05.07.2012 30 °C
Once again I've learnt not to judge a book by its cover. On arrival in Tha Khaek I was not impressed. Another dusty town, unfinished roads, big new houses and lots of Toyota Hi-Lux vehicles. Arriving from Vientiane was easy, as things go in Laos. Taking the VIP bus in this country is never less than interesting especially when the plastic chairs are put down the aisle. The town of Tha Khaek itself is pretty grim but there's some beautiful countryside all around. On our second day we attempted to visit five local caves, four of which were inaccessible due to the heavy rains in the last few days. The only cave we managed to access had to be done by boat. The road stopped 400 metres short of the entrance so we had to take two boats to enter. Inside were a number of Buddha statues and absolute tranquility. The statues were surrounded by stalactites and stalagmites and the setting was wonderful.
Due to poor planning and even poorer geographic knowledge we has missed the famous Kong Lor Cave on our way to Tha Khaek. We decided to stay another day and double-back on ourselves about 140km. We hired a minivan and driver to make the journey and we are so glad that we did. It was the highlight of the holiday for me. The cave entrance sits on one side of a mountain and the exit is about 7km on the other side. Once again we needed two boats but the journey was one of the most incredible couple of hours I've ever experienced. You enter the underground river into a limestone mountain and at one point you alight from the boat to wander through a section of the cave. It was half 'Mines of Moria' from Lord of the Rings and half lunar landscape. As a non-swimmer it was pretty terrifying at first but the boatmen were incredible, navigating by using memory and a torch strapped to their head. Once you get out the other side it only gets better as there's only one way back, through the cave again. There@s a village on the other side and the cave route is their only connection with the outside world.
We've landed in a place called Champasak this evening and it's pretty beautiful. We'll hang here for a few days until we make the final leg of our journey south to the 4000 Islands. All in all Laos is a incredible place. There'll be plenty of memories to cherish from our time here. If you ever have a month to kill and are filled with wanderlust I'd highly recommend it as a destination.