After a couple of days in Thailand we went back to Laos - we just can't get enough of this place! Before we crossed over we caught up with Eric (one of the motorcyclists we'd planned to cross China with) and had a lovely cup of tea with him. Hopefully we'll see him and his family again in Australia!
Over the second Friendship bridge then to Savannakhet... no real problems, although the Laos customs got a bit funny about the car, I suppose they normally only see Thai vehicles... Savannakhet is pretty quiet, seems to have been built up as a visa-run town basically. But we happened upon a very interesting man in our hotel.
It's always surprises me how interested people are in the car and us! And the support we get as we've been travelling is so great! So Fintan and I were sitting in the hotel lobby, checking up about shipping agents for getting to Australia when a tall man comes over and asks is that our car outside. Of course it is, so we start up a conversation with this guy and end up chatting away for almost an hour and a half! Chris now lives in Thailand, but is from New Zealand, so loves 4WD and offroading. He told us, and showed us some photos, of a lovely loop from Thakek to the new dam, Laksao, and back that included some amazing karst scenery and huge caves. Well, seeing as we were here, it'd be a shame not to go, so the next morning off we went. Unfortunately, we didn't see Chris at breakfast to say goodbye, but hopefully we will meet him again!
The drive was lovely, a fairly good road links Savannakhet, Thakek and Laksao, although towards Laksao there are dirt sections. On the way we stopped at Tham Nang Aen, a cave that's linked to a folk story about a hermit and his daughter, and the monk that falls in love with her... The cave was large and had impressive stalagtites and stalamites, but more impressive were the strange concrete staircases (have a look on the Laos photos). It was quite a tourist-centric cave and we thought very Chinese with all the lighting, again have a look at the photos.
On passed the dam and the hydroelectric plant the scenery was beautiful. There are towering Limestone hills, the Annamite Range, off to the east and lush green forests to the west. At Laksao we stayed the night and ate at the Only One Restaurant. Whether the name refers to it being the only one in town, or as a romantic destination I couldn't tell!
The next day we drove on to Ban Hin Na and turned off towards Konglor (aren't these place names great?!) At Konglor we had some lunch and then went down the river. Here we hired a longboat and guide (110,000 Kip = £8.50) and had a 2 hour tour of the cave! This was much more "environmentally friendly" than the last cave - as we walked through the guide switched off the lights.
The Konglor cave is 7.5km long and even has a few sandy banks, or beaches. Again the stalagmites and stalagtites are impressive, and Fintan even saw bats! Definitely worth a trip if you are out that way!