Saturday, February 12, 2011

Laos: Central Mountains

We spent the next morning at Buddha Park near Vientiane, located on the Mekong River and looking across to Thailand. Apparently this large park full of Buddhist and Hindu figures came from a guy who wanted to integrate the two religions and wanted all of the figures to look ancient. However, most were made of cement and were a bit on the creepier side.
The weather was gorgeous, so we decided to just play around in the park for a while...
Biggest Buddha EVER!
We left the Buddha park, wandered around the "morning market" (more of a massive mall) and settled down for a 5 hour drive into the mountains for the night. On the way, we stopped at a viewpoint to see the Limestone Forest.
and watch another incredible sunset over the mountains.
On Saturday morning, we met a "local guide" (a teenager who lives near a trail) who led us on a 3km hike to a waterfall deep in the jungle. While the waterfall was not so impressive, the hike was pretty awesome. It began in an open trail, passing a few cows and buffalo, and through natural butterfly gardens. The butterflies flew all around us for a good 10 minutes of walking; it was great!
The rest of the hike was mostly in the jungle; up and down rocks, avoiding roots and grasping trees. We were glad to have our hiking boots and a bit shocked that the guide was wearing flip flops. I guess he was used to it?

After hiking the 3km back, we drove to the Kong Lor Cave and ate noodle soup overlooking the Hinboun River. We then got into a boat (more like a motorized canoe) to ride on the underground river, which went through the cave for 7km cave. Because it is dry season, the water was very shallow at many points, and we actually got out to walk and push the boat several times. It was strange to be unable to see your surroundings; while we rented headlamps ("torches"), they didn't work very well to see much of the cave. Luckily, the guys driving the boat had much stronger "torches" and we could see when they shined their lights ahead.
We got out of the boat at at one point and walked through beautiful stalagmites and stalactites. It was interesting to see the water dripping down and actually realize how long it takes for these structures to form.
On the other side of the cave, we sat outside and watched water buffalo in the river while the boat guides relaxed for a bit. Then we rode the 7km back to the entrance and swam in the clear water at the mouth of the cave. It was stunning!

Afterwards, we re-sun screened for a 2 hour boat ride down the Hinboun River to the eco-lodge where were going to spend the night. The van with our stuff was going to meet us there, so it was perfect. We passed beautiful scenery, small villages, gardens, and tons of kids fishing and bathing in the water.
The blue tube is a local irrigation system that uses water from the river to irrigate the tobacco and rice crops.
The driver was pretty incredible, as he had to maneuver through shallow water, buffalo, and fishing contraptions that used bamboo and sticks to trap fish.
 By the time we arrived at the eco-lodge, we had sore legs and hungry bellies. After quick showers, we were ready for a BeerLao and dinner overlooking the river. Another spectacular day in Laos!

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