Stories

Riding Solo to Konglor

A post by Adam Weeg

“Just go man.”

I was driving a cheap motorbike over a mountain and through a rising monsoon-esque rainstorm; sheets of stinging rain had already made most of my body numb, the sideways wind wasn’t helping my balance, drenched to the core in my t-shirt and thin pants I was absolutely freezing to the point of uncontrollable shivering… and I had to pee, bad.

First thought: “there is no way I am pulling off and subjecting my little friend to sideways rain bullets.”

Second thought: the replay of Harry and Lloyd on a scooter in the movie Dumb and Dumber. If you haven’t seen the movie, first check out the clip here (the 1:55 mark is best), finish the rest of this post, then go watch the entire thing, it’s a classic.

Harry and Lloyd

Harry: “I gotta stop and go to the bathroom.

”Lloyd: “Just go man…. ah, that sure is warm.”

Third thought: “Well, traveling is mostly about new experiences, right? I think this would count as that. Just go man.”

Last thought: “It is warm! Don’t let it all out and hold some more in for a few minutes later!”

Now that last thought came very unexpectedly and had me cracking up as I carefully made my way down the mountain and through the rest of the storm (and yes, I did hold at least two more “warmer-uppers” for later). How did I come to be in such a ridiculous situation all alone? Let’s rewind 24 hours.

I looked at Pamela over dinner and said “So it looks like close to 10 hours roundtrip on a motorbike, up and down a mountain, with a 3 hour stop to visit the cave. I could leave at dawn and make it back before dark. Should I do it? Can I do it?”

“Go for it, but on one condition, you have to finally write a post about your adventure.”

“Done.”

We had been in Thakaek, a small town in central Laos for a few days trying to figure out how to get ourselves to the epic Konglor Cave. It’s a bit off of the beaten track, and long story short, our last chance was for us to go at it on a motorbike. Pam was not feeling all that well and a rigorous motorbike ride was not in the cards for her. Not to mention this cave was my pet from the beginning, so here I was planning to go at it in just one day. (For those travelers who are interested in how we came to this decision; why no bus? why didn’t you do “the loop”? why no shared minivan? why didn’t you stay in Konglor? and so on, feel free to message us and we can give you the dirty details)

And so I packed myself a small daypack with camera, water and sunscreen; laid out my (in retrospect entirely insufficient) clothes; set the alarm for 6 am; and did my best to fall asleep. As with any night before an exciting day, sleep did not come easy. Up before 6, I quickly got dressed, scarfed down some leftover food from the night before, kissed my wonderful wife goodbye and headed out.

The ride there was great. I was off before the road was too busy, the sun was low and the breeze felt invigorating. As most motorcycle enthusiasts will tell you, there is nothing quite like the wind blowing as you cruise by new scenery. Any southeastern Asia trip would be incomplete without taking a ride on a junky 125cc motorbike. After a few pit stops for petrol, various pauses to let large groups of cows/goats/chickens/dogs/children cross the road, and one small kilometer miscalculation that resulted in me doing my best to ask locals where I should turn off, I finally arrived at my destination! (4 hours, 1 short of the estimate too!)

Words cannot do the Konglor cave justice. As such, I will state the facts, insert my miserable attempts at low light photography, and simply say that if you find yourself with the opportunity to visit and enjoy caves, don’t hesitate. It is literally jaw-dropping, and most certainly one of a kind.

The cave is a 7.5 kilometer long limestone tunnel that cuts through the heart of a mountain and is formed by the Hinboun River. There are caverns inside that reach up to 80 meters high! You travel through on a long tail boat with a motor, guided by a local with a bright head lamp. There is one section in the middle where Laos has done a nice job developing a lit walking path through some of the more interesting formations.

I stopped to share a beer with a local and my guide at a small hut on the other side. Playing the always popular traveler game of “no-English charades”, I gathered that they live in a nearby village, come down to the river at the end of the cave to sell drinks to tourists, and love burping from Lao beer. Shortly thereafter we headed back the way we came and I set off on my bike.

Thirty minutes of easy riding later, I neared the section of the road that went up and over the mountain. Sure enough, one of my two fears before leaving was looming on the horizon (the second was my bike breaking down).

Without a doubt I was heading into a gnarly storm. The air was assuming that pre-storm feel, the pressure was dropping, it seemed to get a little quiet, and strong winds were whipping up at random. This also did not have the look of a typical 15 minute SE Asia rain. The sky was very dark for as far as I could see.

First things first, gear check: Extra money? Nope, only brought enough for petrol. Bike condition? Yup, piece of crap and great news – the front headlight doesn’t work! Rain gear? Nope, just a small cover for the backpack. Road conditions? Can’t say, but judging by the huge pot holes I had to veer around on the way here it could be dicey in the rain.

The way I saw it I had three options:

1)      Go back near the cave and find a small homestay to weather the storm, beg for food, and leave my wife at home worried sick all night. If you know me then you know I scratched this one immediately, I’ll go through hell and back before I put Pamela through that.

2)      Seek shelter and hope it only rains for a few hours, then drive back in the dark. With no headlight and facing deteriorating light conditions this seemed like a bad, bad idea.

3)      Suck it up and ride through the rain. I have successfully navigated rainy conditions before in our travels, and despite this still not being a good option, I felt like it was my best.

And so there I was, peeing my pants at 10 minute intervals to keep warm while delicately making my way through an angry storm. It rained the entire way back; I witnessed a motorcycle and a tour bus wreck on the way down the mountain, was relieved when the wind and rain lightened at the bottom, debated revealing my wet secret, and made it in just before dark. Despite my harrowing ride I would do it again without question. The unforgettable cave and unique experience more than made up for it…

My only regret is that Pamela was not in her usual spot on the back of the bike to bask in my warmth during the ride back.

Related posts:

Wonderland Scuba Diving
Ko Pha Ngan: What happens when the Full Moon Party doesn't happen
Mastering Pad Thai
Goodbye Thailand

Map Location

Leave a comment

CommentLuv badge