back. But the map lead us to an overgrown grass and bushes until the path completely disappeared and Dasha got nervous. That was actually a signal for me to keep calm and think twice. I suggested to follow the widest road one more time to check if it wasn’t a detour made by locals. We went 300m, 600m, 800m. When I checked the map again we were completely of the track. We got further and further from the road shown in our app. So we returned to the place where our road disappeared and Dasha got more nervous than before. I knew that we had to cross a river. I pushed my bike through the overgrown grass, through bushes until I realised we were in a riverbed. We could hear the river, but we couldn’t see it. Dasha was in panic but she got a brilliant idea. There was a third path which followed a bank. The path was wide enough for a motorbike, so we went that direction. Heureka! There was an old wooden bridge and beyond it there was the road from the map. I was so happy but Dasha kept her scared face. Last hour exhausted Dasha so much that she didn’t speak and just pushed her bike up a hill behind the bridge. We carried on! Once we got to the top of the hill, our road got flatter and we really enjoyed downhills on a hardpacked clay road through bamboo tunnels.
Dasha got really tired and we slowed down. It took us longer than was expected to reach the next village. It was nice refreshment to cross a river just before we got back into civilization. A guesthouse were we wanted to stay that night was full. Damn. The next accomodation was in Hinheup 10km further. Dasha was really hungry and tired so my highest priority was to ensure real food. A couple of kilometers down the road there was a food stall. We got a noodle soup which kept us going. It got darker and we could observe a sunset from our seats. It got yellow, orange and dark red colours until they all faded away into night which was disturbed by our bright head lights. Nine hours on the road it was our longest day we have ever done and the next day was Christmas Eve, the day which is celebrated in Czech tradition of Christmas.
After the really hard day we decided to spent Christmas Eve in Laos capital instead of somewhere in the middle of nowhere. In the morning we left for a 93km long bikeride to Vientiane. Six hours and it was done. We got a shower, a nice accomodation and pizza as Chirstmas Eve dinner. It was our fourth Christmas abroad without our families. The next Christmas will be home in our Beskydy Mountains with our beloved ones. Lucky for us Lao people do not celebrate Christmas so I had big chances to got a new chain and a new stem. Why the stem? Since Thiland I got numb two fingers on both my hands which was a result of a poor bike fitting. I was too stratched to reach handle bars. After two days in Vientiane I got the chain and the stem changed so we could continue with our travels. What was the next? Four day travers to Kong Lor Cave where we decided to welcome New Year 2018.
The travers itself wasn’t very interresting. A flat highway and it was overcasted so there was nothing to see until the third day. That day hills appeared on a horizont and sun came out. It was 30th December when we reached Spring River Resort in Kong Lor village. The accomodation looked fancy and there was always smiling staff in uniforms. No wonder why, the resort is owned by Thomas from Switzerland. The last day of 2017 we enjoyed paddeling on a river together with our new friends Gery and Marya who currently live and work in Vietnam and were here on holidays. We welcomed New Year 2018 by a campfire with Gery and Marya and other resort visitors.
We have a saying in Czech: Both for the New Year and for the whole year. I am not sure how to translate it but meaning is – How you start on New Year Day then whole year will be similiar to it. So we try to do all the best that day to have a great year. So it was just to explain and now back to what we did on our New Year’s Day. We didn’t rush, we packed ourselves and went to Kong Lor Cave to check whether we got through or not. Unfortunatelly tourists are often seen as walking walets and not as humans in such countries as Laos. We paid entry fee to the cave area and then we had to buy a boat ticket. The pricelist on a counter spoke clearly. 1 Person – 110K LAK/boat, 2 People – 120K LAK/boat and 3 People 130K LAK/boat. We were asked for 150K LAK/boat and we had to take two boats. My question why we had to pay 40 000 LAK/boat extra a cashier couldn’t answer. A bargain game started. Our blood pressure and heart beats rised as well as our voices. The all terminated by ironic laugh and twisting my head. The guy said: „150 000 LAK per boat or no boat.“ Dasha got angry and was ready to leave. I turned to boatsmen sitting next to the counter and asked: „Who wants my 130 000 LAK per boat?!“ There was a silent moment but eventually two boatsmen stood up and guided us to the cave. It was only a little win. We took all what we had, all essentials we have for our lives and put them on wooden boats and we had no control whether we got to the other end of the cave or we sank somewhere inside. We didn’t get any life jackets neither even there were some hanging inside of the ticket office. Nobody bothered to pay attention to safety of bargaining tourists.
The cave entry reminded me an open mouth of an stoned giant. The cave was huge and I felt so little. Bikes were on board and we were ready for the ride. I felt so meaningless and powerless on the boat. I couldn’t do anything except to trust the young boatman. On top of my feelings I was worried about Dasha. She was somewhere behind us on the second boat and I could see her only twice because of all curves inside the rocky maze. What a relieve when I saw first sun rays on the other side of the cave! The south side of the cave is occupied by stalls with food and crafts of local people. We were full of impressions. We were amazed by the beauty and the size of domes, terified by powerless and pumped with adrenalin from the boat ride in the darkness. We survived! We had to sit down and got together, so we bought some crackers and some drinks and then we could go and look for some accomodation in near by villages. Even we read online there were some guesthouses in the villages, we couldn’t find any signs pointing to accomodation except one asking visitors to stay right into villagers homes. So we started asking people where we could stay. We were lucky when we biked through Phon Kham village. From one wooden house staying on pillars we got invited by a young girl. It was 15 years old girl Khom Phan who is learing English in local school.
First we were very shy whithout knowledge of local habits. We stayed in a corner for a while, then we put our belongings into a main room upstairs and went for a walk. After 5 minutes we were back in our temporary home. We rested, wrote our diaries and watched what happened around us. It got dark outside and other family members returned home. To ease athmosphere I pulled out my notebook, pen and started drawing animals with their English names. After a while the whole family sat around and guessed what is what, requested another animals to be drawn and translated English words to Lao language. When we finished our dinner we tasted lao whisky called Laolao. The whisky encurraged me enough to try to compare my strenght with Khom Phan’s brother, young farmer. We started an arm wrestling. Who won in right arm round? Nobody, our power was even. We didn’t move from a spot. We tried left arms. I wasn’t sure about my strength but result was the same. Even. The young farmer scratched his head and came with an idea of a leg wrestling. It was pretty clear here. My trained legs couldn’t compare to farmers skinny legs. It was too easy for me. It was late, family and us felt tired so we went to sleep. We had last three days in Laos ahead.
We didn’t count with a breakfast but we were really greatful for what was served to us. Same as last night we got noodles with vegetables, egg and sticky rice. Khom Phan and her Mom tied cotton strings around our wrists while saying their prayers during the breakfast. This little ceremony remindes their tradition called Baci also known as Sou Khuan and they do it in any occasion. Sou Khuan can be translated as „calling spirits.“ Lao people belive that each organ in a human body has its spirit and from time to time the spirit can wander away and therefore they do this ceremony to harmonize the body and wish good health and luck to the person. When we said good bye to Khom Phan and her family we left to the cold morning and didn’t know that it probably was our best day in Laos. We biked through little villages without any rubbish layed around, we cheered with kids and adults and everything was as it should be, just perfect. We were very happy that we biked those 50 kilometers on gravel road in remote valley where not many tourist go and that we discovered Laos in a state how it was before a tourism. Beautiful and rustic.
This experience couldn’t be overcome, even though we were excited to see an artifitial lake North of Nakai next days and actually by the whole road to Lak Sao from where it wasn’t far away to a Lao-Vietnam border up in the mountains, where our journey through Laos ended.
Distance riden: 1004 km
Meters climbed: 9685 m
Highest point passed: 1419 m n. m.
Duration: 25 days including 9 rest days
Nights in tent: 0
Rainy days: 0
Falls score: still 2:2
Bikes maintanance/service: Jakub changed chain and stem