With a fairly tight schedule at the moment we got on our way northwards through Laos, however the local buses stop everywhere and pull in for numerous breaks, it took 9 hours to travel 260km one day! They are however a lot of fun when we don't look at the time too often, the first bus arrived with a motorbike and about 3 tonnes of vegetables on the roof and more fruit and veg stuffed under everyone's seats. There's also the snacks along the way ranging from barbeque chicken to sticky rice (Hannah is addicted) and boiled eggs to Crickets on a stick (they taste like chicken). We did get out at a break however and they were unloading the hold when a bag fell out with something moving inside. It then got thrown back underneath with the rest of the luggage....it was a pig, in a bag...not nice.
After the biggest lightening storm we've ever seen and a trip to the tourist information centre in the torrential rain only to find nobody there, we carried out into the Phu Hin Bun National Park a bit further. We eventually found someone to book us onto a trip into the park. The guide also pointed us in the direction of a big waterfall behind the village. He said it was 3km, easy to find and possible in flip flops. He was wrong, it was really hard to find the way and we met other travellers on their way back who'd given up trying to get through the numerous fallen trees and stream crossings! We found what we think was the right 'path' but it was getting dark and being lost was not really a good option considering the wildlife. It was fun all the same.
Our trip started the next morning, we took a bus about 30km into the park along a pretty good road, it then reached an unfinsihed bridge where we had to be ferried across the most unstable boat in the world. Back onto another pickup truck and then into another boat. Then the real fun began, we entered a cave (by boat still) which is 7km long, completely natural and up to 100m high in the middle, it was incredible. At the other end we walked about a kilometer through mud (no vehicles can get any further than the cave entrance) and arrived in a village. This was to be our bed for the night in one of the homes. The village is situated here because it has very fertile land, perfect for tobbacco (and sticky rice!) which they then sell in the capital for a good profit. The remote village is home to 41 families, we were staying with the chief. On our arrival they were celebrating the end of the tobbacco season (dry season) and were eating a freshly slaughtered goat and washing it down with plenty of lao-lao (home-made rice whisky). The goat was delicious (Hannah wasn't too keen on the insides though) and the lao-lao was like petrol. I played Petang (same as Boul, which the french introduced) with the blokes while Hannah watched and played with the children who were everywhere. Evening food was sticky rice, Laap salad and a bowl of meat which we were told was buffallo. After more lao-lao they held a Baci Ceremony and tied string around our wrists which is customery for the arrival of guests and must be done to not upset the 'house spirits'...or something like that!
After everyone in the village crowding around a TV run off a tractor as a generator we went to sleep. The next day we were meant to walk back over the cave but even the local guide said it was too dangerous to cross so we had to take a boat back through again. A thoroughly worthwhile excursion and a great insight into what is for most Laos people, 'normal' life.