Friday, 19 November 2010

Konglor Cave - Laos

Bex has spotted a cave complex in the guide book, it sounds quite interesting too so we decide to pay it a visit.

Konglor cave was formed by the natural flow of the Hin Phou river. The river snakes its way through spectacular scenery before burrowing 7km underground - For a small fee you can charter a dugout canoe with local guides for an hour long boat journey right through the cave.

We don flip flops, a headtorch and life jacket before jumping into our small boat....The guide calls for a second guide, a spotter, who sits on the bow of the boat with a high powered torch used to illuminate the pitch black waterways... I was expecting a sedate trip, but I was in for a surprise.

Our driver fires up the makeshift motor on the back of the boat and we slowly motor into the cave. Thirty seconds later the ambient light has disappeared and we're motoring in the pitch black, pretty scary. I can hear what sounds like a small waterfall just up ahead, the spotter picks it out with his torch - Its a shallow but fast moving rapid.

Because we're headed upstream, we're also headed directly into this mini waterfall & surely some kind of small bank of rock that the water is flowing over?!..... Suddenly the driver cranks up the engine and we're heading into the rapid at full speed, the 2-stroke engine screaming away at the back of the boat - I still cant figure our how he did it, but we somehow manage to motor up the rapid against the flow of water and over a small bank of rock!

The rest of the trip is spent motoring at full speed through the inky darkness, dodging cave walls and spikes of rock jutting from the river bed. Its dry season so some of the rapids require portage of the boat....wading about in an underground river, pulling a boat up a rapid by the light of a headtorch is a truly unique experience! A brilliant trip.

Exiting the cave, a Buddhist monk appears from seemingly nowhere and stands on the rocks just ahead of us. I ask if I can take his picture, he agrees and I take an iconic shot.

After the caves we jump back into the car and head towards our last stop in Laos, Savannahket. Checking the map, Bex finds a short cut which will save us re-tracing the two hour long route back to the main road... Its identified as a "National road / Other" on the map, but its a bold enough line, surely it must be OK...... If it works out, we stand to save several hours of driving.

After 3 hours of driving, we arrive at the crossroads and the start of the "Shortcut route". Surely we're on to a winner here! We turn down it and head off into the jungle. In less than 5km the road magically transforms from smooth(ish) tarmac to the surface of the moon. Huge craters, some the size of the car and almost as tall, occupy the entire width of the road.

We crack on and manage to pick our way through them for a little way, just in case its a minor glitch in an otherwise good road. But no....After another 10 minutes the road has become un-passable, worse than anything I've seen. Meanwhile the light is starting to fade and two men in civilian clothes casually stroll past laughing at us, AK47 machine guns slung over their backs.

It struck me that this was probably how people end up 'disappearing' so I make the heartbreaking decision to turn back. It would be another 3 hours back to the caves, 2 hours to the main road then 4 hours to the next stop......Agggghhhhh!!

Heading back towards the cave, a brief wrong turn takes us onto a long stretch of unusually smooth tarmac. Quickly realising we're driving down the length of an old, unmarked runway, I turn back. Its another old CIA Lima Site landing strip.

We're stopped by the police 4 times on our night drive, after nightfall the authorities setup road blocks to control vehicle movements - According to our guide book they've only recently ousted bandits from some of the more rural areas.... All the same the police send us on with nothng more than a chuckle.

We make it to our hotel for 1am.

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