Getting to the caves is an adventure itself. You have to take a public bus to this junction where Highway 8 meets Highway 13, then jump on a Tuk Tuk to a town called Ban Na Hin, stay a night there, then make your way to the caves the next morning. The public bus was nicer than the VIP bus in Vang Vieng, however, the public bus will pick anyone up, along with anything they have that will fit in or on top of the bus. When we got on the bus there was three mattresses, six motorcycles, a couple lamps, a bedside table, and some boxes and bags on the roof. Along the way we picked up a lady with 30 or so bundles of firewood which they somehow managed to load on the roof. At any given time there were at least 15-20 extra people on the bus sitting or standing in the aisle.
The Kong Lo cave is really cool. It had stuff like stalagtites and stalagmites (whatever those are). There was also some rocks and sand and stuff. You know, cavey things. A 7km river runs through the whole cave so you traverse it by boat which is also fun. Apparently the cave is home to the giant huntsman spider which is the biggest spider in the world by legspan (30cm). We didn't see one, and I'm glad.
The small lake at the entrance to the cave
Looks like a set from Star Trek
We met an Estonian girl, Leanne, on the way to the caves and decided to stick together for a homestay in the Kong Lor village (One time she said "I think we need a mightier flashlight" which I thought was funny). We arranged it with the guy that sold us the boat ride. When we told him we wanted to do a homestay, he ran away and returned with a limping cyclops, who would be our homestay guy (I think he has some kind of facial paralysis). The guy seemed nice though and spoke a bit of english which was handy.
The homestay was... interesting... nobody spoke much english and we could only say a few things in Laos (we had a little phrasebook) so there wasn't much communication. We explored the village a bit before dinner. There were a lot of kids and animals, and it was kind of fun because the dogs and chickens follow you around. There were also some puppies. They were the smallest puppies I'd ever played with.
The Kong Lo village
Some kids from the village
Dinner was also... interesting... It's not that I was expecting anything spectacular or anything, but I'd read some stories online from people who had done homestays that they do this Baci ceremony thing and then everyone eats together and drinks lao lao moonshine and tries to talk and everyone laughs and it's a gay old time. Ours wasn't like that at all... They served us separately and sort of watched as we ate and then when we were done they ate a few feet away from us in a closed circle. The TV was on the whole time playing old Thai music videos (or something).
There was another weird thing... Before dinner they asked us if we liked chicken. We said yes. They brought in a live chicken and killed it in the back. But we were never served any chicken... It's not like I wanted chicken real bad or anything (I didn't care what we ate), but it was weird to even bring it up if they weren't serving it. Oh yeah, when they ate separately, they were definitely eating the chicken. Which was doubly weird cause it was like "You like chicken? Cool, cause you get to watch us eat it."
After dinner they put on this Lao movie that was sort of funny but really weird. One of the actors looked like an asian Mike Tyson. We basically sat there and watched them watch the movie for 90 minutes. At one point our homestay host, Mr Mouang brought out a suitcase and started going through a stack of mail. The adults then proceeded to hold each letter up to the light to see what was inside without opening them. It was weird. I started to wonder if we had stumbled upon some sort of racket.
When it was time for bed, Mr. Mouang set up the mosquito net over our floor mat beds (which actually were pretty comfortable and warm). I got in and noticed an odd shaped shadow on the net. It was a giant spider. Like, size of my hand big. The legs were as big as the Trantula legs we ate, but the body was smaller. We went and got Mr. Mouang who came in and chased it around our mosquito net enclosed sleeping area. It was one of those jumping spiders which was especially creepy. He caught it and crushed it with his bare hand. Him and his wife kept saying something to us afterwards. It could have been "Not Poisonous, don't worry" or "Very dangerous, you're lucky" for all we know.
After the spider incident, we all got into the sleeping area and Leanne noticed some sort of cockroach thing crawl out of Laura's blanket. So we pulled all the blankets out and shook them out, then we checked the mats for more fun critters. We couldn't find the cockroach so we just re-settled. Just as we're about to turn out the light, Laura sees the bug crawling on the net. I manage to convince it to crawl into a cup (using Laura's book) and toss it out the window. Crisis averted. A couple valiums later and we were fast asleep.
All in all, the Kong Lo Cave adventure was a really good one. It felt like we were actually travelling since couldn't just take an air conditioned VIP bus directly to the caves. Also it was nice because there were only a few other tourists there. Feels like we did something "off the beaten track" or something... I'm glad we got to do a homestay too, however strange it was.
Our homestay family. Actually there were a bunch more people at dinner and watching the movie but we didn't get a picture.
The country side around the village. Cool mountains.