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Tuesday 29 Apr 2003
Tha Khaek, Laos

Amazing Cavern!

I have been away from an Internet access point for about a week now (Im adding this entry in Vientiane) so Ill have to update the entire week here in one go...

Friday 25th April - Savannakhet

Headed off to Tha Kaek early this morning on a local bus. I was heading to Tha Kaek after getting a tip-off from a friendly Lao restaurant owner in Don Kon that there were amazing things to be seen around that province.

Met an Ozzie on the bus by the handy name of Peter (fortunately enough... no excuse to forget names *this* time) who was heading in the same direction.

After a few hours on the bus (during which I was sat next to and conversed with an elderly monk and his 9-year old apprentice... awww cute) we arrived in Tha Kaek.

Tha Kaek is basically a dusty port town on the Mekong River opposite Thailand and as such has no tourist services like travel agencies or English-signs/Western food for that matter. We ended up walking around for a while before stumbling across a massive communist-era hotel (really big .. but really ugly!) that seemed right out of place in the relatively small town... Pete and myself shared a room there for only 3.50 dollars each with AC!

Walked around for a bit since there seemed to be no other falang (Lao word for Westerner) in the area... sure enough we soon we met a Quebecois (the French get EVERYWHERE!) who incidentally gave me some handy info on Myanmar - should I decide to head there next...

A few minutes later a fat yank turned up at our table beside the road on a seriously powerful 850 cc motorbike demanding to know where he could get some food (no doubt he needed energy after the two weeks he spent previously with a prostitute!!) ... Later that evening myself, Pete and the yank headed out to sample the "nightlife" but most places were completely empty (loud music playing... but not even a DJ in sight!) except for one dark club where people were watching music VCDs on a big TV (and clapping as each act finished singing...), but it soon became apparent that the club was populated with rather "large" ladies with deep voices and muscular arms *cough*

Two of these "ladies" tried to follow Pete and myself back to the hotel... thankfully we had secure locks on the door that night!

...raconter...

While we were in the nightclub, Pete and myself were getting rather weary listening to the stories of our yankee "friend". He told us how he would pick up his bike every year from its parking space in Thailand and drive across the border to Laos to pick up a few young girls. Evidently he couldnt "get any" in the States on account of his size!! He seemed very proud that he had been with so many prostitutes...

"Oh yeah guys Id LOVE to come out with you again tommorrow but, you know, Im so exhausted after the past two weeks that Ive been ****ing this little local gal!"

In the end we got a revenge-of-sorts on the arrogant chubby man: as we left the nightclub, we were surrounded by several lady-boys (there were absolutely NO women to be seen in this town at night!! It was a gay-monopoly.), one of whom was 6ft and exceedingly muscular with the deepest voice of the lot!!! He looked funny trying to prance around lady-like despite his enourmous bulk! Anyway, as the yank sat down on his bike, his flabby butt sticking out over the back as usual, we told the muscular lady-boy to get on the back with him. "She" jumped on straight away leaving the yank helplessly stuck on in front!

"Go on big boy, you take me for ride!!"

And they zoomed off, the yank having no choice in the matter!! The following morning we bumped into him again... to say the least he wasnt amused: he had to spend several minutes explaining to the lady-boy that he wasnt gay, despite having driven him around the town!! Funny!

In the morning we were served coffee by a boy we recognised from the night before. In fact our waiter was one of the guys, now distinctly breast-less (obviously had been using tissue to augment his chest!), that had followed us back to the hotel asking: "How you like seeeeexxxx??". In the morning, he didnt make eye contact with us for SOME reason.

...end raconter...

Saturday 26th April - Tha Kaek

We rented out a Tuk-Tuk today and took off to see some amazing limestone caves around Tha Kaek.

On the full day trip we visited several caves, including some that are populated with Buddhist images since they are sacred stuppas. Two caves in particular stood out though because once you trekked through them you found small streams that lead to large sun-soaked cave openings leading out into secluded lagoons and large rivers... truly beautiful.

Trekking through the caves involved wading through some untouched rivers up to knee-depth in the dark (avoiding bat droppings too) so I was happy I brought along my cheap shorts and flashlight.

We also stopped at Tha Falang ("Westerner River"), a favourite picnic spot for the French colonials where we dove into the natural pool ... a welcome break in the boiling sun!

Sunday 27th April - Na Hin

Ban Na Hin was the main target of my journey into the Khammuan region (where Tha Kaek is the major town) because I was told that the mountains and caves were particularly fantastic in this region...

This became an understatement as we travelled there in local buses. The scenery was like something out of The Lord of the Rings movies: stark, pointy limestone mountains amidst lush forests beneath... the photos will tell the story once I upload them!

On the way to Na Hin we met a Dane named Thomas heading the same direction... this proved to be fantastic as we could now spread the costs more evenly (travelling in this area could get expensive if you are on your own plus accommodation at the Sala Hin Boun was 12 dollars per room!)

Once in Na Hin we met a representative for the Sala Hin Boun guesthouse (a guesthouse which is situated near a wonderful 4km cave that is called the Tham Lot Kong Lo) who escorted us across a river (the bridge had been out for the past 3 months since a Vietnamese truck overloaded it and smashed through) on the way to the guesthouse.

After ANOTHER hour of travelling through the dramatic mountainous scenery we arrived at the guesthouse which is situated in the middle of a village about 8km from the cave.. The guesthouse was a fantastic oasis: electricity, great food, free water! It still retained the charm of its village roots: chickens, ducks and pigs running around free while children passed through on their way to the school next door... (the children were really cute: waving as we went by but, strangely enough, they were taught to crouch down as any elders went by so that was quite unusual for us to see).

Monday 28th April - Na Hin

Went to Tham Lot Kong Lo cave today!!! This will definately prove to be one of the highlights of my trip to Laos (if not THE highlight) since it was amazing (and replete of tourists which was another bonus... We had the place to ourselves!)

The limestone cave stretches for 4 km with a river running through it. The three of us took a small boat with two local villagers as guides (armed with powerful torches luckily enough!) and proceeded from the village right through the awesome cavern on to the other side. The cave is truly untouched and that is really the beauty of it. In parts of the cave the water became so shallow that we had to wade through among the stalactites/mites, carrying the boat in the complete darkness. Other parts of the cave opened up so that the ceiling was roughly 60 metres above us and the walls stretched out for 100 metres on either side.

At one point we stopped to look at some particular limestone structures and came across a small spider (which the guide killed straight away, saying it was deadly poisonous) which made us somewhat edgy during the off-boat treks.

After 2 hours of dar

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