And I'm going to tell this story through photos....so grab a cup of tea and sit back and scroll...
I contacted the park rangers of the Hin Nam No Protected Area where the cave is situated. They have a small website ( hinnamno.org ) and only just started to open up the protected area to tourists end of 2013. Its relatively unheard of within Laos and not even mentioned in guidebooks.....however....
I spoke to the lovely Vanhxay at the Hin Nam No office who was very keen to help us see the cave despite our lack of transport options. Turns out, Xe Bang Fai is not accessible by public transport, and you need to have a car/motorbike - which we didnt. She said she'd contact us once she found more info. At this point we were in Luang Prabang and were going to change our itinerary to do this, but 2 days before we weren't sure if it would work out!
Luckily we got to speak to Vanhxay when we got into Thakhek late that night, and she had organised transport for us! Phew.
Love the instructions she gave me:
Get to bus station at Thakhek and Catch the 8am public bus to Langkang
Ask for Mr Singh who can take us by private bus to Pakpanung
Look for Mr Lee who will take us on his boat upriver to the tiny village of Nong Ping where the cave is near.
Then we will do a homestay with local food, but take extra food in case there is a shortage. There are no restaurants and no english.
Late that night I downloaded a Laos-English dictionary to help us and packed some 2 minute noodles just in case, bought a few bottles of water and some gifts for kids.
The next morning we were off and away!!!
The fish swimming in the two dripping bags you see here....
A whole heap of watermelons (see below), some dead chickens i found under my seat (in a bag), lettuce greens in plastic bags, live chickens brought on by a young boy, a whole family asleep on eachother (see opposite!), a guy who looked like a Klingon love child, and what Greg and I can only believe is the living existence of Mogwai. (see opposite photo of Granny Mogwai).
The bus grew more crowded and tightly packed, but finally we arrived in LangKang 5 hours later. Only a couple of hours behind schedule!
We had a brief lunch and went off to find Mr Singh at the Bus Station.
Bus station woes....
Well, LangKang is the final public bus stop for this area. The WHOLE area. So, from here on out, you're on your own.
We drove along an unpaved, ungraded dirt track, with rocks the size of boulders, deep crevices and potholes, passing people on tractors, and bumping our heads on the roof. It was a hazardous ride and better suited to a 4 wheel drive rather than a tuktuk - but we got there in the end!
Dropped off on one side of the river near PakPanung we crossed a freezing river with our gear to find Mr Lee.
I mean think about it, would you see a whole group of neighbouring girls come into your kitchen and prepare their dinner with no help at all?!
We were taught how to eat Lao style, roll the sticky rice, khao, into a ball with your fingers and dip into the soup.
Then later eat the bamboo with a spoon. Everyone shares one soup bowl, oh and add chilli liberally...
While my tongue burned off, we sat around with the village adults who all came to visit and investigate the 'farangs' (foreigners). The tv was turned on, betel nut was passed around and the chewing and watching commenced.
We tried hard, but it was difficult to communicate as my dictionary could translate words but most of the adults couldn't read (which I'd not fathomed at all), and our pronounciation attempts sucked. However, our host mother was most insistent and loud, she'd repeat Lao words and yell them at us until we figured it out. We learnt quite a bit in those 2 days!!
Surprise Wedding & Xe Bang Fai River Cave
With that done we walked down to the National Protected area where the cave was. He stamped some tickets and then got his sister to watch the ticket booth (seriously!) from a nearby hammock, as he escorted us down to the cave. And wow.
Till next time
Jade & Greg xx