27 July 2012

Thakek (ta-keck) - The Accidental Adventure - Part 1

I went to Thakek, Laos thinking that I would be there for only a few hours before heading out to the Kong Lo cave.  Well, I was wrong.  Upon arrival at the bus station, I decide to walk to the guesthouse that I had planned to stay at.  According to Lonely Planet’s little map of the town, it appeared to be right down the street, no more than a mile away.  Well, it’s wrong.  It wasn’t less than a mile down the road (in the blazing heat and humidity) because it wasn’t on that road at all.  I didn’t discover this until walking up and down the street convinced that I had missed it.  Yes, many a tuk-tuk driver had approached me, but I was being stubborn in not wanting to deal with them that day thinking I was super close to my guest house and they kept directing me to a place down a different road and then to the left.  I knew they were wrong, the map said it was on the street that I was on!.  I head back to the bus station thinking maybe I missed something back there but stopped at a gas station not far from it to ask for directions.  I guy approaches me and speaks English (Hallelujah!!  Someone I can communicate with!!!) and asks me what I’m looking for and I tell him, and then he proceeds to tell me that the guest house would be on this road, if I were to cut through the woods.  Um, hm, no.  That’s not going to happen.  So the tuk-tuk drivers were right.  Damn, I hate it when that happens!  So he offers me a ride in his car to go there since he’s going that direction any way.  He seemed like a cool, trustworthy guy, so I accept and get into the beautiful air-conditioning of his car (good AC is very seductive in Asia).  He ends up being just as cool as I thought, drops me off and asks me if I have any plans that night and says I’m welcome to join him and some friends to drink some Laos vodka because it’s a holiday.  I ask him what holiday it is and he says it’s Saturday.  Hahaha!  Fair enough.  Though I end up declining on his offer seeing that I needed to get an early start in the morning and was laying low on the booze after Vang Vieng. 

The next morning, I head out with my pack to what I thought would be a different bus station as the guy at the guest house said it was on the corner… more like pointed and said it was on the corner, but upon arrival to “the corner” which is in fact a circle, I see no buses.  Hm, that’s not good.  I have less than 15 minutes to figure this out.  Of course everyone I asked directions from pointed me to the other big bus station (ok, big is relative to the one that I’m really looking for) and I knew that wasn’t the one.  Finally, after I start getting a bit panicky because I have just minutes to find this place and get a ticket, plus it is the only bus of the day), a local understands what I’m asking and walks me over the station.  So on “the corner” is actually “go to the corner and make a right for half a block”.  I get on the little local bus just before it pulls out and am happy with myself for making the one and only bus to the caves.  Well, one thing I learned is that it’s always too soon to celebrate when it comes to travel in Asia until you’re actually at the location you really want to be at. 

So my little bus ride for what I thought would be 3 hours goes on for about 4-5.  I didn’t complain, because the Route 8 is gorgeous!  Again, another route I’m gonna have to do by motorcycle.  Since I never knew where I was or when I would arrive, the bus driver would sometimes get off at certain locations, but never let me know when it was ok for me to get off and stretch my legs, use the toilet or grab a bite to eat.  Finally, we get to one little town and I’ve finally had enough of not knowing when to get off the bus and frustrated that he couldn’t even point on a map where we were so I had an idea of where I was (I need to write a whole other blog on locals not knowing how to read a map and can't point where they are on a map!).  I get off where we stop at a little market and tell him (ok, more like mimic) that I’m going to grab something to drink and eat.  He keeps pointing down the road and since he couldn’t point where we were on a map, I ignore him because I just needed to take care of myself.  So I get a coke, some sticky rice (healthy!) and get back on the bus.  After he gets on and starts the bus, we drive two buildings down the road and points me to get off the bus.  I ask him where I’m at and he can’t answer.  He then has a tuk-tuk driver who can speak some English and he tells me this is where I get dropped off at to take a tuk-tuk to the falls since it’s 42km back down a different road the bus doesn’t go down.  Ugh!  Well, at least he spoke English and knew where I needed to go.  My pack gets loaded onto his truck.  He has to make some runs for the next 30 minutes and  has me wait with the locals in a waiting spot while watching a muay thai boxing tournament on tv, all the while they keep looking and smiling at me.   My tuk-tuk guy comes back, I get on with more locals and then some Westerners (1 Brit and Irish guy and 2 gals from Singapore) get on board too of which one I recognize.  We start chatting and find out we’re all going to the caves.  Awesome!  We all have a nice time chatting and asking the usual backpacker questions and get to our destination and head out to the caves together.  Yay!  An adventure after the adventure!!

Beautiful countryside surrounded by huge vertical limestone mountains

Close-up of the mountain's rock formations

A little town dwarfed by it's surroundings


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