Published: December 25th 2010December 23rd 2010
Merry xmas to you! It's the 25th and I am in a Thakhet restaurant, a little sunburned, but otherwise healthy.
I left Vientiane on the 22nd to go to Thakhet in south central Laos. I arrived in the early evening and focused on renting a hotel room and getting some dinner. I am at the Travel Lodge - a decent guest house that is not linked to the american chain of hotels.
On the morning of the 23rd, I joined a fellow traveler, Garret, from the Netherlands, for breakfast. He was preparing to leave on a 2 day trek to visit several limestone caves and to spend the night at a small village in the jungle. I called the tour company and managed to join the trek on short notice. Then some fast packing (stuff to leave in storage at the hotel) and I was ready!
There were four of us on the tour, Gil and Nina from Switzerland, Garret and I. Our Lao guide was Pet, from the Tourist Information Centre in Thakhet. We took a tuk tuk to a village, ___, where we were joined by a local guide and started the hike. We wandered through
a flat plateau surrounded by limestone mountains before arriving at the first cave. The first cave is engulfed in water during the wet season, demonstrating how much water collects in the valley.
After walking for another hour, we arrived at the next cave. We were able to enter small tunnels in the cave, discovering a large black butterfly resting on the wall inside.
We continued our hike, discovering "strangler" vines, vines that wrap around a live tree for support and eventually strangle it. I think I've seen sections of the vines cut to make vases or umbrella holders.
We also encountered a number of nasty looking spiders, although we were assured by our guide that the one pictured was harmless.
Around noon we came to the cave with the emerald pool. The water was so still you saw the reflection clearly. We swam for half an hour, then were served lunch, fried fish, chicken, bokchoy, vegetables and sticky rice. The guides reduce the spice in the food, but always have a bowl of crushed red chillis to add to their dishes! I think they are surprised when I take some of the red chillis with my
meal, but I find the food for foreignors too bland.
Shortly after starting the afternoon hike, we discovered a termite hill. The guide estimated it to be 80 years old. It's huge!
We also saw ant nests in the trees. Million of red and black ants everywhere.
Our last cave for the day was a spiritual cave. The stairway in the cave mouth led up to a larger recently added cement budda surrounded smaller carved wooden buddas. Monks and parishners make the trek to the cave frequently to make offerings. The budda platform is so high because during the wet season, the water can reach within a few feet.
Just outside the village where we spent the night, we stopped at a stone stuppa, one that is reputed to be more than 600 years old. The villagers maintain it and have added several buddas as well as the necessary drum and bell. The bell was interesting, it is made from half of a large shell casing made in the USA!
We were housed in a purpose built guesthouse in the village. Our guide prepared our evening meal with the assistance of some local women. We
were left to lounge around the guesthouse balcony, where we were joined by several village elders who warmly welcomed us to the village. After dinner they performed a welcoming ceremony where a villager would formally greet you to the village, wishing you health, wealth and long life. They then tied a string bracelet around your wrist and you drank up the proffered beer in acceptance of the greeting. In return, you did the same to one of the villagers. (I may add pics later - my camera died, so they will come from the other trekkers)
The next day, we hiked for about 4 hours with few breaks. At noon we reached a village, where we were served a Lao lunch. After lunch we travelled a kilometer to an emerald lake, where we swam and played for an hour - then it was time to go back to Thakhet by tuk-tuk. The trek was well worth the cost - $75 US.
There are more photos below