The Loop

We left Tad Lo on a local bus that took forever. It kept stopping for long breaks and continued to pick up more and more supplies on the way. By the time we arrived to Thakhaek in Central Laos the back of the bus and aisle were totally blocked by rice sacks, lower baggage space was packed with live piglets and the top rack was carrying baskets, suitcases and big bags of who-knows-what. No surprise it took us 14 hours instead of 7 that we were told about. Yet we finally got to Thakhaek and the next morning we started planning our 3-day motorbike trip around Central Laos.

Our trip was delayed though. I suddenly got very sick with high fever and had to stay in bed for 2 days. Thakhaek was not one of the most pleasant places to stay and our hotel served ketchup-based food and instant noodle soups. I was determined to get better if only for these two reasons. I swallowed a dose of antibiotics and the sickness went away. We jumped on a motorbike and set off into beautiful Lao countryside.

On the first day we stopped to see a few caves and marveled at the views of karsts looming on the horizon. They looked like massive rocks put on a flat landscape by an invisible hand. Under the karsts farmers worked on rice paddies and villagers carried out their daily tasks. At the end of the day we stopped at a lovely guesthouse where we enjoyed excellent food, hot shower and comfortable bed. The last one was not easy to come by in Laos, beds are usually hard like table tops and pillows seem like chunks of wood. In the guesthouse we also met many lovely people from all over the world. The night was very cold, but we were warmed up by fire, delicious BBQ and funny road stories.

The day after we left before everyone else. We wanted to be on the road early because it was the longest and most difficult piece of road to tackle. Yet as soon as we set off we stopped several times to take photos of a fascinating scenery. For tens of kilometers to our left and right from where we were to the horizon line all we could see were dead trees standing in deep water. They were forests of haunted tree trunks which were mesmerizing and at the same time unsettling to see. There was a dam built on a river nearby a few years ago and thousands of hectares of forest has been flooded. Locals call it a lake and are happy with it, but it is far from a serene holiday destination. Its haunted beauty fascinated us though and we kept stopping until we got on a bad countryside road which required maximum attention. It was a dirt road with a few surprising holes and rocks here and there. Still, we heard horrific stories about that road and expected the worst, but in the end it was a normal country road. We’ve been on worse. It’s most troubling aspect was not the quality of the road, but cold. We were getting to higher altitudes and temperature was dropping with every meter. We were freezing and drove as fast as it was humanly possible. We were so determined to get back to lower altitudes that at lunch time we already arrived at Konglor where we were planning to stop for the night.

Konglor was a village with one of the most scenic locations I have ever been to. It was lying in a flat valley surrounded at 360 degrees by fields, rice paddies and further away tall karsts. It seemed closed from the rest of the world, living of its own food and money earned from tourism. Konglor was home to the most famous cave in Lao. It was 7km long and getting from one end of it to another by an engine boat took us 30 minutes. It’s impressively tall and completely dark. There is a river flowing through it and the boat enters at one end and exits on the other as if it was just a normal passage. If felt more like waters of Dandes than a road between work and home (which it was for some villagers).

The room we found in Konglor was right in the centre of the village and instead of seeing other foreigners we met mostly lovely smiling Lao people. It felt so good to be there among them that we were finding excuses to stay for just a little bit longer. We got up very early in the morning, had a walk around the village and fields, had very slow breakfast, went for another stroll and finally when we run out of ideas, we left Konglor. That day there was nothing else to do but go back to Thakhaek. Yet we did so on a winding picturesque road with karsts to our left and jungle all around us. Only the last 100 km on a highway were unpleasant. The road was boring and we were tired of riding on a motorbike. Our bums and shoulders were sore, stomachs empty and clothes dusty. We really wanted to get back to Thakhaek.

The day after while we were waiting for a bus to Vang Vieng we met a girl that we met on the loop a few days earlier. We exchanged experiences from the trip and it turned out that other people had many things happen to them on the road. One couple fell off their bike, somebody had a puncture in his tire and had to stop every now and then at a mechanic and she even had petrol stolen from her motorbike! The funniest story was when a girl went to a mechanic because there was some oily liquid leaking from her engine. The mechanic opened storage under the seat only to find out that it was a sun-screen that had spilled all over the motorbike. Another less funny story was about a girl that we met on the loop. She was on a trip through Konglor cave on the morning when we were leaving and the boat she was on with two other people got hit at full speed by another boat right where she was sitting. She had to jump out of the boat to avoid being hit. Apparently boat guides were drinking Lao Lao (local whisky) before getting on the boat. All they did though was laugh and joke about the incident. Safety measures are not something that is respected in Laos and considering how many adventure sports are offered here there are far more deaths in accidents than Lao would like to admit. Every river, cave and waterfall has its own victims, but nobody talks about it worried that it would put off tourists.

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