An unpredictable journey in Laos

June 13th, 2017

LaosTravel Writing Award

An unpredictable journey in Laos

When I embarked for a six months’ solo trip to Asia, I did not know what to expect. I had never gone that far, neither extensively traveled. Doing it alone required faith in my abilities. I still clearly remember my feeling at landing: so this is it. It seemed hard to believe that I actually had made it after such a lengthy wait.

I headed to the road less traveled in Laos, excited for adventures to come. I intended on reaching Lak Sao as a base to explore Kong Lor cave for a day. On an early morning, I patiently waited for my bus to depart from a dusty square. Eyes half closed, I lazily rested in the middle of the morning chaos. Transports arriving, wandering merchants offering food, unpredictable market stalls luring tourists and buzzing motorbikes grew with the warm sun. Finally, it was time to board. I couldn’t help but laugh as soon as I stepped in. I was greeted by someone’s bottom as they made their way to their seat. The alley, as well as the feet space, was occupied by huge bags of cattle feed, forcing all passengers to shuffle on all fours. Amused, I crawled to my designated spot, ready to spend over 5 hours with my knees under my chin. As the bus filled up, I became a curiosity for kids and their parents alike. Not only did I stand out with blonde hair and blue eyes, I was also the only white woman, furthermore traveling on her own.

The mountain itinerary was strikingly scenic. We were approximately halfway when we suddenly came to a stop after a sharp noise. We were hastened out of the bus without ceremony. Confused, I looked around me. There was only dense forest, dropping steeply behind me. The culprit was a large size rock, which severed something of obvious mechanical importance. Panic rose as I could not communicate with anyone, nor understand what was unfolding. After an unsettling and unpredictable wait on the side of the road, another coach passed by. It was promptly waived and I was signaled to climb in. Lightened, I grabbed my backpack and crammed in with everyone else.

Relief was short lived as we disembarked quickly. Needless to argue I had paid my ticket to a set arrival. I was in a small village, which had for transport hub a wooden shack. People stared as I got off, visibly lost, trying to localize myself on the map. I had no clue where I was, how to get where I needed to go and no one spoke English. Fear stricken, I felt on the verge of tears. I decided to not let it overwhelm me, took a deep breath and attempted to converse with a local again. The old man barely understood me, so I tried to get my point across by repeating the town’s name. A lot of discussion ensued with onlookers, and whereas I could tell I was the subject of it, I could not follow a word. I got assigned to a songthaew and apprehensively started an unknown journey.

The ride set on a dirt route along rice paddies and buffaloes. My stress grew as time seemed to stretch endlessly. However, I couldn’t help but marvel at the scenery. Villagers working in the fields, mountains at the horizon, everything was so foreign and beautiful. Laos has this peaceful feel that slows time down. The lush green nature and the relaxed rhythm of life can only soothe you.

Eventually, the driver indicated me to hop off and went. My heart sunk in my chest. I was on the side of a track, with only few houses. This was not the place I requested. I didn’t know where I was, again, to fit in the day’s trend. A young boy greeted me from his door with a hesitant English. Worried, I enquired about my position. The cave is just at the end of the path, he explained, a mere 5 minutes’ walk away.

I couldn’t believe my ears. After hours of unpredictable travel and being lost, I ended up in a completely different area, which turned out to be beneficial for my destination. Still shaken by the day’s events, I walked to the cave, half expecting to have been misled. I arrived at a small crystal clear lake, facing an imposing limestone wall. For a moment, I could not even see the entrance, a tiny dark hole lost in the mountain’s grandeur. The stillness, the intense darkness and the calm of the water made for one of the most vivid and powerful locations I have ever been to. Somehow, through a hectic journey which took me to places I would have never experienced, I learned, I grew, and I got way more than I bargained for.

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