During our last few days in Luang Prabang I have the fortune to bump into a fellow traveler, Chris, who I last saw in Kangding, China. Back then Chris was heading for Mongolia and I was heading for Tibet. We didn't expect to meet again and it was another out of the blue experience, bumping into a traveling friend, some 4000 miles down the line, of course, by complete chance. He was camped out in Luang Prabang due to a breakup with his Girlfriend on what sounds like an epic scale, with his Girlfriend sabotaging all things with gadgetry goodness (The Macbook and iPhone made me cringe). We got very drunk. Then Sarah and I headed off to Tha Kheak.
French colonial architecture in Luang Prabang
The reasons we decided to head for Tha Khaek was to explore the Khammouane Plateau. We had not originally planned to come here but we were persuaded by a leaflet at the Green Discovery office in Luang Prabang (Think outdoor adventure agency with a AJ Hacket feel). It was the picture of the Khammouane Plateau, which happens to be a seriously large chunk of limestone and that results is a load of caves and freshwater resurgences. I was left drooling at the picture of the entrance to Konglor Cave, the start to a 7km trip through the cave by boat. So we headed here away from the Laos Tourist trail and away from the Banana Pancakes and Happy shakes.
We arrived in town to find that the Green Discovery office, for which we had a leaflet, was not yet open. Its not opening until next year apparently, after all, this is Laos and things work to Laotian timing. Thankfully when we arrived the local tourist officer was at our lodge and gave us a low down on the locations of caves and the trekking guides. We were excited, but not as much as when we found out about "The Loop" from other travelers.
Driver knitting a fishing net in the back of his tuk-tuk ... while waiting for his next fare.
"The Loop" is a 500km motorbike route around the Khammouane Plateau, stopping off at cave entrances, hot springs, Buddhist Stupa's and the through trip of Konglor cave. Much of it is off road and the roads are very quiet and, judging by the comments in the Guest Houses visitors book, it looks like a real blast. For normal people it takes about 4 to 5 days, but apparently if your from the insane "cram the whole of Laos into a two week vacation" brigade you can get it done in two days. I asked about the logistics and hiring a bike. Just like my experience in Hampi (India), motorbikes of the "No License, No Helmet, No Paperwork, No Problem Sir !" variety are readily available for hire. Apparently you don't need a Motorbike license in Laos, which is just as well because I don't have one. It does explain why you see eight year old kids driving around town on a motorbike. And in case anything happens, I'm not too concerned, as Lonely Planet assures me that we are awfully close to Thailand, and the 2nd world facilities that come with it.
We were advised to hire a Japanese bike, if we can, they are more reliable and as we saw plenty of Honda's around town we thought it would be easy. But no! It turns out that no-one wants to admit to owning a Chinese bike in Laos, so everyone plasters their bikes with Honda stickers. Result, we hired a couple of 100cc Chinese bikes for $10 a day. Apparently, they cost $500 new.
I do hope my Chinese 'Honda' is a little better than the shoddy quality of my last Chinese purchase, a wristwatch. I needed to buy a watch in China as the button on my Swiss watch died, which was a little inconvenient when I changed timezones and could not tell the right time anymore. So I bought a Suunto lookalike in China .... a brand called Suynto, which cost me $60. It acted just like a $500 Suunto, spookily so, to the point I think the Software in the two watches must be exactly the same. All was great for three weeks, then my Suynto started to resemble a a steamed up indoor swimming pool and then promptly died.
Having spent the last couple of days traveling by Bus from Luang Prabang, the thing that has surprised me about Laos is the number of houses that are made from bamboo and a palm leaf room. Even in Burma where life is tough and the GDP per capita is similar, they still used Aluminum or corrugated steel roofs. I am not sure why it is so different in Laos.
Wat in the Woods
Final note for those turning 60 today: Happy 60th Birthday Mum !!!
Tomorrow we are off to do "The Loop" for the next 4-5 days. I can't wait.