The highlight of many Laos-visitor, Luang Prabang, was a definite let-down for us. Camping/Parking was “not to bad” on the boulevard, but the town itself is big, dirty and ugly. Not at all the colonial French pearl it is portrait to be.
So the next day we left it behind us and visited a very pretty waterfall nearby. Sadly it was so crowded with half-nude backpackers hanging around the water-pools (also the ones with clear “do not enter signs”), drinking beer and smoking what ever it is backpackers smoke these days, that it was just about impossible to even take a snapshot without someone walking in front of your lens or bouncing up against you.
Hopefully Vang Vieng is better.
And it was. We found a wonderful place to spend a few days in the large garden of a bungalow-park. We wandered around town, soaking up the techno-beat that flowed out of the many bars, had some nice meal and some less nice meals and went for a canoeing trip down the famed “Nam Song” river which is lined by towering rock-formations… and various bars that provide you with the necessary techno-beat.
It was Tip´s first time in a canoe and when we went down the first set of rapids (not exactly class 5, but wild enough) we did not capsize. She is a natural.
It was good old-fashioned fun.
But, the open roads were calling us so we loaded up with water and diesel, had the little boat, which by now was dark brown of color, washed and left heading south.
"You shall not pass !"
We drove straight through Vientiane, the capital, but it was Sunday and the roads were empty, so we soon emerged on the other side heading down highway 13… At least, that is what we though we did. In reality we were driving on a small, unpaved, road that run parallel to highway 13, but we could not see this due to an error in the digital map. The highway was not visible above zoom-level 3 (which is about 1 cm for 1 km) so we were just wondering why highway 13 was not paved. Specially strange because 15 years earlier I rode it with my bike and is was perfectly paved. After an hour of dusty and bumpy “road” we had enough and while Tip went out to ask someone, I checked Google Maps. Ooops… 15 minutes later we drove on the smooth pavement of the real highway 13.
Now we were heading for the Kong Lor cave but there was a snag. Or rather a bridge. Or rather a big steel beam on top of the bridge, some 2.5 meters above its pavement… and we are… ehhhh… 3.1 meters high… and the cave was still 45 km further down the only road.
First we asked if there was a different route… which they told us there was not.
Then we asked if there was a bus from where we were… which they told us there was not.
Then we asked if we could rent a motorcycle where we were… which they told us we could not.
So, we went to the nearest town 20 km back on the highway. A shit-hole with a bus-station and a motorcycle rental agency. Both wanted outrageous prices for mediocre services and “only tomorrow”, so stay in my even more mediocre hotel.
No thank you.
Back at the bridge we started to ask around and after a bit of friendly chatting were told that the beam could be removed for us, but unfortunately…. You needed a crane for this.
Then someone shared a well kept secret… There was an other way. (It seems there always is). It was used by big trucks but they said we should be able to pass there as well. They explained the 4 km d-tour and off we went.
Part of this d-tour consisted of a small river (after all, it started with a bridge, remember?) and this is where things went rather “ape-shit”.
The river was so ridiculously small that I found it not necessary to “walk it” first. Tip even warned me about the big pointy boulder halfway, but I did not see it as a problem.
Well… Guess what?… It turned out to be a rather big problem because on both sides of this boulder the river had a nasty hole, made by the tires of the big trucks that use this route.
Little Boat dove its nose deep into the water, pinning that sharp pointy rock straight into our AC-radiator and pinning us down with our rear wheels digging more holes for those who come after us.
“Don´t rock the boat” they say… but that was exactly what I did to get us free and clear of the rock, forwards and backwards, every time grinding that rock deeper into our poor AC-radiator, until we literally “broke free”. Freon mixed with water created an impressive fog-machine and for a moment I even feared our cooling-radiator was also ruptured, but luckily the steam that came out was cold.
Rather upset and rather warm without the AC we continued our quest with open windows, sucking in the bull-dust that was widely available on this secret trail. We both hoped the cave would be worth it.
Spoiler-alert: It was.
We found a friendly guesthouse that offered us free parking for the night in their garden and started clearing out the dust that we had collected on our way in.
We both silently agreed not to mention the little but terrifying fact that we had to cross that little river again to get out of here.
The next morning things looked brighter again. They always do. So, we set off, on foot, to the cave. Though the entrance was a bit shabby and the prices were a bit shabby as well, things soon turned out to be pretty damn cool.
This place is not about a cave. This place is about a river and a mountain that had met each other a few millennia ago. The result of this meeting was an underground river that cut straight through the mountain and emerged at the other side. And we were in a boat, on this river.
At first we raced through pitch black darkness through sometimes tight and sometimes massively wide tunnels, carved out by water and time. Soon our eyes adjusted to the faint light of our flashlights and we could see what we did. A roller-coaster ride in a boat through curvy tunnels passing small rapids and big boulders. It was amazing.
After half an hour of this thrill we stopped at a large cathedral-like cavern where they had put up spotlights and created a wonderful light and dark scenery with stalagmites and rock-curtains and fairy-tale castles.
On the other side of the cavern our boatman was waiting for us to do an other half hour of tunnel-racing.
And then there was light at the end of the tunnel. Brighter and brighter until suddenly we were surrounded by green jungle and bright, warm sunlight. We had crossed the mountains underneath. A "Lords of the Rings" kind of adventure in the mines of Mordor.
After a rest and a warming up (it is chilly where there is never any sunlight), we returned on the same river, going even faster now we were heading downstream.
Later that night we both agreed: This cave was well worth a broken AC-radiator and the stress of being stuck in the middle of no-where.
Now you are wondering whether we made it out of there?
Well… you´ll just have to wait for our next blog-bla-bla… And if it does not come… we did not make it.
You shall not pass !