Kong Lor Cave – a black hole?

I would have never thought that it can be that difficult to leave a tourist attraction. The Kong Lor cave is advertised in one of the big travel guide books as a highlight of Laos, in fact they quote that it is one of the most amazing caves that exist. It is situated in the countryside close to a small village in the middle of ricefields and misty mountains. We adored this idyll when we arrived in the small Kong Lor village. We were the only guests in the eco-lodge where we stayed except for the bus personnel who had driven us to the village. Even though this may sound like we had our personal driver from Vientiane this is not true. It was the public bus, an older model with leaking windows and a floor material that was peeling off and forming bubbles while the bus was driving but going back in original state as soon as the bus stopped. It was an interesting phenomenon to watch on our 7 hours journey.

The next morning we got up early to see the cave as the lodge owner had told us that a bus to Thakek, the next town we were heading to, would be leaving at around 1 pm. There is a river flowing through the 7.5 km cave and spelunking is done by boat. It was a huge and impressive cave although it could not  quite fulfill the (high) expectations I had.

After visiting the cave and lunch we were ready to leave. With sign communication we figured out that there was actually no bus but there should be a pick-up going at around 2 pm. This was in line with information we had found on the internet. At 2.30 pm a pick-up finally arrived bringing some new guests and local people. But the driver felt he did not want to drive back but make it a day. He quoted us the triple price and was not willing to negotiate. He parked his car and we walked away. But moments later he followed us again in his pick up. We did not have power in this negotiation as we did not speak the language and clearly wanted to leave – more and more as the situation became ridiculous. A guest house owner offered us a room and said that we needed to stay another night in one of the empty lodges if we wanted a transport for the normal rate. At the same time he was talking to the pick-up driver and we figured that he told him not to lower the price. At this point I got really angry as I felt trapped. So we walked away, we wanted to leave the village even on foot if it had to be.

We hadn’t walked far when a van stopped. We recognized two men we saw earlier selling stoves in the village. They offered us a ride and we managed to pack the bags in the van that was already completely stuffed with stoves. It was not the most comfortable ride to the next village but it felt like heaven – being able to leave. The men barely spoke English – we barely spoke Laotian but we tried hard and had some shared laugthers. We were overwhelmed by the friendlyness of these two sales men who also had to squash so we could fit 4 persons in the front row. After a funny one hour ride we arrived in a larger village where we managed to organize our next pick-ups – here they were still driving. After some 4 hours on open pick-ups we arrived in Thakek and were really happy that the adventure had a good outcome. We were reminded that as traveller you are always in the weak position especially if you don’t speak the language. And we started to refer to the Kong Lor Cave as the black hole that does not release you.

Since the rain did not stop for 2 days after we had arrived in Thakek we did not see much of the city. We enjoyed some good Laotian food in this border town to Thailand though. We crossed the bridge (this time the “Friendship Bridge No. 3”) to Nakhon Phanom in Thailand a provincial town in which almost no one spoke any word of English. Since we had enough of bus rides we booked ourselves a cheap flight to Bangkok and felt that we had arrived in civilization again.

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