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Cave Cruising, River Crossings and Cheeky Monkeys – On the Road in Southern Laos

Today’s blog comes from Rick who recently returned from a trip to Laos with Stray Asia – a hop-on hop-off bus which is one of the only ways to travel through the remote region.

When most people think of Laos, they think of Luang Prabang, the old French colonial capital, Vientiane, the current capital, and Vang Vieng, the party capital. When my partner and I set out to travel Southeast Asia we wanted to venture into the south of Laos, to really experience a relatively untouched part of the world. We certainly got our wish…

On the road in Southern Laos

Crashing the caves

We departed the capital of Vientiane and headed south for the caves of Kong Lor. Full disclosure: it’s a long drive and the road is bumpy! Every bang is worth it for the spectacular views on the drive to the tiny village hidden in the Karst Mountains.

Nearby you’ll find the renowned Kong Lor cave – a monstrous 7.5km long natural wonder discovered by a duck (true story). We took a long tail boat operated by one of the locals through the cave, crashing up and down small subterranean waterfalls with only a headlight to guide us in the darkness.

If you go down the the market today…

From Kong Lor, the next leg of the journey was to the small city of Thakhek to stroll aimlessly round the streets watching life go by. The views across the Mekong towards Thailand are beautiful and the local market is rammed with all sorts of regional delicacies that you simply have to see to believe. Assorted chillies and native vegetables, various animal parts and unidentifiable aquatic creatures – I’m still not convinced everything on sale was 100% legal, but it made for a fascinating game of “guess what”.

Cheaky Monkeys

A short drive south of Thakhek was our next stop, the remote Xe Champone. Just outside the village is ‘Turtle Lake,’ a sacred lake that is home to over 400 soft-shell turtles with a small Wat (temple) in the centre. We bought turtle food at the gate and hand fed the reptiles before entering Monkey Forest well-armed with a huge amount of bananas (it was an animal centric day).

After about 5 minutes, no less than 20 monkeys gathered round and were taking the bananas from our hands or in some cases ripping our carrier bags open and stealing them.

This was one of the most memorable nights of the trip as we stayed overnight in a village homestay. We cooked our own mouth-watering dinner with fresh produce bought from a local market and settled in for the night with our hosts around their bonfire.

You’re gunna score tonight…

Whilst the next town Pakse was larger than Thakhek and has a domestic airport, it still felt as remote as the Kong Lor caves or Xe Champone. A 20 minute walk from the centre of town sits an old Soviet-style building which is one of only three bowling alleys in Laos – a hangout for local young people and a damn good night out.

Aside from getting your Greece 2 vibe on, Pakse is also a good place to grab a massage after a hectic few days of travelling over bumpy roads or, as our guide (incorrectly) named them, “bum massage roads”.

Beach bums. Kinda.

After visiting Vat Phou, a temple built before the mighty Angkor Wat by the same Khmer people standing high on a mountainside, we headed to the laid back 4000 Islands.

It took two boat journeys to reach our island of choice, Don Det. On the first, the Stray bus was loaded onto a boat old bombs and rotten wood to cross the Mekong. Half an hour down the road we reached the second, a long tail boat that took us (minus the bus) to the island and dropped us at a beach.

Now by “beach” I mean a 10sqm bit of sand…but it was still amazing. We relaxed playing tracaw on the beach and swam around in the Mekong before hiring the oldest bikes known to man and riding the length of the island. We watched the sunset from the bar and discovered the beach was even better after dark. The views of the stars were genuinely out of this world.

If you’re thinking of travelling to southeast Asia don’t miss out the little funny shaped county in the middle. Do the north of course, but make sure you get off the beaten track and visit the south too. Is a genuine adventure travel paradise that can’t be missed and, best of all, you won’t have to share it with thousands of tourists.

 

Rick travelled with Stray Asia, a hop-on, hop-off bus, which is one of the only operators to go into southern Laos. You can find out more about them and get the latest deals here
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