|The rock wall round the plateau, Sala Hin Boun|
After a breakfast of water melon followed by scrambled egg we discussed the day with Phim. Our itinerary said we would take a boat through the gorge of the Hin Boun, lunch in an unspecified village and somehow end up in Thakhek. Having followed the Hin Boun through the karst country from the hydroelectric station at Na Hin to the far end of the 7km Kong Lor Cave we were not sure where the gorge might be. Neither was Phim. 'We drive to Thakhek,' he said, looking baffled. For the third day of the last four we discovered our written itinerary had elements of fiction, fortunately this was not to continue.
|Sala Hin Boun to Thakhek|
Near the river we hit Route 13, the main north-south road, and turned south towards Thakhek. Sala Hin Boun to Thakhek took the best part of three hours and it was a pleasant drive though we saw nothing worth stopping for.
Nearing Thakhek we left the river to visit Tham Pha cave. Only discovered in 2004 by a farmer hunting bats (the Lao do not turn up their noses at any good supply of protein) the cave contains a stash of ancient palm-leaf documents and 229 bronze Buddha images hidden during the Thai sacking of Vientiane.
Allegedly, when the original discoverer climbed into the
cave and saw Buddhas rather than bats he gave in to temptation and tried to
make off with some of the choicer items. His arrival at the cave mouth was
greeted with thunder and lightning and a storm that only abated when he
returned the images. Realising that the heavens were telling him to be honest he
reported his discovery to the authorities. The authorities' attempt to move some
of the images had the same remarkable consequence, so they left everything where it was
and the cave has become a place of pilgrimage.
The cave is in the karst hills several kilometres off the highway. We drove along a dirt road through land that is swampy even during the dry season – so swampy in fact we had to abandon our first choice of route for a less direct approach.
|Lynne 'more appropriately' dressed, Tham Pha cave|
Aconcrete staircase led up to a slit in the rocks, where we folded ourselves up and half stooped, half crouched into the cave before descending another staircase to two 'rooms' one squarish, the other with a rock shelf. The shelf and every other available surface were covered with Buddha images of various sizes and a 'corridor' of stalactites and stalagmites led off to a further area of statues.
Pindaya in Myanmar - but it was a serious place of pilgrimage. It even enticed the driver out of his car and he and Phim both took the opportunity to offer prayers. Sadly there were ‘no photographing’ signs everywhere; to ignore them would have caused offence, not to mention a reprimand from the vigilant cave guardians, so I have no pictures.
On the stairs outside were a couple of gongs. Everyone knows that gongs, unlike cats, respond well to being hit. Cats, of course, respond to being stroked and so, we were surprised to discover, do gongs. Lynne managed to get the resonance going by working hard with the flats of her hands on the central boss. Then Phim showed us how it should be done, conjuring up a resounding booming noise that filled the valley - a far louder sound than could be made by merely striking it.
Phim chose a restaurant for our late lunch. I enjoyed my slices of marinated duck with rice and broccoli and Lynne commended her pork with noodles and vegetables. Phim started off with pork, broccoli and rice, but half way though decided he needed a big bowl of noodle soup as well.
Well fed, we headed for the town centre and checked into our hotel. Right in the colonial centre, it described itself as 'Thakhek's first boutique hotel'. I cannot say our room was the largest or best designed we have stayed in, and I am unconvinced that a window opening onto the stairwell was a brilliant idea, but otherwise it was very pleasant with a large open bar/restaurant in dark wood occupying most of the ground floor.
|Thakhek's first 'boutique hotel'.|
|Shops in Thakhek selling just about anything - including shoes|
There was also an ad hoc restaurant setting up in the main square.
Thailand and Laos
Part 1: Bangkok and the Train North
Part 3: Across Isan to the Lao Border
Part 14: Following the Mae Klong to Samut Songkhram and the Gulf of Thailand
Part 15: Cha Am and the Thai Way of Beach