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Kong Lor + 4000 Islands, Southern Laos
Wednesday, 16 June 2010 09:50

Kong Lor Cave and 4000 Islands 28.03. – 06.04.

After a total of 3 lovely weeks it was time to leave Luang Prabang and head south. As we rode towards the bus station in our tuk-tuk I had tears in my eyes and hoped this would not be my last visit.
Our journey took us first to Vientiane, around 10 hours south, where we spent a very short night before taking a local bus towards Lak Sao at 6am the next morning. I had forgotten the joys of loud music and badly closing windows and that you can actually fit 100 kg of pumpkin into the luggage hold if you really try.
To get to the Kong Lor Cave we had to get off at Hin Boun before Lak Sao and then get the local large tuk-tuk to near the cave. After getting in we realized that something was moving near our legs under the seat. Not to worry, just a few live chickens in a bag who were having a better ride than the ones strapped to the roof in the blazing sun.

We got dropped off at our eco-lodge although it was more like a basic wooden hotel. Due to it being low season we were the only people there and the menu somewhat limited. A bit like the staff’s cleaning skills. We had to keep telling them to fill the fridge with beer to avoid drinking it warm.

School"s out for Summer!

The next morning we set off from our lodge on a small dug-out to explore the Kong Lor Cave a few kilometres upstream. The river was very low as it was the dry season and so we had to keep stopping the boat by running aground and then getting out to push it into deeper water. The driver was going as fast as he could, and getting quite close to the locals fishing and to some of the animals in the water such as ducks and water buffalo. You could see they weren’t happy. Once we were there we swapped boats to enter the very long and dark cave....




World record: 3 occasions where I am in/near a boat and smiling.

The Kong Lor cave is around 7 miles long with a very high ceiling and we were immersed into total darkness within minutes. Again the water was also quite low at points and we had to get out and push several times along the way. The driver sat at the back and another guy sat at the front navigating with a very old looking torch with wobbly wires coming out of it. I was very glad that day that Heiko had invested in such a good torch. After a while we pulled over at a shallow point and waded to some stairs at the side of the cave. Our guide then flicked a switch and we could see a huge hall of stalactites and stalagmites illuminated in various colours.
  Right: Entrance to the cave


Going in....

 Light at the end of the tunnel Surrounded by stalactites and stalagmites

After taking lots of pictures our guide got a bit impatient and it was time to get back in the boat. After a few more miles there was light at the end of the tunnel and we sailed through lush greenery before stopping for lunch. Then it was back in the boat and we sailed back the way we had come enjoying a bit of a dip in the lake near the cave entrance before setting off back to the lodge.


But more adventure was awaiting us – whilst racing back upstream our driver decided not to slow down and wait for the herd of water buffalo to move out of the water but to just plough straight into them hoping they would scatter quickly. Well unfortunately water buffalo are not spritely animals. They look at you in a docile manner and move along in their own time. Consequently we drove onto one of the buffalo before coming to a grinding halt and jumping out of the boat which had half filled with water. Luckily neither the camera nor our other valuables got wet but I was shaking like a leaf when we got out. We thought the buffalo might be injured or so disturbed that the herd would run riot but they moved away slowly. The driver kept apologising as he bailed the water out but one thing was for sure – we would be spending his tip on beer to calm us down after our close encounter of the herd kind!



Si Phan Don (4000 Islands)

Another long day’s travelling lay ahead of us taking us nearer to this area of tiny and larger islands on the Mekong where we hoped to relax in a hammock or on a beach for a few days before crossing the border to Cambodia. This turned out to be one of the fun days of travelling where the discomfort, breakdowns and smelly toilets didn’t seem that bad.

We took a tuk-tuk back the way we came, this time with a pig strapped to the back and then let ourselves be persuaded to go the next 100 km by saung thaew (a tiny open-backed truck with seats and a roof on) to Tha Kaek where we could catch a bus to Pakse. The saung thaew was a little crowded to begin with but after a while everyone had enough leg room and we shared the i-pod listening to good music with the wind in our hair, stopping every now and again for the driver to fix his truck.

As we arrived in Tha Kaek the bus for Pakse was already waiting and I got in to reserve a couple of seats. At first I thought the seats were very low to the ground or the floor high up till I realised that the whole floor of the bus had been filled with rice sacks! Yep, the whole middle aisle (2 layers), under each seat and in the leg room in front of every seat. We calculated there must have been around 2 tonnes of rice on that bus. I was just praying that the suspension was good and that it was not a hilly ride to Pakse.


Oh to feel the wind in your hair and realise it is high time for a haircut!

Below: Pigs belong on the pig rack. Rice belongs somewhere but not in the passenger compartment.


But we got there with no mishaps, played with a fluffy white bunny being transported in a cardboard box and declined all offers from the women selling fried insects on a stick. We arrived in Pakse early evening and made arrangements to travel to Don Khong the next morning. This meant getting on a boat and when I got off it was wine o’clock by my watch although Heiko’s only said 10.45 am.

Don Khong is the quieter of the tourist islands but we weren’t bothered about partying just yet. Finding a hotel at lunch time wasn’t that easy. Either there was no one around or they were asleep or they got the price wrong in English meaning it was ten times what it should have been. Makes you wonder how they earn a living.

Don Khong doesn’t have much to offer in the way of nightlife or sights but we at least had internet and bike hire which is how we passed the time.

 Pimp my ride.. ..and while you're at it, do the PC as well. Still Xmas in Laos.


It's amazing what they put in sandwiches these days.


After a couple of days we took another boat to the next island of Don Det Which is a bit livelier and aimed at young backpackers. The first people we met were an American couple who spend a few months a year at the Paradise Resort helping the local people get medical treatment. As they were leaving the next day they invited us to come to their leaving party which would be attended by the local shaman. Having no other plans we went along to find a group of Lao people watching Thai slapstick comedy on TV – this was going to be some party!

After a while however the TV disappeared and the shaman and food appeared. The shaman was there to wish Lance and Donna a safe journey home and he performed a small ceremony which includes having cotton bands tied around the wrist. After he was finished with Lance and Donna we also got the blessing and the cotton bands from half a dozen locals.
Then it was time for some yummy Lao “laab”. Just as I was wondering what that red sauce was I heard someone say ducks blood and quickly dipped my sticky rice in the mangold. We swilled it all down with lao lao (rice wine) and warm beer while Lance got out his guitar and played along with the locals on their traditional instruments even covering Beatles songs!

One of the attractions of these islands is the rare Irrawaddy dolphin found in the Mekong estuary. There were plenty of places advertising dolphin trips but not many were offering them due to lack of tourists. We finally found someone willing to take us and paid our money after he said he had 2 other people to share the boat. We turned up the next morning but strangely enough he did not have anyone else to share the boat. After a few feeble excuses such as “the trip might not take place” and “I might be able to find someone else” we asked for our money back, hired a bike and cycled to the other end of the island for a fraction of the price.

And what a joyous bike ride that was! Cycling along the bed of an old rail track in the blazing sun with a slow puncture having my bones shaken so much my teeth were rattling. I got off at one point sulking and told Heiko I was going to push the bike the rest of the way (about 1 km) but got back on when I realised that it was a very long kilometre by European standards. We finally arrived in the village and met a German woman who had overtaken us earlier with whom we hired a boat and set off to see the dolphins. And we were in luck – we didn’t get very close but quite a few appeared, dipping in and out of the water for some pictures which look like they could be of the Loch Ness Monster so we won’t bother showing them here.

That evening we enjoyed our last sunset over the Mekong with a glass of wine. Tomorrow we would be heading for the Cambodian border and to Siem Reap to explore the Temples of Angkor.


Last Updated on Friday, 18 June 2010 10:01