We had already spent pretty longer than expected in Luang Prabang, so it was time to move again. Even if our initial idea was to cross through the mountains to the north of Thailand, the peacefulness of Laos and the good company of Ainhoa and Itziar made us change the plan and head south through Laos. Our final destination was 4000 islands, said to be a reduct of calm and chilly Backpackers atmosphere in the middle of the Mekong. However, in order to break the long bus journey to the southernmost corner of the country, we decided to make a stop in between. The chosen place was Thakhèk, famous for having some of the biggest caves with running rivers inside of the world, and also for a Motorbike loop around the area and its karst scenery!
So we first took a bus to Vientiane (capital of Laos) in order to then change to another one to Thakhèk. This first bus requires a special mention, for being one of the most scenic routes I’ve ever done! The road crosses the jungly mountains of Northern Laos, but instead of going through the bottom of the valleys it follows the edges of the mountains!! This leads to amazing views of all the surrounding peaks, jungle and every now and then a small village, all surrounded by the typical myst of these tropical countries… Just wonderful! ^_^
The second bus was an sleeper bus, and there we had an anecdote that shows the chill spirit of the country (one of the best things of Laos!): after entering the bus, we realized one of our places was also assigned to another passenger. We explained it to the assistant in the bus, who after asking us where were we going (Thakhèk was half of the way of the bus, so we were meant to arrive there around midnight or 1am), solved the issue saying: “No problem”, and giving to one of us double ration of food and water for the inconvenience. This is the way Laos works! Take it easy, be flexible, and everything will work out! :)
Thakhèk as a town doesn’t have anything, it’s just a cumulus of houses and businesses put together around the crossroad of two of the most important paved roads in Laos, route 12 and 13. So we rented three scooters and started the Loop. We didn’t have many days and moreover we read that some km were not always suitable during rainy season, so we decided to go as far as possible, sleep there and the following day come back.
During the first day we rode among Dragon Ball limestone mountains and visited some caves, all flooded due to being rainy season, and some of us even swam inside one of them!
The second day we woke up early and kept going a bit further until a point where the scenery changed dramatically. We rode through a huge valley where a few years ago all the trees were killed in order to build a huge dam and flood it. When the paved part of the road ended we decided to turn and come back.
Once we reached Thakhèk again, as we still had time until the bus we wanted to take, we decided to go a bit north to a lake the guide said it was nice and not difficult to reach. Probably the writer hadn’t gone there during rainy season… ¬¬
After 30 km on the main road we turned right into a dirty road. The main problems began when this road had to go through a little hill pass: there were holes and rocks everywhere, brought by the water falling down the road, and plenty of mud where our city scooters got stuck plenty of times. We thought many times we were in the wrong way, but we met many locals struggling to drive their bikes or Toyota Hilux’s through the road, and they all said: “Yes yes! It’s just around the corner!”
So we kept going… xD
After passing the hill, the scenery turned to a nice valley surrounded by limestone mountains, with a flat, wide and dry dirty road crossing it, where we rode with our scooters among little villages full of children shouting “Sabaidee!!” and waving hands to us! Really wonderful! Like in the movies about tribal villages in Africa! ^o^
Here you can watch a pair or videos we recorded from the bikes! :P
However, after some kilometers through this valley, when we were almost in the lake, we found the road cut by a half meter deep river! -.-‘
Albert managed to cross one of the motorbikes (the Zongsheng Wave), and before trying to pass with the Honda Scoopy (not at all a dirty bike! xD) he went to check if the lake was really there. What he found was that the lake had risen and was actually flooding the road, making it impossible to go further with the bikes… TT
It was getting dark and we still had to pass the hill back, so we decided to surrender and go back. That’s the point where real Backpackers would have looked for a way to sleep in that village, in order to further explore the area and come back one day after. But we were tight in schedule, and I guess we are still noob Backpackers, so we decided to come back to Thakhèk to take the bus. Probably a big mistake, as if the day hadn’t had enough exciting experiences, we still had to live one of the scariest in the whole trip: a motorbike accident! :S
Pass the hill back was easier and faster than the first time, just getting quite dirty in order to take the bikes out of the mud, but anyway we reached the main road number 13 at night, so we had 30 km of dark ride through a Laos road. Pavement conditions in Laos are not the best, and we were riding pretty fast (over 60 km/h), so suddenly two huge holes appeared in front of Ainhoa, who was riding alone with the Zongsheng Wave and couldn’t control the bike after going across them, falling down in the middle of the road!! :S
Luckily, she didn’t have any big injury (apart from a little cut in the elbow) and the motorbike was also fine. But having watched the crash from behind I can say it could have been really worse… :S
That day we learnt something very important: Don’t drive fast by night in these countries!, roads are not at all like in Europe…
After all the emotions of the day, we gave back the bikes and decided we needed one more night there to take showers, eat well and relax. So Albert and Marc took the chance to wake up at 2am and watch the boring final match of the World Cup where Germany beat Messi’s Argentina in the extra time! :P