With limited options to get to Konglor village (aka: Kong Lo, Kong Lor), where one starts the Kong Lo cave adventure, and no one to give us a good explanation on how to get there using public or hired transport, we decided to rent a motorcycle.
This is something very new for us – in fact, this is our first such adventure. I have never liked them, and Travis had an accident before that left him with a bruised rib and a general distrust of motorcycles. It really was the best, most logical option though so we decided to face our fears and go for it. Beside, this is the perfect place to get comfortable riding: hardly any traffic; smooth, paved roads; a straight-forward itinerary; and drivers who drive slowly to share the road with. It would give us the safety and time to learn and enjoy getting to our destination.
Side note: This being a fairly “new” tourist town, there is only one place where motorcycles can be rented from. Accordingly, they only have 4 or so of them, meaning that they can get away with charging a high price. Expect to pay more for a motorcycle rental here than elsewhere in Lao.
Travis did a few runs around the block and around our guesthouse’s parking lot before feeling ready to go. I hopped on, nervous, but clearly not as nervous as he was. Things were a little wobbly at first, and I could tell that Travis wasn’t feeling very comfortable with the motorcycle. He kept asking if I was OK, and I was. Eventually we found our groove, and started going a little bit faster, which made things smoother. Gear changing eventually got smoother too, and we both started to enjoy our ride more and more.
Konglor is 52 KM away from Ba Nah Hin, and the road is mostly flat and straight. It’s a newly paved road, so it was smooth for the most part, which was great. The sun wasn’t out to greet us today, but livestock and puppies were. They were everywhere in fact, and quite a few times we had to dodge herds of cows, goats, stray chicken and a few dogs. We passed through village after village, and watched many people actively farming tobacco. Women weaving baskets stared at us, and so did many others – it was as though we were from the moon. Children smiled shyly, to then enthusiastically start shouting hello.
We reached the cave’s gate past noon, and stopped at a Thai restaurant for lunch. Food was slow to come, but it was incredibly tasty. We also had the privilege of watching Thai Pop music videos, instead of the traditional VCC music we were used to, and it was quite a treat. The music was incredibly better, the videos infinitely less cheesy, and the aggression level on my eardrums was at near zero.
On our way out we had to pay an admission fee to get past the gate, as well as parking (only to be charge parking again later). We easily made our way to the boat center and hired a boat for our tour. As it turns out, you get two crew members with a boat: one sitting at the front, lighting the way and checking for obstacles, and one driving the boat.
To get to the cave you walk over and by the Nam Hin Bun River, which goes through the cave. The river is incredibly beautiful, with blue green waters. As you get to the cave opening, the heat and humidity of the cave hits you like a brick wall. It is much warmer inside than it is outside, which is great because we were expecting to be freezing during the boat ride.
Our boat was a small, low wooden boat with a propeller. It sat maybe an inch and a half outside of the water, and we were careful to stay as still as possible during the ride. As you go into the 7 KM long cave, it gets dark, real fast. The experience of rushing through the dark, with just a few torch lights as a guide, is surreal. Obstacles that would obliterate the boat are missed at the last second. While the experience is very difficult to explain, we knew as soon as we started that this was by far, one of the coolest thing we had ever done.
Just how dark is it? It’s the kind of dark that you don’t get anywhere, anytime. It’s the darkest black, and no matter how close you hold your hand in from of you, you can’t see it. Of course we had torches: 4 in all. But a torch is not enough to illuminate the cave – it’s more like a light beam, illuminating just a tiny fraction. Eventually your eyes adjust to the darkness and you can see more and more, but still, you don’t see much. This makes the whole ride eerie, but also very cool.
During the whole ride, I had this song stuck in my head. As it turns out, Travis was thinking the same thing that I was!
The cave is quite large: in addition to being 7 KM long it has nook, crannies, diverging waterways and at points 100-feet tall cathedral ceilings. Only one section is lit, and it is an area off the water with intriguing stalagmites and stalactites. The area is only lit when tourists are visiting it, only to be plunged in darkness as soon as not being toured.
The guys manning the boat work hard. They avoid obstacles. They push the boat along. At times the river is quite shallow, and they get out to push the boat around. At other times, we have to get out and walk a little, or simply wait for the boat to be moved up river.
After 7 KM we made it out of the cave, and just that was magical into itself. The river ride outside was stunning, and eventually we stopped at a small rest stop alongside the river. There, we warmed ourselves by the fire while the man manning the tiny shop we were at tried to communicate with us. He was from a local tribal village 2 KM away from where we were. While we couldn’t understand much, he was really excited that Travis and I were together and asked us to kiss a few time. We complied, but felt that this was the most unusual request, as it is usually seen as disrespectful to show affection in public in Lao society.
Eventually we leave and make our journey back the same way we came. In all, the ride was about 2h 1/2, and worth every Kip spent. This was certainly a memorable experience, done off the beaten path. I’m so glad that we did it!
While we were in high spirits after the boat ride, the motorcycle ride back proved to be more challenging. It rained lightly and the temperature had dropped a lot. We raced (slowly) against the sun, but have to stop more and more often to warm ourselves up. Every village we pass has people outside, warming up by a fire, or wrapped in thick blankets. Many wear big wool hats, scarves, we even see a few balaclava. The wind just cools us to the core, and we are miserable.
By the time we drop the motorcycle off we are frozen solid. I can’t feel my toes, and Travis can’t feel his fingers. We feel tense, and dream of hot baths, saunas, hot tubs, or anything else hot that could warm us back up.
On our walk back to the guesthouse, we see a family warming up by a fire and we can’t resist. We stop by and they agree to let us share their heat. Back in the room we cuddle under the covers for heat, but it doesn’t help. We take turns taking long, hot showers. The water comes down more like a trickle than anything else, but it helps. The room next door isn’t occupied and isn’t locked, so we steal their blankets. Eventually we get better, which is reassuring. We really didn’t want the ride back to taint the earlier part of our day.
For dinner we eat at S.V. Restaurant (“food service in order”), an even more “solid” building with no windy breeze. The food is also really good: we definitively recommend it if you’re in town!