Sunday, 22 February 2015

Secret river (well almost secret)

You know that anxious feeling when you just want to get home from a party?  You've had a good night but now you need to think about which direction a cab may be coming from or if there might be a bus around? We were having just that feeling in the little town of Nahin, central Laos.
The day had started well. We'd met some American cyclists at our guest house in Viang Kham the night before and over dinner the conversation had turned to, as it does for most cyclists, food. So, on their advice, the next morning we ordered omelette. We got a fried egg in a bowl. Kate sauntered up to the counter looking for something else and came back with some sticky rice. Cool, add in a bit of Soy Sauce and hey presto, scrummy brekkie!

A bleary eyed Austrian guy stumbled in and asked us if we were heading up to Konlor Caves. That was out plan so we decided to go with him and his girlfriend. The Americans pedalled off in the same direction (looking pretty hardcore) and left us waiting for a Songthaeuw (an open backed truck with a canopy and bench seating) that are used as taxis/buses around these parts.

The hour ride up to Nahin wasn't too bad, now we just had another 40km to go to get to the caves themselves. An enterprising guest house owner had little motorbikes for rent so after copious paperwork - a tenner and he'd hold on to our passports, we rode off to the caves. You know what, they were bloody great! 

More like a tunnel really with a 7 kilometre river running through it. We hired a boat and driver (complete with mega head torch) and were soon pop popping our way down a pitch black underground river. About a third of the way in, we were dropped off on a beach and walked up through a load of massive stalagmites & tites that were lit up very nicely by generous donations from the French government, the dept of the Rhone Alps and the New Zealand 'Lets help Laos society' or something like that. 

The whole experience was a really good. a great mix of obvious tourism but done in a low key, natural way that still made it feel like an adventure. Lets hope it isn't a victim of its own success in the future. At the other end of the tunnel is a 'local village' selling traditional arts n crafts where "your boatman will give you ample time to browse".... Oh right, here we go... 

No, nothing like that at all. In fact there was barely anyone there. We sat down for a drink and were joined by an Indian guy who was out for an explore on his motorbike. He lived and worked nearby. He was an environmental scientist employed by a big construction company to deal with re-housing and compensation for villagers who were being displaced by the lake created by a massive hydro electric scheme that was being built. He told us of one village that had been a bit of a challenge. Plans had been discussed and agreed for the new location of the village and everything was set to go until the local (and well revered) 'spirit lady' was consulted. Apparently the spirits in the new location did not get on with the spirits that would be brought from the old village so another new location had to be found. He said it was pretty challenging trying to explain to the board of directors why the project had to be put on hold, funnily enough, they didn't have a category on their analysis spreadsheet for 'spirit angst'!!

A quick spin back on the motorbikes (in the rain) got us back to Nahin and our search for a taxi truck to get 'home'. In the end we didn't have to wait too long. Kate and I had the whole thing to ourselves (the Austrians stayed behind for dinner) and we bounced our way back down the mountain in the dark. It was very reminiscent of bombing down the tracks at Ferny (Ben & Lou's country retreat in Oz) in the old Land Rover, and for those of you reading this that haven't had that pleasure it basically means rattly, bouncy, noisy and overall, reasonably unpleasant (unless you're drunk and Louisa is driving of course)!!

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