Loop or not to Loop*, that is a question....

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April 1st 2012
Published: June 3rd 2012
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* hundreds of kilometres of dirty roads in central Laos, done usually by motorbike within 3-4 days are commonly called 'The Loop'

You probably know situations when you feel that you ought to do something just because a lot of people do it or/and just because you are already in some particular place so why not? Well this was one of those times I guess when we struggled with a decision whether to do some journey or not. From Pakse we headed to Takheak where we hoped to get more information about how to get to Kong Lo village – place where famous 7.5 km long cave is located. It was a very long journey (11h) by painstakingly slow buses operating on Lao time. The bus was a funny thing we must admit. It looked like it was 100 years old, not one seat was matching the other and they all looked like they were taken from some different buses and stuck to the floor and as for air-con...ah well, all windows were open and that was it;-) What surprised us the most was that price of this bus was equal to the price of a nice VIP air-con bus in Cambodia. Since we left China every country we came into looked poorer and poorer but also prices went down – here this rule does not apply;-)

We could have overnight in Savanakhert but we heard that Takheak is THE place to be to hear all the travellers story about journeys in Laos. Very well known establishment called Travel Lodge is an epicentre of this meetings where people gather by the fire place and exchange stories. We liked this guesthouse right away with its nice look and feel and indeed it was full of people. There is nothing to see in Takheak and the guesthouse is located 3-4 km away from the centre but yet people are drawn to this place. This is also where most people start their journey of 'The Loop' which is hundreds of kilometres through dirty roads, villages and waterfalls. Motorbikes are available for 100,000kip/13$ per day and the guesthouse can store your luggage as well. Together with other travellers we spent the whole evening wondering what we should do as we were not sure about the 4 day 'looping'. For one thing we had limited time as we already booked our tickets to Myanmar and we had to still visit northern Laos and northern Thailand, and for second thing we did not really want to leave our luggage there as that would mean going backwards, which we never do.... This was supposed to be our first flight on that trip and we hated the fact that we had deadline;-( Another option was just to book a trip to Kong Lo Cave but minivan was so insanely expensive and journey so long that nobody wanted to do this. We almost thought we would have had to go straight to Vientiane and skip the cave. In the morning though we were told by a tourist information that we can actually take a number of buses to get to Kong Lor on our own and that we should be able to do this within a day;-)

As ridiculous as it sounds to travel for 2 days (including way from Pakse) to see some cave we did not even think long. We packed our bags and went straight to the bus station (see at the end the blog for details how to get to Kong Lo). It was true, we had to take one local bus and two pick-ups going through amazing landscape of limestone hills and lush green forests. The driver of the last pick-up had some rooms to rent that happened to be the cheapest in the village so we took it. It was only 1km away to the cave so we could walk everywhere. The Ban Kong Lo (village) is probably one of the nicest villages we have ever seen. Tiny place, with less than 100 wooden houses and tobacco fields around. It is such a peaceful village where people live their lives in a very simple way and seem so happy and fulfilled. View like that always make me wonder about our ability to be happy with what we have. Is it really possible to feel so fulfilled when having what they have? Maybe because they don't know any different and that is their blessing? Corporate careers, chasing money and wealth, fancy cars and houses – these words don't even exist in their dictionary.

Very exciting about the cave (which is said to be a highlight in SE Asia) we marched to the park entrance just after breakfast. We paid all the different fees (entrance to the park, entrance to the cave and boat for two - 110,000kip/14$ for two) and we got our guide for another few hours. We heard that this cave was spooky but you don't know until you try, right? It started nice and beautiful because we could see some things but then the driver speeded up and complete darkness came upon us. It was a hell of a ride, which felt like 30km/h in complete darkness besides small flash light our driver had. Adrenaline hit our veins almost as if we were on a roller-coaster haha After a few minutes our eyes adjusted to the darkness and we could see silhouettes of stalagmites and stalactites around us. Wow, this place was massive with huge chambers carved by water that used to run its way through the mountain. We stopped for a while and we got to walk alongside one immense chamber where they actually installed lights. If the Phong Nha Cave in Vietnam was great this was freaking awesome!!! The whole trip took probably more than two hours and we actually went through the mountain on the other side of it and then back. There is a gorgeous turquoise pool in front of a cave where locals swim so you can have a picnic or just relax. Tomek took a deep but again water was a little bit too cold for my liking;-) We spent some time just relaxing over there and then went for some nice fried noodles.

We wished we could have stayed longer but unfortunately we had to head to Vientiane the next morning. We spent 5 days in the capital, not that we really wanted to but we had to arrange our Myanmar visa and Vientiane is said to be a better place to do this than Bangkok. Besides we did not want to leave it to the last moment. The embassy is located 3 km away from the city centre and we decided to walk there to save on taxi and get some exercise. It was Tuesday when we went there and we could only see their closed door - due to some Burmese Holiday. That was not a good news cause we had read that the process takes 4 working days which meant we would have had to stay over weekend – total waste of time;-( It happened that the process is actually 2 days only (20$ each) so by Friday we could actually leave Vientiane for long awaited Luang Prabang;-) Even though people say there is nothing special about Vientiane we kind of got to like it. It has this small town feel, nice markets and cute boutique shops (I would really want to come back there for shopping one day). We saw few temples and visited Buddha Park which was lovely and we spent most of our free time sitting on the corner of the main street, sipping beer and watching lady-boys trying to get western clients;-) This was a great show believe it or not!

Additional Note:

* To get to Ban Kong Lo from Takheak you need to take any bus going north i.e. Vientiane and ask to get off at Lak Sao junction (30,000Kip/4$ each). Then catch a pick up to Ban Na Hin (1h and 25,000 kip/3$ each) and then another pick-up from a bus stop to Ban Kong Lo (1h and 25,000 kip/3$ each). Total of 80,000 kip/10$ each.

* It is much easier to do the same from Vientiane as there is a direct bus (VIP bus, very comfy) going to Ban Kong Lo (80,000 kip/10$ each) and the same bus goes back 7 am in the morning to Vientiane.

Additional photos below
Photos: 29, Displayed: 27


4th June 2012
in the cave

There is no experience like the discoveries underground...and to do it in Laos...sensational..!
5th June 2012
in the cave

Thanks Dave - we are really glad we did not skip this place in the end!!! worth every hour on a bus to get there;-) B&T
7th June 2012
tourist monks;-)

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