Planes, buses and Caves (Laos: Days 1-3)

We made it!

A mere 32 hours after leaving our apartment in Vancouver we checked in at the Inthira Hotel in Tha Kek. While the journey was long, it could not have gone any smoother or provide us with as many surprises as we received. The most mundane part of the vacayion began with an uneventful trip on the Canada Line to the airport. This is where the mundane stopped and the extraordinary began…

If you read my previous post, “Pre-Boarding Desert,” you will know that it was my partner’s birthday on the day of our flight out of Vancouver. She happened to mention this fact to the girl who was checking us in at the China Airlines desk and after speaking with her manager (and him typing on her computer for a good 5 minutes) we had our seats upgraded to the exit row, which on a 12 hour flight was welcome for my 6 foot frame. Of course business or first class would have been excellent but having the extra legroom was welcome. The two of us thought this was awesome and were on our merry way through security and to our gate thinking we were lucky. Little did we know what was to happen next!

About 2 hours into the flight we were served dinner. I had the meat and my partner had the veggie option, which the steward had to find as we had not requested one in the first place. Another star for China Airlines. As we were washing our food down with a glass of red about 3 of the flight attendants gathered around us and gave us ice cream and sparkling wine and said happy birthday, to me instead of the actual birthday girl but who cares. We were just served ice cream and sparkling wine….in economy…in actual glass glasses and metal spoons! This blew my mind. Then they came back and refilled our glasses and brought us snacks. This was, quite possibly the best flight of my life. We even had a nice lady from Taiwan come and talk with us for a good two hours. We determined it was partly so that she could sit in the extra seat beside us and stretch her legs but she was really nice so we did not mind all that much.

Flight one was a trip for sure. Flight two, Taipei to Bangkok, was much less eventful but still gave us a surprise as they had also upgraded our seats on this flight! We had a short layover in Bangkok, long enough for a Singha and springrolls though, and we were off for our final flight of the day from Bangkok to Vientiane, Laos. This flight gave us no surprises and we landed in the capital of Laos safely. At this point we had spent 20 hours, either in the air, or in an airport. You would probably think that we would have called in quits and picked up a room in Vientiane. Well, we did not. We hired a taxi to the bus depot, purchased some bus tickets to Tha Kek and were on our way again.

The bus trip was, thankfully, uneventful. To give you a good idea about the highway situation in central Laos, it took us 7 hours to travel 300 kilometers. It is single lane the whole way, so when you want to pass you honk at the car you are passing so they will slow down so you do not hit oncoming traffic. It is a fun game. We had a couple of really nice monks sit beside us for a majority of the ride. The population of Laos is greater than 90% Buddhist. One of them was very talkative, so we chatted with him for part of the trip. He had learned English in India when he went to study about the Dalai Lhama. He ended up giving me his, ‘name card,’ and said if we needed anything to give him a call.

By the time we arrived at our hotel we were spent. We had crossed countless time zones and had only slept a few hours each on the way. We hit the pillow hard, which was very welcome as we had our first full day in Laos the next day.

Our first full day in Laos started with an espresso and breakfast at our hotel. We then wandered around Tha Kek, which is a pretty cool city to explore. It is situated on the Mekong River, which also serves as the boarder with Thailand. When you are walking down the river you are actually looking across at Thailand. It is pretty cool. We walked all over the part of the city we were staying in. We hit up the Tourism office and booked a trip to the Konglor Cave, which is a 7.5 kilometer cave that was only discovered 10 years ago. We enjoyed dinner (duck for me) on the river and watched the sunset over Thailand. The pace of the city is pretty slow and everyone is very pleased to meet you. The only downside to the day was a group of 3 young kids who followed us on a bike. At first they were alright just wanting a high five, but eventually they were getting annoying and slapping or kicking us as they rode past. Of course, as a foreigner, I did not want to do anything to them that they deserved and thankfully an older local man saw what they were doing and chased them off on his scooter. That was day one.

All of day two was taken up with a trip to Konglor Cave. It was just two of us and a fellow, name Marc, from France. There are a number of French tourists in Laos, probably due to the fact that the French used to rule the area back in the mid 1900s. The drive out to the cave was a good 2.5 hours. We ended up going the same way we had bussed in two days prior! We stopped a few times on the way. On one of the stops we picked up Tamarind, which I cannot recall ever having before. It was really tasty. The cave was spectacular. The development had been funded in part by the government of New Zealand. They had done it right. The cave is 7.5 kilometers long and you take a boat through it. The ceiling of the cave was really high in some sections and the river was fairly shallow most of the way. We had to get out of the boat on numerous occasions to portage up river. There was a nice swimming hole at the entrance that we enjoyed after the tour and then had lunch and strolled through a village in the area. It was a bit pricey to take the tour but I think it was money well spent.

Tomorrow we are taking off for Pakse and destinations further south. Until then…

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