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Friday 5 Jul 2013
Kong Lor, Laos

Spooky river caves and beating the Aussies at rugby!

We left the Tad Leuk camp at 7am and drove back out along the dirt road - that was fun for those with sore heads! I tried to distract myself with a new audiobook (Neverwhere, by Neil Gaiman) but kept falling asleep and missing chunks of it.
Our next stop was a small village called Kong Lo in the Pho Hin Bun Protected Area (akin to a National Park). The real reason for a visit here is to travel through the eerie Kong Lo caves - a 7.5km subterranean river passage through the mountains. The only way is by long tail boats which take you across the wide river to the mouth of the cave. Clambering over the rocks down to the water's edge, Jill, Natalie and I climbed into one of these boats and quickly lamented not bringing our own head torches. The darkness descends within minutes with the only light coming from the guys at the front and back of the boat (one looking for rocks and the other steering). The noise and echoes of the motor made talking impossible, so all I could do was watch the rock ceiling rise and fall while the shadows danced around us from the torch beams. In some places we were avoiding low rocks, while in others it opened out into huge caverns above us.  About halfway we were let out onto a sandy inlet and led across a walkway around some fantastical rock formations made of stalactites and stalagmites, lit up with hidden spotlights. It was quite surreal, especially as this was an unguided tour, so there was no explanation given about the caves or how old they were. Mike later told us the passageway through had been discovered by a flock of ducks which went missing from a village on one side of the mountain and reappeared on the far side.
At the end of this walkway we climbed back into the boat and continued through to the far side. It was strange to see the pinprick of light gradually grow and reveal the enormous mouth of the cave, bringing us out into daylight and a river lined with lush green foliage after the barren wilderness of the cave shadows. We'd been expecting a small village and a cafe to sit with a beer, but when we climbed up the steps in the river bank we discovered a few shelters that may at some point have sold beer, but were at that point very definitely closed. The signs also told us the village was 2km walk away. We'd all brought swimming things, but the thought of going back soaking wet didn't appeal. With the cave's natural airconditioning and the breeze from the boats, the journey though had been quite cold by the end. We stood around like lost sheep for a few minutes and then decided to go back. This time we went straight through without stopping which took nearly 40 minutes.
Our hostel was a swiss chalet style building with a big social area downstairs for watching videos and a balcony perfect for watching the sunset across the valley. The owner's three young children had great fun throwing their balls up to us and cheering when we caught them. They also did a fantastic crispy chicken!

While we were travelling around Laos, there were two great sporting events taking place - Wimbledon, with the closest chance yet of a British winner in the men's singles, and the British and Irish Lions tour of Australia. The second Lions test had left the score 1-1 so we were all keen to get into Thakek early enough to watch the last game together. We had a much-needed lie in and lazy morning in Kong Lo, before the 3 hour drive down to Thakek. Unfortunately, we utterly failed to find a bar with a TV so had to settle for a round of Mojitos under a stunning sunset instead. The colours were just amazing, so vivid that the photos look photoshopped. We all agreed to stay off Facebook until the game finished, so we could watch the game online afterwards without knowing the score, but Josh gave in to temptation. The grin on his face gave the game away and the Brits among us celebrated triumphantly! Beating the Aussies is so satisfying when it comes to rugby!
Mike took us down to the waterfront for more street food barbecues. The stalls were lined up aong the road offering an assortment of meat on sticks, some more easily identifiable than others. I avoided the sticks of entrails and went for ribs and chicken. The chicken was flattened and wedged into a split bamboo stick, tied off at the top. It was heated over the charcoal grill and handed over quite unceremoniously in a plastic bag. Mike bought some papaya salad and mixed herbs for us to eat with our bamboo skewers as we sat on small plastic chairs and tried to ward off the local hungry street dogs patiently stalking the ground to grab anything we dropped. I love eating street food and enjoy trying new things, but to be honest the Laos offerings have so far been fairly uninspiring. The best food I have had here has been laap with sticky rice and the grilled goat in Pak Beng.
After dinner we went back to the mojito bar to use the wifi so I could finalise booking my flights for the next half of my travels. America, Mexico, Guatemala, Belize, Costa Rica, Ecuador, Galapagos, New Zealand, Australia and back to Indonesia for my Dive Master training at Lutwala. Not bad, if I do say so myself! The others went off to find another bar while I finished up and watched a movie, missing out on an unexpected karaoke session with a group of locals.

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Zobeedoo's Big World Adventure, Part I

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