The Loop

Trip Start Nov 15, 2008
Trip End Jun 15, 2009

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Flag of Lao Peoples Dem Rep  ,
Sunday, May 10, 2009

We caught a local bus from Pakse to Thakhet, and it was what we like to call and 'experience'.  When we first saw the bus we didn't think it would make it out of the bus station let alone all the way to Thakhet.  It was so overloaded the roof looked like it was going to collapse, and the amount of rust everywhere didn't give us much confidence.  It took 10 hrs to travel about 400kms.  Oh yeah there were chickens as well, how could I forget the chickens!

We stayed in a really nice place called the Thakhet Travel Lodge, our room was huge and had a really nice four poster bed with mosquito net draped over, it looked very luxurious.  We were originally going to do a day trip on a motorbike to see some caves and swimming holes, but after reading a log book other people had left about doing the 3-4 day 'loop' we decided to give the whole thing a go.
We got our bikes off Mr. Ku who had a shop just at the travel lodge.  I hadn't ridden a bike with gears before and Dave hadn't ridden at all, but the gears were easy and neither of us had problems.  We started off at 9 am and headed down Route 12 to see some caves and a swimming hole.  The scenery was amazing, huge imposing jagged mountains covered in jungle.  At first we couldn't find any of the places we were looking for, but eventually we found the turn off to Tha Falang a swimming spot that was meant to be beautiful.  Unfortunately the road was only dirt and as it had been raining it had turned into mud.  We tried to go down but only got about 300 meters before my bike slipped and then I slipped and I ended up burning my calf on the muffler.  I have to say it didn't look very good, a bit chard and white, so I quickly did a bit of first aid and we turned our bikes around to try a different place.
We stopped at Xiang Liab Cave, but this was completely flooded too so we only got to the entrance to peer in.  We continued on to Mahaxai a small town on the river and stopped for lunch.  It was simple, just sticky rice and a vegetable stir fry, but it was so tasty, and it only cost us 20,000kip!  We then rode on to our next destination Tha Long where we were going to spend the night.  The road took us up some windy hills and then through an area where a dam had just been built.  It was interesting to see the water taking over the land, with trees still standing in the middle of a big lake.  The road had turned into a dirt one, it was vey bumpy but there weren't any pot holes so it was easy just slow.
Our guest house was very basic for the night, but the building looked quiet new and everything was clean.  Our shower for the night consisted of tipping cold water over our heads from a big bucket.  This was done next to the squat toilet, but I have never felt so refreshed.  We had another simple but tasty meal that night, seasoned pork chops and rice with dipping sauce.  The sun set was also really spectacular, with all the reds and oranges you can imagine.  We went to bed early that night just as a storm was coming over.
We woke up at about 7am to a beautiful day.  We hopped on our bikes and head off.  We had ridden about 15kms down the road when Dave ran out of fuel.  It looked as though his bike had been leaking fuel from somewhere overnight, so where as mine was almost full his was bone dry.  We stood there for a while in the middle of nowhere wondering what to do when a local guy drove past and stopped to see if we were ok.  He spoke very little English but we were able to explain what had happened.  He then started dismantling my bike to get to the fuel line.  He disconnected it and filled up an empty water bottle with my fuel which he then poured into Dave's tank.  Now that was cleaver thinking.  We thanked him hugely and gave him a little koala for his trouble.  He told us we would make it to the next town where we could fill up.
The road continued on as it had been, winding through forest and lake.  We felt like we had been riding for ages and all the while not passing a single village.  Then the road got really bad, dirt and pot holes everywhere, and a good bit of mud thrown in for fun.  Finally we reached a village, we could now relax.  We pulled in and asked where we could get some fuel.  No one wanted to talk to us, and most of them ran away!  We finally were able to ask one girl and she just shook her head and ran away too.  We were very confused and getting a bit desperate, but what could we do.
Not to much further up the road we eventually came to a little road shop, just as Dave ran out of fuel.  We filled both tanks up and continued on feeling a lot happier.  The road continued to be bad, but the surrounding country side remained breathtaking.  We made it to Lak Sao and got some lunch.  We just wanted some stir fry type concoction, but we just couldn't communicate with the locals, so we ended up getting one of the flattened chickens on a stick (we were very hesitant about it) and some sticky rice.  But it tasted ok, and filled a hole.  Just as we were finishing lunch I noticed some very black rain clouds heading our way and we decided to get going before the rain came.
We made it about 5 kms down the road before it started to belt down.  We tried to wait it out, but every time it looked like easing it started back even heavier then before, we decided we would just have to go.  We got soaked.  The rain started at 12 and was still going when we finally made it to Nahin at 4.  Now we were cold as well as wet and just to make things even more uncomfortable no where had accommodation free! 
We were finally led by a lady to her sister's place where she was just opening a guest house.  We were going to be the first guests, and it was so new that the bed didn't have a mattress and the room didn't have a door!  They did fix it up for us and it turned out to be comfortable enough, but just to have somewhere dry to sleep we were happy.
The next day we had another early start and headed to Kong Lor Cave.  This was 40kms down a side road.  The road was new and very flat so we made good time.  The cave had a river running through it and was 7kms long.  We had to walk through a bit of water at the beginning over some rocks and then got into our boat, a little dug out motorised canoe.  It was very cool floating on this underground river, everything in darkness bar what was outlined by your torch.  Some of the caverns were huge, so huge that your torch couldn't even make it to the roof.
We went the whole way through and ended up popping out the other end.  It felt like we had travelled through a porthole, like stepping into the cupboard and coming out in Narnia.  It was so warm and sunny after being underground for so long, quiet and beautiful.  We got let off the boat for a rest for about 40mins (during this time we had no idea why we had stopped) and then we got back in the boat to return.
 I still don't know if they meant for us to go down the rapid or not, but on the way back we drove straight down a small rapid that we had had to walk over on the way up.  As a result of this decision we ended up crashing into a rock and basically capsizing.  Not only was I and my bag wet, but the motor had been submerged and was now not working.   We had to spend about 15mins standing in the dark waiting for him to fix it.  Had I mentioned that the cave had the largest underground spiders in the world living in it?? I was starting to get a bit nervous to get moving!  Once it was fixed we stopped to look at an area where there was a group of stalagmite and stalactites.  They weren't the best ones we have seen, but nice anyway.  Kong Lor cave was a very cool place to go to, and I was very happy that we had done it.
The weather started to look like it was changing again so we jumped on the bikes and headed for home.  We got to ride on a great road that was very windy and very fun.  It went up and down a few mountains and we saw a few good view points as well as a huge 2m snake that was sunning itself on the road.  Basically we got about 15kms from home before it started to belt down again and soak us through once more.
All in all even with the rain and the burn it was an enjoyable and exciting few days, and if done in the dry season more it would have been unforgettable.  I think Dave might be getting his bike licence when we get home as well.
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