Kong Lor – Underground river and unexpected hospitality

Denna gång har jag (Matilda) valt att skriva inlägget på engelska till förmån för våra engelsktalande bekanta och de ny vänner vi träffat under resan. Nästa inlägg blir på svenska igen.

“Imagine floating through a 7.5 km underworld in a rickety longtail boat, wrapped in darkness but for the torchlight of your boatman. Welcome to Kong Lo cave, an Indiana Jones experience.”

This is the beginning of what our Lonely Planet guide book told us about the place and since Robin and I are of such an adventures nature, of course, we had to go there. First we had to find the way tough, and since we at the moment found our self in Paksan, one of the most non-touristy places in Lao, Lonely Planet would not be giving us many answers this time.

“Go to the main road and take a bus” was the advice that we got from the owner of the Guest House were we stayed. He made it sound so simple, but when I thought about it I realized that it probably wouldn’t be too easy.

After some walking we finally dropped the heavy bags by the side of the dusty main road in front of a small coffee shop, in the middle of a hot and sunny day. In front of us, a maybe two or three year old boy with dirty clothes seemed to be making some kind of performance. He was throwing small pieces of toilet paper up in the air, destroying his mother’s sunglasses, laughing unrestrainedly and peeing every now and then while looking down with amazement in his eyes.  At the same time we tried to work out a plan how to get a non-english-speaking driver to understand where we wanted to go and if he could tell us where to change buses. I must admit that I felt kind of scared that we would end up in the middle of nowhere.

Finally, we managed to stop a “sawngthaew”, a small open truck that has been converted into transporting people. After saying good day “sabadee” to the diver, we started pointing at a map in the guyed book and saying “Ban Na Hin” which is a bigger village close to Konglor. We got onto the bus and after a few seconds all the passengers were trying to help us to get where we wanted.

We had a really good time on the bus and even though we could not communicate much by using languages we could smile and laugh together. As we stopped by the side of the road, some of the women bought fruits that we had never seen before. They gave us some to try and it was very pleasant eating these fruits with a taste of pear and having the amazing scenery of Lao passing through in the background. Unbelievably, five hours later, we arrived at the village Ban Nah Hin.

The next day we took another “sawngthaew-truck” to Kong Lor and by the entrance of the cave area we found a little sign saying “Homestay 50.000 kip”. That is about 7 dollar and it also included dinner and breakfast. Since we thought it would be interesting to see how the people in a small Lao village lives, we thought this sounded like a splendid idea.

In the far end of the little village of Kong Lor you find a paved road on which motor vehicles can make their way to the nowadays well known place. By the side of this road you can find some newly built guest houses and restaurants for the tourists. As we passed these things and got deeper into the village we got a whole different view of what the place looked like. Suddenly there were no more roads and touristy buildings. Just the typical houses built up on poles, lodes of animals such as dogs and hens, a lot of smiling children and women weaving fabric. In the river that now appeared in front of us, children were playing and women were washing clothes.

In the evening many people gathered in the nicest house of the village where we were going to spend the night. We saw how they carried in one of the ducks for preparation and soon an aroma of spices and dinner started to spread through the house. In the big open room that took most of the square meters of the house, people started to lay out rugs to sit on and small, low tables. The tables started to fill up with different tasty looking dishes and we were invited to sit down on the floor among the others.

They showed us to take the “sticky rice”, a specialty for the country, and dip it into the different sauces and dishes. No plates or silverware needed. Every now and then someone tried to pose some kind of question but it usually ended up with confused expression and a lot of laughing. Finally I remembered the photo album that I brought for the trip and everyone wanted to see pictures of the house in Lärkesholm covered with snow and of family and friends.

The next day we woke up early and after breakfast we headed towards the caves. We inhaled the fresh, morning air as we walked by the side of the green tobacco fields towards the breathtaking limestone mountains.

As we reached the caves we got head torches and life vests and our captain led us to the private boat that would take us through the 7.5 km long limestone tunnel formed by the Hinboun River. When I saw the gigantic opening in the limestone mountain I had a hard time believing that the soft, totally transparent water floating through it, had also been the creator of it.

The engine of the long boat was started and of we went into the dark. In the front of the boat sat another guy helping to navigate the boat. The lights of the torches gave us a pretty good view of what the cave looked like and in some places the main cavern actually reaches up 80 meters high and 90 meters wide. Except for us there was sometimes another boat with visitors, going in the same direction, but we were surprised not to see any other tourists during the whole ride through the cave. At one place we stopped to look at the limestone formations and the stalactites of the cave and at many places we had to step into the water and help dragging the boat over the shallow parts that appear during the dry season. It was a thrilling experience and I shorely had the feeling of being in an Indiana Jones move while floating on this remarkable underground river.

When back in the village we thanked our homestay hosts that had shown us such a great hospitality. Everywhere men, women and children were recognizing us from the day before and in this short time we had already started to feel at home. Two days earlier I was standing by the side of the road feeling a bit scared because this time my English or Spanish skills could not help me to find the way. Had I then been aware of the kindness of the people of Lao and the power of smiling I would not have had to worry even for a second.