Laos: Mountains, cock fights, caves, reality & eating monkeys

Embrace everything thrown your way and open your mind to the strange and different. At the city of Thakhek along the Mekong river you can take a way better route than the boring trip straight up highway 13 (the loop). Heading out of town to the east on highway 12 the limestone karst start to appear and eventually tower over the sides of you. This is the point of getting into the mountains and some serious beauty in Laos. As you head east you have a million juicy watermelons along the side of the road.

I think I found the oldest watermelon saleswoman on earth. She probably invented it.

I spent too much time eating them and ended up somewhere in the dark. I found a spot along a river and camped under some twinkling stars. In the morning I was awoken by tall limestone mountains glowing all around me in the dawn sunlight.

It doesn’t get any warmer as you head north in Laos, so the best thing in the morning is a hot bowl of noodle soup. Usually it’s a fun time too. On this morning I pulled into a restaurant/salon, which had some very shy girls. The mom was a sweetheart and after the soup kept bringing me plates of watermelon until I was about to burst. One of the daughters hid in the salon peeking out time to time, and the other cooked with red cheeks.

I’ve never been offered someones daughters so much before. She didn’t care which one, just that I should be with one of them. One of them looked about sixteen. I had to politely decline. Once going to the north I was a little confused. Lakes and ponds started to appear and were filled with big dead trees.

My map didn’t show a lake. Turns out a big dam has been built on the river and a massive lake is the result. A lot of forest in the area became submerged and are now slender snags. Sucks to kill a bunch of forest, but on the bright side it makes for some really cool photography. They remind me of those paintings with ink drops, letting them run with a mind of their own.

The water is silky smooth and reflects everything. I camped along the lake at a place for a couple nights. The sunsets are beautiful from the bridge while the locals unload the days catch from their wooden canoes. They sure are cheerful. Everybody working together and laughing. It might be because they’re excited to drink some beer and sing karaoke. The Laotians are definitely in love with karaoke and it’s very seldom to have a night where there isn’t a group with a massive speaker singing away. During their parties/get-togethers there’s rarely a quiet moment. Theres someone on the microphone 99.5% of the time.

Absolutely no judging is going on and you hear some pretty rough stuff. It’s completely all about a good time. While I watched them unload the fish, there was a guy who was so drunk he just wobbled around while mumbling garble. I don’t speak Laotian, but I know for a fact he wasn’t either. The thing I love about them is they’re peaceful drunks. In some counties people get angry when drunk, but for the most part not in Laos. Camping out I always wake up with the sunrise, and it was a beautiful place to rise with it. A big orange ball reflecting off the lake in complete silence.

On the top part of the loop, when you head back west on highway 8 and then south for 40km, is Konglor Cave. On the way I passed, and ended up at a cock fight. They didn’t have the razor blades on the feet and it went on and on forever. They took turns getting beak-fulls of each others face, neck, or feathers and jumping backwards violently with a wing flap. It was a true heavyweight bout and neither would give up. Maybe they were just having them fight for practice, but I have no clue because we couldn’t talk.

It was a bloody mess, and afterwards they spent awhile hand washing all the blood off. It wasn’t the prettiest sight I’d ever seen, but it’s a part of their culture. The tiny village at the entrance to the cave is in a beautiful spot. Tall mountains rise up on the side of the fields. Lush green tobacco plants line the flat valley floor. At sunrise the foggy mist slowly lifts from the plants and slides off the cliff tops. The warm orange sun peaks over the ridge and the greens become almost electric. An old man waters the field with good old fashioned work. They don’t have an irrigation system, so they use many sections of blue PVC pipe to bring the water out from the village.

Not only for a small area, but he spends all morning watering the acres of tobacco. There are sections with raised soil around them, and he pipes water into each section for a couple minutes before rebuilding it into another section. The work didn’t get him down one bit, and you could tell he loved the land. Konglor Cave, is what everyone comes for. It’s a seven km long cave with a navigable river running through it. At the entrance to the cave there’s a big pond type area that is perfect for swimming and even has beach along one side of it. Big boulders warm in the sun and make a perfect place to sprawl out.

No fishing is allowed so there are tons of fish, and some of them good sized. The combination of colors is beautiful with the blue water, greyish-tan rock walls, and green growing everywhere. All these colors reflect off the water and when sunset comes they combine into a rainbow of nature.

I joined a couple germans for the canoe trip through the cave and out into another village, and then return the way you came in. It’s good fun and part way they drop you to go do a hike through some stalactites and stalagmites. The water is getting pretty low in the dry season and we got stuck a few times and had to get out and push or pull it over some small falls, but it made it more entertaining. Caves can become like temples, boring, but this cave was better than a regular cave since it has an underground river.

Instead of heading back to highway 13 to the west, I headed back east on highway 8 for a bit before catching the 1D, which leads all the way up to Xiang Khouang province and the city of Phonsavan. I got lucky and noticed a newer thread on a motorcycle forum about the route. Apparently it’s a newly finished road for part of the way, and a beautiful way to get to where I was heading. They were right, and it was smooth sailing into the mountains after stopping for a swim/bath at a pool at the base of a hill.

I was starving and ended up camping on the side of a restaurant where I could eat all the noodle soup my heart desired. It was a pretty funky timber town and for a couple km coming in there was nothing but lumber mills lining the road. The heavy cold air was full off smoke, exhaust fumes, and thick dust. The sun was slow to show itself in the morning because of the mountains in its way and the wet morning air stuck to everything.

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To warm up I went wandering and found the market and had a couple baguettes hand toasted over a fire. I didn’t know what I was getting into when I roamed into the stalls. I’ve seen some gnarly looking meats and foods before and eaten many strange things, but this market took first place. Local markets are a great way to see how the people really live because food is a massive part of any culture. It started off very PG with the colorful vegetables and fruits, old ladies hand cracking peanuts one by one, peeling bamboo shoots, and admiring their seaweed.

Then I saw a pair of squirrel looking animals. No big deal, not that strange.

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Then there was a table with some rats lined up right with the fresh herbs. Again, I can deal with rats, I just won’t eat them.

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Then boom, all of a sudden in front of me was a dead monkey laying next to some type of wild animal on a table with a pile of mushrooms. I couldn’t help being a bit startled.

I’ve tried to look online for what the animal is, but haven’t had any luck. I’m not saying I enjoy looking at other animals dead eyes, but it gave me a really bad feeling looking into the eyes of a dead monkey. They’re very human like and I could see the emotion. Another table was full of tiny wild birds that you might get a couple bites of meat off and some type of miniature deer I believe.

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It had tiny little hooves. The one I’d really like to know what it is was the spotted cat laying among bags of chilis, papayas, peanuts, and bananas. It’s nose is pointed and has a very log black tail, which is hard to tell from the picture.

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I’ve tried finding out what it is, but had no luck with it as well. It was pretty wild seeing the assortment of animals for sale at the market. In my life I don’t want to kill and eat them, but I don’t judge anyone for what they choose to do. I didn’t feel any different about those people there or think badly of them. In their culture it’s normal, and is there really a difference between killing and eating a cow and a monkey, or a pig and a cat? In western culture we mass produce certain animals, like cow, chicken, and pigs and buy chunks of them at the store and thats normal, but if you were to see some cat or rat it would gross you out. Does it make sense? I don’t know, but here an animal is an animal and if you’re going to eat one why not another. They still go out and hunt for their own food in the wild, and no part of the animal is wasted. The beauty of the world is how diverse it is and the different ways we all live in it. How boring would it be if we were all the same and in every country people live identical lives. I think deep down in we are all the same, and subconsciously still wanting the basic needs of life and survival, but we’ve been thrown off track and led into our own realities. We all live in one world, but many different realities. Our thoughts on what is right and what is wrong have been moulded, sculpted, and engrained in us since birth. Not many people are able to build their own sense of reality of this world. It’s built up for them and taught to them as the truth. I think thats one of the things I love about getting out of my comfort zone and going into strange places. My reality is constantly changing. I’m constantly learning new things about this world. Things you thought to be crazy suddenly become normal. Live life with an open mind and keep learning. Don’t be stubborn in your beliefs and keep growing. Thats all for my ramble 🙂

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About Trueworldtravels

Following my heart around the planet. Bringing to life the unique world around us through writing and photography.
This entry was posted in adventure travel, camping, food, Laos travel, locals, markets, Motorcycle world travel, Photography and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

One Response to Laos: Mountains, cock fights, caves, reality & eating monkeys

  1. Rose says:

    Love your pictures. And of course you stories of your travel. And so so very true what you said in the end. Love it…

    Like

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