I woke up at 5:30, planning to go for a run.
But it was thunder storming, so I slept in until 7 am instead.
I had breakfast at the guesthouse next door: a baguette with honey and bananas (that I brought myself).
I walked over to Kong Lor Cave, a 7 kilometer-long cave, around 8 am. While I was walking, an older Laotian man asked me where I was going. Then he asked if I have a husband or boyfriend. Once again, I found myself being approached by random Laotian guys. I really don’t think it’s a coincidence that this never happened when I was with Kevin, but as soon as he’s gone I’m getting approached left and right.
I got to the entrance and bought a ticket.
Everyone was still setting up for the day. I first walked down to the boat area, but realized no one was ready yet so I walked back up to the main area.
I walked to the ticket area to ask if I could get on a boat. One guy told me to sit at the table and wait until 2 or 3 more people came to join me, since I couldn’t go on a boat alone.
I waited at a table nearby and three or four Laotian men sat down next to me. They asked me where I’m from. I told them I’m American, and they told me there’s no way I’m American, I must be from Asia. So I explained that I’m half Japanese and half American, and they were satisfied with that answer.
Then began a funny dance of sorts: one guy would get up from the table to do something else, and another guy would replace him. They would talk about me in Lao, then another guy would come and sit down, and the cycle continued. This went on for about 15 minutes. Finally, a family, the same family that was staying in the room next to me at the guesthouse, came around.
The wife was German, the dad was American, and they had 3 kids: a 5 year-old son (August), 3 year-old daughter (Vivien), and 8 month-old son (Felix). All of them were absolutely adorable. The two older children could speak Lao, English, and German. How amazing is that??!
The dad works for a water filter company in Pakse, the second biggest city in Laos, where they’ve lived for 7 years.
We all got life jackets and headlamps for the ride. The kids looked SO CUTE with their headlamps!
The kids were also incredibly well-behaved. I forgot how different it is to be with kids, though— just walking to the boat took double the normal amount of time because August (the older son) kept stopping and playing with the sand and pretty much everything he saw.
We got to the boats and had to split up: I, Maria (the mom), and the baby got on one; the others got on the other.
We sat down and were on the boat for about 10 minutes before getting to the first stop. We were dropped off at a dark, sandy area that took you around the cave so you could see a bunch of the rock formations, stalagmites, etc. It was pretty cool, but a bit too dark to get a good look at everything.
We got back on the boat and kept riding for about 15 more minutes until we were at an area with rapids. We had to get off and let the boatmen pull the boat up the rapid. The first time, too much water got in the boat and they weren’t able to pull the boat up successfully. They had to quickly bail the water out and then try again. Somehow, the second time went a lot better and they were able to pull the boat up with no issues.
We got back on and in a few minutes we were out of the cave and outside again.
We stopped at a nearby village: I got watermelon, the kids got ice cream, the mom fed the baby, the dad got noodle soup, and we were all happy. I loved spending time with the kids. When they noticed Vivien had a whistle on her vest, they wanted to blow on it but weren’t sure if they were allowed because it was for “emergencies only.” Vivien went to ask her dad, who said it was ok to blow, so then she reported back to August saying he could blow on it if he wanted. He did it once, and then she tried it, but then August told her to “not do it anymore because it’s for emergencies only.”
I died. Such obedient kids!
We got back on the boat and then rode back to the cave. This time, there were 3 or 4 other groups at the rapids point. I was really glad we did it early because we had the whole cave to ourselves.
Once we got back down the rapids and into the boat again, we rode straight to the starting point.
Right as we were walking back toward the exit, it started down pouring. We all ran back, quickly returned our life jackets and headlamps, and then raced to the family’s car. I hitched a ride with them because I didn’t want to walk back to the hotel in the pouring rain.
I got all my stuff together, checked out, and then ordered lunch at the hotel restaurant: curry with rice.
I ate my food, said bye to the family, and then started the journey back to Thakhek. It had stopped raining at this point, and I hoped it would stay this way for the whole ride.
It did not.
5 minutes into my ride, it started down pouring again.
I got.to a bridge, which was made of broken wood panels where you have to sort of navigate around each section to make sure you’re riding on complete pieces of wood the whole time.
Well, it was slippery, and I’m not the most experienced driver, so I hit a piece of broken wood, my tire went in between the panels, my bike went on its side, and I skidded off my bike.
Some guy who saw the whole thing picked my bike back up for me and set it to the side of the road.
I got up, looked at my body to make sure I was ok, and saw a bunch of cuts everywhere.
Physically, I felt fine– just a bit of blood and pain– but I was dying inside.
The cars that were behind me passed by me with concerned looks on their faces. One lady asked if I was ok.
I gathered myself, turned my bike back on, and kept riding.
I wanted to cry. I wanted to be off my bike. But I had no choice— I had to keep riding. I was alone and had no other way of getting back.
10 minutes later, and there was another bridge with the same broken wood panels. I rode carefully and more slowly, but yet— the same thing almost happened. I hit a weird panel, my tire’s angle shifted, and I skidded to the left. I almost hit the other side of the bridge, but I luckily caught my bike just in time and without falling off either.
I was also very lucky that no one was on that side of the bridge. It could have been disastrous because I probably would have hit them.
However, now my bike was on the bottom layer of the bridge and I had to figure out how to get my bike back on the wooden panels without veering off again. After some honking from oncoming cars, clearly letting me know how much of a nuisance I was, and a bit of self-pep-talking, I somehow managed to get back on the wooden panels and off the bridge without falling off again.
I rode on, praying that that was the last bridge.
20 minutes of riding later, I thought I was in the clear.
And then, bam— another one appeared. I told myself, “Don’t be scared, Anna. You can do this. Attack the bridge.”
So I went SUPER slowly. This bridge was also in very poor condition. There was one point where there was just one, half-a-foot-wide wooden panel on the bridge, so you had to ride super straight or you’d veer off the bridge. Somehow, I made it across. I didn’t realize how much adrenaline was in my blood until I got off. My heart was POUNDING.
I still wanted to cry. Can this be over???
The next hour or so of the ride involved a lot of steep inclines, sharp curves, and bumpy roads. I was nervous every time, now that I knew the impact that a bike can make. And I was only going about 10 km an hour when I fell off. I didn’t want to experience a fall going 30 or 40 km an hour.
Around 3 pm, I finally hit the highway— I knew this was the homestretch. 96 km until Thakhek. I could do this.
As I rode, I thought of all the songs I know by heart and decided to sing them to keep myself entertained. I did Complicated by Avril, Dontcha by The Pussycat Dolls, Pimpin’ All Over The World by Ludacris, Gold Digger by Kanye, Ain’t No Other Man by Christina Aguilera, Irreplaceable by Beyonce… to name a few.
Some parts of the road were really cold, some parts really windy— at one point, it was so windy that I thought I would get blown off the side of the road. That was scary.
I kept going, and slowly but surely I got closer and closer. 85 km to Thakhek led to 70, 70 led to 65. Once I reached 45 kilometers, I was so happy. I knew I would be back in the next hour.
At 10 kilometers away, I was so ready to just be done with it. My butt hurt, I was still a bit nervous from the accident, and I was bored from just sitting all day.
I finally got back to my guesthouse at 5 pm. I returned my bike, booked a night bus to Vientiane, changed into my running clothes, and went for the run I was supposed to do this morning back in Kong Lor.
It started out weird. I was running, but it felt like I wasn’t moving at all. It felt like I was at a walking pace, but I was making the running motion.
Slowly, I started to feel normal. I ran up a hill, crossed over to the other side of town, and got to the riverside. That’s when the fun began. Everyone was out celebrating the New Year.
The way they celebrate here is during the day, everyone gets super drunk and plays with water. The kids and teenagers all get together on the back of trucks or in front of storefronts and throw water on each other— on drivers, pedestrians, really anyone they come across. They use water guns, hoses, cups, buckets, whatever is around.
I got soaked by at least 10 different groups of people— some would chase me down with buckets of water, others would hose me, and some just grabbed my hands and danced with me. It was so much fun. It felt like a party more than a run. It was also one of the fastest-paced runs I’ve done in a while. I’m not sure if I just had more energy because of the meals I had earlier, if I had pent up energy from all the biking, or if it was the atmosphere, but I loved it. I felt so good the entire time, even on the hilly parts.
I finished the 8 miles just past sunset and went back to the guesthouse to shower and change.
My plan was to eat dinner at the guesthouse, but their restaurant was closed for the New Year. I heard a big group of people discussing where to go for dinner, so I asked if I could join them. They of course said yes, as backpackers do, and we all went down the street to a Vietnamese restaurant that was supposedly open.
We couldn’t find it after 10 minutes of searching, so we went back to the hostel to double check with the receptionist who recommended the place to us. He told us we just had to walk a little further down, so we tried again.
And indeed, it was just a little past where we initially were.
We were all starving at this point, but being the only open restaurant in town, it was packed and they were really busy. After about 10 minutes of waiting, we finally got the menus. It was all in Vietnamese so we had no idea what anything was. I had a very basic knowledge of Vietnamese words, like “ga” for chicken, “rau” for vegetables, “com” for rice, etc. But it wasn’t that helpful.
Thankfully, the menu also had pictures so I just pointed to a picture of the morning glory and got that since I had no idea what any of the other vegetable pictures were.
45 minutes later, the waiter came over with about 6 plates of fried rice. We were confused, since only 4 people ordered the fried rice.
A few minutes later, my morning glory and steamed rice came. One guy who ordered pork decided to just take one of the extra plates of fried rice. The waiter took the other one away. Not sure what happened there to cause the mix-up, but whatever! We had our food and we all promptly got to eating.
You gotta love a plate of morning glory. It’s always so good.
We all finished, chatted for a while, and then headed back to the guesthouse.
I was really tired at this point, but I still had a few more hours until my night bus to Vientiane.