she said (Laos): WHAT THA KHEK

I was SO nervous at first because I've never been on a motorbike and Bridger had never really driven one before so kept peeking around him to the side the whole time so my back and neck started to hurt pretty quickly. While is was neurotically doing so, of all the things to be looking at, I happened to see a little white fluff casually drift across sky directly in front of us and for some reason, whether it was a peace sign or I just took it as such, it made me relax a bit as I interpreted it as a sign that we would be safe!

The first day was the worst traffic day because you are pretty well driving on the main road between Tha Khek and Vietnam so there was lots of traffic-motorbikes, cars, trucks and buses. In SE Asia , right of way quite simply works like this: if you are smaller, get the hell out of the way. So basically on a motorbike, we carried a bit more power than the bicycles and pedestrians and maybe the animals, though they didn't so systematically follow these rules!

It was so so hot-like 40 degrees but at least we had wind by being on the bike so we were never too too hot or sweaty. For as much that was intense about that first day, the scenery all around you at the same time was stunning--lush green mountains and giant limestone karsts surrounded you on all sides. And where there is limestone, there is caves so there were all sorts of caves scattered around which we kept missing the signs for so passed right on by...we said we'd hit them up on the way back. At our first gas station stop I accidentally paid for our drinks with a 10 000 kip bill instead of a 1000 bill which look pretty well exactly the same. The girl laughed and disappeared for awhile and then eventually came back and gave me more money back. When she saw how confused I was, she showed me what bills I gave to explain that I way overpaid. Again, SO amazingly honest and wonderful because i really wouldn't have known any different and how easy it would be to justify pocketing the extra change.

Along the way it because obvious that Laos life is village and/or farm life with the primary industry being agriculture and livestock.

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Even though we've seen quite a few villages along the way, what was different about Laos was the abundance of farm animals--Cows, water buffalo, goats, chickens, geese, dogs, cats, the odd pig. They were everywhere and not penned at all. The animals just ran freely around with many of the goats and cows having bells around their necks, I suppose to find them later. I still have NO idea how they didn't wander too far from home or how people knew whose animals were whose. Maybe goats you could tell the difference but how do you know about chickens that all look the same?! Way too many times to count we'd be driving down the road and have to slow or stop because of cows crossing the road or chickens bolting towards it or whatever. It was awesome because it was baby season so there were so many baby animals of every kind chasing after their moms. At one point we saw two baby goats trying to climb a steep dirt bank on the side of the road and they were SO cute becuase they'd leap up for seconds, lose their balance and then launch themselves awkwardly off the side back to the ground.

When we got closer to the town we were going to stay in for the first night the landscape totally changed and instead of farms and crops, there were these giant swamp ponds and lakes of water full of dead stick trees sticking up. The trees for the most part didn't have any branches and all that remained was one big stick.

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They definitely weren't the most lovely sight and more Halloween-esque eerie than beautiful but really neat because we'd never seen anything like that before. We arrived at our bungalow (ah, bungalows!) quite early in the afternoon and just hung out in the hammock and played crib for the rest of the day.

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When we woke up in the morning we put on our very same clothes as the day before because we only really had one pair to recycle for the 4 days with our one little backpack for two. We ate a big portion of noodle soup, Lao specialty complete with a little bug and a dead curled up spider, yum. Haha it honestly is a rare find to get a meal without a bug of some sort! Or if you're Bridger, a hair. My god, I don't know if he is just really unlucky or has eyes of a hawk but I can't even count the number of hairs he's pulled out of his meals! Mostly, we shrug and just keep eating regardless of what nonsense comes out of our food.

The next day on the road was amazing all around. All of a sudden we were surrounded by the friendliest local people in Laos with all the kids, sometimes entire groups of them on their way to or from school would give us huge smiles, waves and "Sabaidee's"! As we got closer to the mountains there was these little villages and homes sprawled out at the base of the mountain and it was such an amazing backdrop and also actually reminded me of small town BC a bit. As we got deeper into the jungle we started climbing these tight switchbacks (watch out for trucks around those corners!) to get higher and higher and the views were outstanding with thick green jungle and cliffs surrounding which which eventually opened up into these sprawling views of below. So the scenery was spectacular, way less traffic, nicer people and I had relaxed alot so more comfortable on the bike.

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There was one section of road that was under construction and was pure loose dust or gravel so we had to slow down to like 20-30 km/hr (usually went 50 ish) and it took us about 1.5 hours to get through. By the time we did we were sore and completely covered in dust! I don't know how the local people would do it in rainy season as add some water and those roads would be completely impassable. Somewhere during this time, Bridger saw his very first wild snake slither across the road.

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On the other side of this we met this couple who were traveling with their 1.5 year old little girl...very cool and they were pretty well celebrities everywhere they went because all the locals were all over the little girl saying hello and taking pictures. We visited a cool springs along the way at the same time as this couple...we were the only foreigners there. You had to go quite a bit off the main road down a rough and rocky dirt road and it was clearly the local hangout with a ton of teenagers hanging out and swimming for hours and groups of adults sitting in the shade under the trees and drinking beer from the crate of beer they left in the water. At one point the amazing people offered us a beer from their stash so Bridger had one. The cool springs itself was pretty small but absolutely beautiful with crystal clear turquoise water and some bamboo rafts for walking to the other side/getting out to the big rock that people jump off. The local teenagers were really encouraging us to climb the rock to jump off and made sure to point out the way up and wave us up! We were a little "back to the drawing board" when we realized that the locals just swam in their clothes-like not even shorts and t-shirt but sometimes full on jeans! So do as the locals do, Bridger and I went behind a rock and held up a sarong for eachother to change into somewhat swimmable clothes and we swam in our clothes on too--even Bridger wore a tshirt! But it was cold. Bridger jumped right in no problem but I could only make it up to my waist. We stayed there for about an hour before we had to move on to make sure we made it to our next stopover before dark.

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As we were driving out, there was a puddle across the dirt path. Instead of going right through it, Bridger decided to try to go around it, hitting the tiny patch of dry btwn the puddle and the trees. Sure enough, he caught the steep edge instead and the bike completely slid out and dropped us directly in the puddle, bike on top! And the kid couple was right behind us to see the whole thing. Luckily we were going really slow so neither of us was hurt but now half of the bike and our bodies were covered in wet clay mud and we had to shamefully wear this proof of failure until we reached our accommodation in about two more hours! Bridger wanted to wash the bike because he was a bit worried that the bike owner would see the mud and know that we got in an accident of some sort and then he would closely check the bike for damage that we might have to pay for whether we did it or not. So we pulled into a gas station and used their garden hose to wash it down. As we were doing this a random local guy totally unsolicited rode up on a motorbike and asked where we're from, where we're going, where we're staying etc and then pointed us the right direction, just making conversation...he was so jovial and friendly! Haha sometimes I think that people just want any excuse to show us that they speak English and practice their English with English speakers!

Given the mud dropping setback and the chunk of time spent at the cool springs, we were a little late on the road in the afternoon so we were racing sunset to make it to our accommodation in Konglor village. This was the most beautiful part of the trip (it just kept getting better!), especially with the sunsetting backdrop over the mountains and farms/villages. We drove the bike passing by the fields of the greenest color I'd ever seen (it would definitely win the "whoever can find the ... (greenest) thing" contest family ;) ) which I later found out was rice fields and at sunset all the water buffalo came together to soak in mud puddles in the fields. It was amazing really because there would be a small puddle and like 8 water buffalo in it with only the tops of their bodies and heads peeking out-seriously for such a big creature, they can almost disappear in these puddles! Unfortunately no pictures were taken during this time because both cameras were covered in mud from the great mud dive 2015! After 5 hours of driving that day, our sore butts made it to a hotel in the tiniest most lovely village. The real draw here was Konglor cave which I'll tell you about later. Unfortunately the hotel check in lady spoke 0 English so when we asked where to put the bike overnight, she just haphazardly pointed out back (haha well first she gave me the wifi password because she figured that must be what I was asking!). It's a brand new expensive bike so even though Laos is not plagued by motorcycle rental thefts/scams like places like Thailand, I felt a little uncomfortable with leaving it just out all we somehow managed to push it into the hotel room beside our bed! I wish we took a picture.

Our plan in the am was to wake up early and go see Konglor cave first thing in the am when it opens. We were up at 6:40 am (did I mention that we never get to sleep in!) and grabbed some breakfast at a little local restaurant. We put in our order and then the one single person working there just disappeared-drove away in her truck for awhile. When she came back she had a pile of eggs with her. So ultimately she went out to buy my breakfast right after we ordered! The girl was absolutely lovely and cooked the best curry we had ever tasted so we left a nice tip and she was so excited and appreciative so it felt especially nice to pay back great service.

Konglor cave is a 7 km long cave with water running through the whole thing and you can take a boat all the way through to the other side. This was AMAZING and a total highlight of our trip! At first I thought that we would be taking little rowboats but instead it was this tiny flat bottom boat with the tiniest prop I ever saw. It was just Bridger and I in the boat with two local guides-one driving and one navigating. We zipped through the cave on this tiny boat with water inches from the top of the boat-I'm amazing at how shallow of water this boat could still move in! At times though the water was so shallow that we had to get out and push the boat but we never really knew which was a shallow get out time and which was a shallow stay in time so there was a lot of unsure stand up sit downs and the guides laughed at us. The cave itself was pitch black except for the headlamp beams. It alternated through giant archways, jagged walls and sometimes it just gave way to sandy beaches. The guides were amazing at navigating through the cave. At one point somehow the water started to flow almost uphill between a narrow passage btwn two rocks. We thought for sure this would be a shallow get out time but sure enough, the driver just gunned the engine hard and drove directly through it as far as he could before getting stuck, at which point we really did get out and give it the heave ho. At one point they drop you off and you can walk through a cavern in the cave to see a ton of different formations and there was actually dim lights installed here so you could see well! It was spectacular! At the end we tipped our guide and he was so happy he gave us big high fives haha. So tips aren't often seen in this part of the world we gathered and were so appreciated!

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After the cave we started our two day drive back to Tha Khek retracing our steps. After cleaning our cameras (and bike, and clothes and backpack!) the night before we could actually take pictures this time, though not quite as beautiful without the sunset. At one point we got off the bike to take a GoPro 360 turn around in the field, somewhat near a cow-bull-Buffalo thing. As soon as we got off the bike it made some sort of a strange open mouthed (menacing!) face at us and then started moving a bit too quickly directly for us so we freaked out and jumped back on the bike and drove away at a rather frenzied pace for it being a cow! We felt like we were in a scene from Jurassic Park, "go go go!!", except instead of a dinosaur it was a Lao cow!

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We were literally about 1.5 km outside of the town where our accommodation was when, boom, we got a flat tire! Crazy we had just gone through the long dusty construction stretch so you would think if the weak tire was gonna blow it would have blown there but somehow it held out until we were SO close. Though we were still on the side of the road with not much around us wondering what the next move is. Not wanting to drive it on a flat tire and ruin the rim, we were figuring out what the heck we would do now with a broken bike. As luck would have it, two tourists happened to pull up on a dirtbike (we hadn't seen any tourists all day). As we were explaining to them what happened, three local ladies on one motorbike pulled up to see what was wrong. When we told them flat tire, they laughed and pointed down to their tire which was also flat, what are the chances! They assured us town was only a few km away and then rode off, 3 on a bike with a flat tire. So if they're doing it, we figured we could do it. Well actually Bridger rode it to town with the flat and I jumped on the dirtbike with the other two-now 3 on a dirtbike. Because there were two of us on the back and it was made for one, I had to put my feet on the foot pegs and then she had to put her feet on my feet using my feet as foot pegs! It hurt so was a bit of a long but ever grateful ride back! Turns out they were staying at the same bungalows with us so we played cards all night with them.

The next morning our hotel people took the bike to the mechanic and fixed the tire no problem and no charge, awesome! So we put on our now more stinky same clothes for day 4 of riding. Bridger, bless him, forgot to bring deodorant so his clothes smelled like BO to a new level I hope I never ever smell again-absolute rancid putrid disgust!! I looked forward to riding behind him for hours :)

By the time day 4 rolled around, we cancelled seeing all those sites we were supposed to hit on the way back and instead just drove straight back, dropped the bike off and got an awesome hotel with great AC. And then we didn't leave the hotel for the rest of the afternoon/night except to order take out food from the hotel restaurant (though we did try to avoid this by ordering room service but they wouldn't take our order because they were "too busy"). The next day we would leave to Vientiane, the capital city of Laos but that night we were just revelling in finally not moving and being not sweaty and stinky. Definitely worth the effort for "the loop"! Only downside was that somehow our memory card got corrupted so we are missing a whole pile of pics from the trip :( Hoping we can get it restored when we get back to Canada so tried to gather as many pics here as possible, though of course, pics never totally do scenery justice!