After we got our asses kicked by some of the climbs at Green Climber's Home (and after being a bit concerned with safety on what are mainly tufa climbs on razor sharp, chaucy rock), we decided to rent a scooter and explore the country side.
The scooters at GCH were not great and were not always available, so Razvan hitch hiked to Tha Khek and rented a scooter there from a shop called Mad Monkey.
They also gave us a map of "The Loop"! Many people rent scooters for a few days and visit the places on the loop, staying at different guest houses along the way. We did not do the actual loop. With GCH as our main base we did a few day trips in the area.
The area is absolutely beautiful with giant black limestone cliffs rising out among the rice fields.
We met Marion and Mikael who were doing a tour of the area by motorcycle and spent three awesome days together exploring caves and lakes in the area.
The culture in Laos is friendly and relaxed. Every time we passed kids on the road they would wave at us and say "Sa-bai-dee" which means "Hello" in Lao. And when Marion and Mikael had a bit of trouble with their bike one evening people stopped to help.
The main highways in this part of Laos are pretty good, with almost no pot holes. The sideroads are a different story. It was quite an adventure sometimes.
The majority of the people in the area are farmers. We saw lots of rice fields and farm animals: cows, goats, chickens, water buffalo. People seem to be pretty well off and we saw many brand-new pickup trucks in people's front yards. Still, it's pretty clear the country is still developing.
One of the really nice things about Laos is that you can usually find fresh baked baguettes in the market in the morning. We even found a pack of La Vache Qui Rit at the bus station in Tha Khek!
We heard that much of the area here gets flooded during the rainy season, so many of the houses in this area were built on stilts.
The most amazing place we saw in this area has to be Khong Lang Lake. It is a small lake about two hours away from Tha Kek that has the clearest water I have ever seen.
One of the blooming trees grew almost horizontally above the lake and we had lots of fun jumping off it.
While we were there a group of Lao guys showed up and hung out around the lake drinking beer. They were very friendly and offered us beer and took photos with us. I guess they don't see "Falangs" (white people) very often.
The main attraction on the loop are the many caves in the area. There's actually a really nice cave right next to Green Climbers Home: Xieng Liab Cave.
The cave across the street is also very cool. It is considered to be a holy cave and local people go there to pray in front of the buddha statue. If you climb down the boulders under the statue you get to a a beautiful natural tunnel in the rock.
We had a great time touring around by motorcycle. So much so, that we decided to stay in Laos a while longer and do "the loop" farther south in Pakse. More on that soon. :)