December 1, 2020
We got to the capital of Laos quite smoothly. In total, the trip from Vang Vieng took just over 3 hours. We get off the bus somewhere in a quiet area. We assume that we are on the outskirts of the city. However, after checking the map, it turns out that we are in the centre of the Lao capital. There is an amazing peace here, there are almost no cars on the streets, and we can barely see any people. Most probably, the locals have a day off today, as yesterday's national holiday fell on a Sunday. Indeed, offices, banks and even tourist agencies are closed. We even have a problem with the money exchange, but finally we find something.
Vientiane, or at least its centre, is a bit like a European city. There are many traces of French colonization here. Buildings, roads, the riverside promenade, and finally restaurants and bakeries, all this makes us forget that we are in Asia. Only numerous temples, with their beautifully decorated buildings and gates, remind us of this. The Mekong river flowing on the city border also marks the border with the country of Thailand, which can be seen on the other side. Looks like we will not be staying here for long. We will probably move on tomorrow. This time, for a change, we want to try something that we have not been able to do before, and which should be part of such a trip. We want to get to the next destination by using only a local transportation. Most tourists, as well as us so far, choose transport organized by travel agencies, mainly because it is more convenient, faster, and therefore more expensive. We cannot wait to try the other way.
In order not to spend the whole day traveling, we start it quite early. Today we set off towards the Kong Lo cave, located about 350 kilometres from the capital. We want to cover this road using local means of transport. The first step is to walk to Talat Sao Bus Station. We walk from the city centre for about 20 minutes. Once there, we learn from a "helpful" tuk-tuk driver that we must get to another station, Southern Bus Station, located 9 kilometres away from here. He immediately offers us a transport for 20,000 kips per person. When we ask if there is any bus going there, he replies that there is one in an hour and a half, and then lowers the price to 15,000. We notice a bus station information, in which we learn that buses go there every 30 minutes and cost 3,000 kips. We find one, get inside, and go.
By taking the local bus to the southern bus station, we can get even closer to the local people, to observe their ways of life and traditions. The bus is almost full. In addition to the passengers, the bus is full of different packages located at the aisle. We are travelling with people with groceries, mothers with children, a monk, and a lady with a huge tray full of some kind of unknown to us food. Another passenger, sitting next to us, bought a bag of this delicacy. Calmly crunching, she noticed that we were staring at her, so she decided to treat us. We politely refuse, noticing exactly what was in the bag. She was eating either fried or baked grasshoppers. We are looking at the technique of their consumption. By holding grasshopper’s legs, she bites off its trunk. Looking at the expression on her face, we concluded that this delicacy must be delicious. It even crosses our minds to try, but maybe not on an empty stomach 😉
We finally get to the south station. Its name comes from the fact that buses depart from it towards the south. We find a bus to Savannakhe, we buy our tickets, but only to Paksan. We want to change there to the next one. We set off at 9:00 am to stop after a minute to load various things on the roof. Meanwhile, people passing the bus selling water, gums, medications, baguettes, or books. It looks a bit chaotic, but also funny. In Paxan they drop us off by the road. After a short research we find out that the next bus will arrive here in about half an hour. They were not wrong. The bus is here, and we are getting on. It is quite full, so we are ending up on the little chairs in the aisle. Thus, we can sit next to the locals who treat us with fruit or rice, another very pleasant experience. The ride is quite good and after three hours we land at the crossroads on roads number 8 and 13. There is already a tuk-tuk waiting for us, to take us to the village of Ban Khoun Kham, 41 kilometres away, also known as Ban Na Hin. This will be our base for the caves we are planning to visit. Looking for accommodation does not take long, as there is only one main street in the village. There is also a market, a few shops, a lot of guesthouses, a few restaurants, and even an ATM. We decide to accommodate in a bamboo house, on a family plot. It is modest but very cosy, and the fact that chickens run around makes the place even more special. There are hammocks on the porch of our house, on which we relax until the end of the day.
When it comes to traveling with local transport, it was a great idea. It may take more time, but it is by no means more interesting. How much would we miss by travelling in a comfortable, air-conditioned bus. By the way, we managed to save few pennies for accommodation.
“The use of traveling is to regulate imagination with reality, and instead of thinking of how things may be, see them as they are.” – Samuel Johnson