We leave the North of Lao and its magnificent landscapes, to discover the South of the country. After a short stopover in Vientiane, the capital city, we take a bus to Thakhek, to make the loop by motorbike. Lets’ go for an article with music!
Thakhek, the ghost town?
Arriving on Thakhek late in the afternoon, we know we do not want to stay here. We will rent our motorcycle at Wang Wang (like everyone else) and take the road for 4 days on the famous “loop” that we hear about from the beginning of our trip in Lao.
So, we are not really looking into a nice hostel, and we share a tuk tuk with 4 other backpackers to reach the Travelodge, where everyone stays before heading out to the loop. On our way, we read advice on the internet saying that there is some bed bugs, these tiny insects that bite you during your sleep and leaves you a delicious need to scratch for several days… Not to mention that they “contaminate” your clothes and that the best solution is still to burn them… Nice! We politely decline the offer and go looking for another hosting.
We tour the other hotels in the street and finally get to put our backpacks before dinner. There is not much to do in our neighborhood. We think Thakhek isn’t a hyper interesting city at first glance. Who cares? It’s for one night!
The bike rental
Reading several articles, we know where to go to have a motorbike of good quality at a decent price: at WANG WANG! Even the locals know it. So it is not difficult to make you understood when you want to go there by tuk tuk.
The agency has many motorcycles, automatic scooters, semi-automatic and manuals motorbikes. Everyone can find his happiness, if you pay the price. Initially we wanted to take a manual to remind us a bit the bike left at home, but it is 4 times the price of the other bikes. So, this will be a semi-automatic Honda (Mister will love change speeds).
While Mister ride on the public place to check that everything works as it should, I’m merging our clothes into a single backpack for the next 4 days. We only take a big bag with the rain cover, just in case. The rest of the stuff will stay at the agency while we are gone.
Once the gear loaded, our beautiful helmets selected and the k-ways worn, we can take the road. Let’s go for a real experience of Born To Be wild!
Our experience on the loop
We got a map of the loop on the site of blouptrotters, who offered an interesting and quite detailed itinerary. So, we follow their advice for the first day. We stop at a first cave, the cave Liap Xien. Then in a second: the Tham his In Pha. We’re taking our courage in both hands and go down to the edge of the water at the bottom of the cave before swimming to the center of it where there is a great shaft of light. We’re unable to tell you if there are things in the water because it’s really dark. But we feel a couple things swimming next to us. I see my mom reading this passage and saying, “but they are crazy… Diving into the water in the dark, alone, in the depths of a cave, we have no idea! “. 😉
Now that we’re well wet, we take the road towards the 3rd cave: Tham Nang Ene. We pay the entrance fee to get to the entrance of the multicolored cave. When we read multicolor, we thought lots of skylights, but actually not at all. There is an artificial lighting of all colors that tint the stalactites and stalagmites in red, blue, green, etc. Jean-Michel Jarre would love to produce here!
Back on the road in the direction of our first basecamp for the night: the Sabaidee guesthouse. The road goes along an artificial lake created by a dam. You can see many dead trees, of which only remains trunks in the water. These landscapes are surreal, almost apocalyptic.
We take the road in the direction of the village of Konglor. The program of the day: stop at the Buddhist temple of Laksao. The Lao temples are really beautiful. And the front door of this one, red and gold, is impressive. It’s really relaxing place and very spiritual.
We go back on our motorbike riding to the cool springs, a water point at the foot of the mountains, where the water is crystal clear. The gps is not very good since we’re on the wrong road and end up on a path where we get stuck in the puddles. At the end of perhaps 1 km (which lasts 1 hour in our heads), we face a huge pool… Is that the cool springs? No No, it’s just a pond for ducks in the middle of the rice fields. “Turn around as soon as possible!”.
We backtrack, to end to smear the bike which will appreciate this mud bath (it’s good for the body) and take the road up to a sign indicating the water point. We find ourselves on a new road, well more passable and arrive safely after this little adventure. There is a group of backpackers we met last night at the guesthouse which are already swimming. When we ask them if the water is good, it’s slamming teeth that they say “it is… refreshing! “.” OK, so we’ll stay at the edge and watch the fish swimming, it will save us a pneumonia. 🙂
After a little photo shoot, we continue our ride towards the village of Konglor where we spend the night. And here, it’s really long, very long… We have to do at least 40 km on a straight road, full of holes, and punctuated by crossing of buffaloes, dogs, ducks, goats and other animals of Martine at the farm. Misterr has had enough of being on the road all day long. We trace directly to the village.
A guesthouse is recommended on the itinerary that we follow, but we are not convinced when we see the room. So, we’re going a little further, in a brand-new guesthouse. Certainly, there are a few (large) cockroaches who visit the bathroom at night, but otherwise it is very comfortable and the roof terrace allows you to enjoy the view.
Today is the “main event” day. We are visiting the Konglor cave, apparently THE travel experience! Cool, we are excited!
We walk to the entrance with three German girls that we met the first day, in one of the caves. They take a boat all three of them and we take another one for the two of us. Wait here… A boat??? In a cave? And we are given a front light? Are we doing caving? Actually, no, not at all.
We follow our guide to his small boat, at the entrance of the cave, which is already dark. He starts the engine and here we go! We’re moving in the dark, just illuminated by our lights. I mean especially the guide’s light because ours make a very little halo of light. It’s amazing to move as quickly on the water, seeing absolutely nothing. Our eyes adjust to the dark, but it’s so big in there, that we can’t see the ceiling of the cave. We make a stop in a slightly more enlightened area, where you can walk in the middle of the stalactites and stalagmites, well highlighted. We will learn later that the Auvergne Rhône-Alpes region (ours!) funded this installation. What for? Sorry, we don’t know…
After this walk in the middle of the cave, we get back on our boat and rush again on the water. There is not a lot of water and we are forced to come down in some places from the mini-rapides. It’s very funny.
The output across the cave is dazzling, in every sense of the word! You lose sight, blinded by the sun and this sudden return to light. The landscape ahead of us is exceptional. We’re on the water in the middle of the jungle, there is not a noise nearby. It’s magic! We go to a village, where we do a short break before going back to boat in the opposite direction.
At the end of the visit, we have big smiling faces, like two children. The Konglor cave is a wonderful experience and you come out really happy. Even the journey back on the straight line on the bike seems short.
As it is still early, we decide to enjoy the afternoon and climb up to the view point on the region and its kartic mountains. The view is beautiful there, although a little cloudy. It’s like in the Avatar world.
Down in the Valley, we go to the Nam Sanam waterfall, hidden in the middle of the jungle. After an hour walk sweating and avoiding mosquito bites, we arrive to the famous waterfall. There is only a small trickle of water at the moment, because this is just the beginning of the rainy season. But Misterr climbs on the top and can take very nice pictures.
This is our last day on the loop. Today, we have to do 150 km to reach the city center where we rented the bike. It begins to rain when we hit the road. Could this be a sign?
To spice up the adventure, which until then was pretty easy, we discover we punctured the rear tire, just at the exit of the city. Our motorcycle slips on the wet road. Mister goes down with our motorbike back to the city and I am walking behind him, the bag on my back. And it is raining.
Fortunately there is a gas station just down the mountain and a garage just next door. So, we can change the flat tire without any problem and go back on the road safely. We definitely have no chance with motorcycles (see our episodes in the South of Vietnam and Phu Quoc).
On the road again, again… It’s the longest day. We will not stop despite the storm and drive for a while before making a mini-break at the roadside due to ants in the butt. When do we arrive?
Our butts and backs thank us when we give the bike back to Wang Wang and that we decide to stay in a good hotel in the city center. No cockroach, separate wc / shower (Yes it is exceptional in Asia to be stressed), a balcony, an air conditioner, clean and fluffy white sheets… A real luxury! But it is well deserved after 500 km riding our bike! 🙂
We enjoy two days off before going on the rest of the trip in the South of Lao, near the border with Cambodia, on the 4 000 islands. But this new episode will be the subject of another article. See you soon!