From Ban Na Hin we wanted to go to the south of the valley to a village called Kong Lo, where there is a long cave with a river running through it. We were told that there was transport at 7am from the market. Once there, though, there was no transport yet and nobody seemed to know when it would leave. Somebody told us to come back at 11, so we walked to a waterfall nearby. The forest was full of tall trees, and large butterflies flitted along the riverbank. We saw a large land crab. We met an English butterfly expert on a collection trip from Thailand . The truck for Kong Lo didn't leave until around one. The 40km journey took almost four hours over bumpy, dusty roads. The truck seemed to stop and wait everywhere. At villages along the way people gave us away plastic flowers to pin on our clothes in exchange for a small donation, in order to fund an upcoming festival. Kong Lo is a village of bamboo and thatch stilt houses, with a three simple rooms in a shack set aside for tourists. The whole village was preparing for a full moon Buddhist festival, making noodles, cooking sticky rice and drinking Lao whiskey. Called “Lao lao”, it is consumed with relish by the Lao at every possible festive occasion. Sticky rice is fermented, then distilled with a simple, compact apparatus to produce a potent moonshine. The resulting drink, with around 40% alcohol, is actually not bad, considering how it is produced. The whole village seemed to be drinking, and by nightfall there were quite a few men staggering around making merry. A small band of musicians playing a gong, a drum and a long bamboo pipe instrument paraded between the houses, followed by a line of revelers, dancing with drunken abandon.
The next day we organized a boat to take us to the cave. Because the water level was low, we had to push the boat through the shallows on the way to the entrance. Once inside, the cave expanded. There were large grottos and multicolored rock formations. We followed the river several kilometers to the other end, where we emerged into another narrow valley with steep, rocky sides covered with forest. We returned with other boats carrying villagers and three goats to Kong Lo for the festival. Women dressed in their best clothes, their hair immaculately groomed, were bringing offerings to the small Buddhist temple in the village.
The Lao seem to accept tourism and tourists without much ado. In their shy, reserved way they acknowledged our presence but were rarely pushy, or even inquisitive. The Lao are renowned for their contemplative slowness, something - hardly surprising in such a deeply rural country. We appreciated the leisurely pace and found it relaxing. Other tourists, however, were frustrated by it.