Ozzie

Ozzie

Monday, 29 April 2013

Day 58 - Kong Lo Cave to Mekong River, 25km north of Paksane - Mon 22 Apr

Day 58 - Kong Lo Cave to Mekong River, 25km north of Paksane - Mon 22 Apr
Fortunately we did not stay in the park overnight as the storm bought down several trees. We hired an outboard canoe, crossed the rickety bamboo bridge and took off for our adventure into Kong Lo cave, following the river underground for 7.5km. We idled past the bats at the cave mouth, and were first boat in for the day. The otherwise total darkness was offset by reflections in our torch beams, head and cap lamps. At some points we had to get out into the cold water to carry the boat over shallows, and then walked up into stalagmite and stalactite chambers and cathedral caverns. This is normally a semi-lit pathway but the lighting had been blown out by the storm. (Thanks to Cheryl for photos of canoe trip - Wanderoos left camera behind in vehicle...)





















We came out the other end into remote Natan Village, and looked around before returning to find the solemn mood disturbed by many more boats and people in the cave. We came out of the mouth to the amazing spectacle of white butterflies swarming. The whole magical experience was topped off by jumping into the icy cold water to find ourselves surrounded by decent sized diamond backed fish with yellow underfins.










Following lunch we got on the road back through tobacco farms and limestone country to turnoff, and turned north towards Vientiane. 

















These new bright colourful concrete houses going up everywhere look so much hotter than the ones made of natural materials and fibres - have Laotians missed colour all these years? Saw chopped up chips of cassava laid out on tarps drying in sun... guess they on-sell to the big tapioca company we passed further down the road. Goats are plentiful in Laos. Dogs skulk around and duck at sudden moves – they seem to be more tolerated than loved, although monks were obviously kind to temple dogs.  It was overlong before a comfort stop on side of road – turns out BoyRob will not go into the bush where there are no tracks because of UXOs…




We pulled up alongside peaceful Mekong River, GirlRob did load of washing whilst Rob cooked masaman chicken. News from home says bird flu escalating although no human to human contact proved. A medical alert says many people have stopped eating chicken, ducks, eggs and pork throughout China, not just affected areas. Awaiting news from NAVO whether the earthquake in south west will affect our itinerary eg pandas in natural habitat near Chendu. Uzbekistan has been upgraded to "high degree of risk to travel" so now goes on our "watching brief" list. Sometimes it’s just not worth checking up on the rest of the globe…

Day 57 - Savannakhet to Phon Hin Poun National Protected Area - Sun 21 Apr

Day 57 - Savannakhet to Phon Hin Poun National Protected Area - Sun 21 Apr
Ah, community life -woken at 4am with a slow gong, call to prayers, flashlights in the forest, then the chanting.... Suspet stopped to say good morning and we gave him some groceries, he had us correct his English pronunciation of each item. Before we left he came back with some peeled fruit that sounded like "Guam"; GirlRob’s stomach was still queasy at smell but others seemed to enjoy it. 

Followed road east until turned north towards Thakhek for lunch. Lots of new development (apparently due to Chinese investment recovering from GFC). Chinese tractors, rattan walled dwellings with strong lists to the side, heaps new buildings going up especially service stations (for all the long nose/ Hyundai cars) and houses (every second block has a house under construction (have they just received a stimulus package of bricks??) 














Limestone mountains and kaarst formations appearing as travel north. Fences woven, warp and weft, no wires... bouncy bouncy road. One sugar mill, one rubber factory to date - not much large industry. Turned off to east at Vieng Kham, first non-appetising lunch reported ("do you reckon this is goat or dog meat?"). Immediately into jagged limestone peaks with the odd cave; more dense vegetation as we climb. Good view from lookout before moving back into agricultural holdings and dry rice paddies. 



Crossed 4 or 5 wooden one way bridges, then hit tobacco farms, with two-story rattan drying sheds. Women in one large shed squatting on floor sorting and tying leaves. 
On to Phon Hin Poun National Protected Area. Checked out times and prices for Kong Lo Cave tomorrow – a three hour longtail boat trip through 7.5kms of underground tunnels, "beaches" and cavern walks. Watched boys play form of bolle with iron balls. Found gorgeous campsite further down river – and didn't have to ask anyone if we could stay - bonus! Several people used long poles to pull down elkhorns/ crows nests (for sale or eating?)

 BoyRob had been noticing gauges saying engine overheating during hill climbs or faster speeds so we pulled everything out of top boxes, consoles, and bolster boxes to commence investigations. After an hour there was still no obvious source of problem so we put it all back together again to prepare dinner at the outdoor kitchen. Halfway through, this too had to be hastily repacked, as the thunderstorm that had been threatening gave way to lightening, thunder and rain. Fortunately it cooled the place down and only lasted a half hour, so resumed cooking outside for our later than expected but welcome dinner. 
Most were asleep by the time the three different sets of people with flash lights came and checked us out after lights out...

Saturday, 27 April 2013

Day 56 – Thailand to Savannakhet Laos - Sat 20 Apr

Day 56 – Thailand to Savannakhet Laos - Sat 20 Apr
Oh no! GirlRob has awoken light headed, nauseous and roiling belly, it’s too hot to be sick. Headed off towards Mukdahan, home of bronze drums. Next is the border crossing into Laos, our 6th country. Shopped at Tesco's in belief won't easily find supermarkets before Vientiane (bought lots of water and dry biscuits just in case). Passed truckload of water buffalo, packed tightly in 4x4 array with nose rings affixed - most unpleasant journey to market by the look of it. 
                                            
The border crossing Thailand to Laos was approx 1.5hrs. Stopped in Savannakhet to buy Laos micro SIM card and data, and topped it up whilst had access to person who spoke some English. Cheryl was less successful because she didn't have a Chinese language option on her phone. Whilst Savannakhet is known for landmine museum (unexploded ordinance UXOs from US bombing of Laos supply routes into Vietnam during war have killed 12,000+ people) and sites of five different types of dinosaurs, everyone was weary, so drove short distance out of town. Guy asked at Wat and got one of his wishes -an approval to camp! Boy monks gathered round him with questions, looked pretty cool with him so tall amongst the saffron robes. White robed women monks on site also, approx 25 people according to head monk Suspet who came to practice his English in a conversation with BoyRob, referring to his book "Laos for Beginners". Couldn’t believe it when he came out with the usual “What is your name? Where do you come from? Where are you going?” He bought over an esky with ice, soft drinks and creamers for coffee (Oh no, now we are beholden again). Prayers over, the monks have gone to their separate houses amongst the trees, and we have been told the light is ours... so off it goes, as do we....

Day 55 – Siem Reap Cambodia to Sa Nion Thailand - Fri 19 Apr

Day 55 – Siem Reap Cambodia to Sa Nion Thailand - Fri 19 Apr
Very humid morning, with mosquitoes at breakfast – a reminder to start anti-malaria tablets in readiness for Laos. Final items in hotel room removed whilst we were eating, backpack emptied, kangaroo mascot removed – retrieval was a painful item by item process (we tired of the game first). Cheered up when man at fruit stall asked "What's in back? You got kangaroos in there??" Open, unfenced land at extremities of Wats looked inviting for camping but Guy and Cheryl were told "snakes at night" (meaning bad people, unsafe). 


 Road north to small border crossing after Anlong Veng in better condition than most of other roads in Cambodia. Lots of timber cutting/ hauling.. At border town , found inconspicuous sign leading to Pol Pot’s cremation site.












Crossed back into Thailand at small border post at Choem (details will be posted elsewhere!) Over two hours they learnt on us how to export-import vehicles! It’s only a drive through the north of the country this time, leapfrogging into Laos tomorrow. T’was nice though to be back to LHD and thankfully more conservative drivers (well, relatively speaking). Drove through two police blocks (boy soldiers with semi-automatic rifles) more interested in seeing truck than papers; BoyRob took his life in his hands when he squirted the leader with the outdoor shower!
Ah, back in Thailand - better roads, gardens - and smoke! Scarecrows/ crude hangers out front of places as pass through Lalom all wearing red shirts (supporting political faction).



Turned towards Ubon Ratchhathani, past Huai Ta Mai Reservoir and its fishing boats, islands and navigational bamboo poles in water. Rich volcanic soils, recent harvest of cassava and new plantings. Much more developed agricultural industry compared to more subsistence Cambodia - tractors, harvesters, tilling machinery etc. heaps more cars than motor. Chose campsite on a flat overlooking rice paddies with a border of gum trees; broke off branch to take smell with us...