While waiting for the bus back to Pakse we watched the piglets play.
Our bus ride back to Pakse, on the local bus, was much speedier than our ride to the Tad Lo area. By this time we were becoming familiar with Pakse and there were a few places we enjoyed stopping by: Delta Coffee , Friendship Mini Mart (snackage and treats) and Jasmine Restaurant (great Indian food; can I be a spy in your kitchen?). But once again we were there for a night and moving on.
The buses in Laos are a mellow ride. This trip averaged 60kph. We learned not to expect to arrive at a certain hour but to kick back and enjoy the ride. Or do like the locals and snooze (personally I have a hard time snoozing on any transport, especially one that’s rocking and bopping with the bumps). Besides, there’s always the other forms of locomotion to watch go by.
We arrived in Tha Khaek late in the afternoon and with another couple caught a mini-bus to Tha Khaek Travel Lodge where we had the best room yet in our Laos travels. The main room was huge, the bathroom was huge and the mosquito net was huge over the huge bed.
Besides the great room (for a reasonable rate) the Travel Lodge boasted a decent restaurant, a wifi connection and Mr. Ku: travel agent and renter of motorbikes. Tha Khaek is located on the Mekong River, has one of the ‘Friendship’ bridges connecting it to Thailand and is on the edge of a magnificent karst landscape, featuring some of the coolest caves in Laos. We were there hoping to travel to Konglor Cave, which has a 7.5 underground river navigated by small tour boats. Our mini-bus driver had offered us a great rate but we were unable to find enough fellow travellers to fill the bus and make the trip affordable. Instead we rented a motorbike the next day and headed off to see some of the nearby sights heading east along Route 12.
Our first bike died on the edge of town (fortunately not our fault: a wire had come loose) but a replacement bike quickly arrived and we were on the road early. First stop: the Buddha Cave, re-discovered in 2004 by a bat hunting local who instead of bats found a cave with 229 bronze Buddhas. Photography is not permitted in the cave but I got a shot leaving, looking back at the improved road they’re building to this new tourist attraction.
This 8km road (some of it new, some old) was the bumpiest of the day but it was a blast driving through the karst hills.
(don’t do this at home kids!)
The first cave we stopped at was Tham Xieng Liap.
We found one entrance and then a bigger one (above). We could have walked through the cave to a ‘hidden’ valley but with Sue’s injured finger and the wrong footwear for wading in water we decided to continue on down the road to Tham Nang Aen.
Tham Nang Aen is very developed (note the concrete stairs and walkways). Fortunately it wasn’t too busy while we were there. As a matter of fact it was so slow they turned the lights off while we were inside; luckily we had headlamps with us and the lights came back on when another couple entered the cave. The fluorescent lighting created some interesting effects and reminded us of the caves we’d visited at Halong Bay, Vietnam.
We drove along Route 12 as far as the turnoff to Manaxay, where we stopped for cold drinks. The road took us along the southern edge of the Phou Hin Boun NBCA but also past populated and industrialized areas. As the day progressed and grew hotter with a gusty crosswind on the road we decided to skip some of the sights and head straight for a local swimming hole.
What a great way to cool off and get rid of some of the road dirt.
Because we weren’t going to Konglor we had an extra day so we walked around Tha Khaek, including a couple of visits to the Mekong waterfront, stopping at food and refreshment vendors.
Fruit shakes, cold water or beer? Which is better? After some discussion we decided that it depends on the situation!
But we weren’t having just “Which drink to have?” decisions to make at the street food stalls. We were slowly becoming carnivores again. It started with bits of meat in the soup. And then it snuck into other dishes. In Tha Khaek we were confronted by grilled chicken and we went for it. And then had seconds! By the time we returned to Thailand the following day our vegetarian, pescatarian, flexatarian ways went right out the window…