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Thursday, January 29, 2009
8 hours on a bus south of Vientiane is the charming Mekong river town of Tha Khaek. It's hot and humid and I'm already missing the cold northern weather, shame on me!! It has charming old French colonial and Lao Loum architecture and is gloriously laid back, with only a handful of tourists wandering through.It's the gateway to the limestone karst region to the east, the result of ancient coral reefs which have risen up through tectonic plate upheaval thousands of years ago, creating a stunning landscape of caves, gorges and turquoise pools. Between the karsts are plains of dry dusty rice fields, scrubby forest and a scattering of eucalyptus plantations. And villages of stilt houses and friendly locals. Minus the human influence, I could be somewhere near Windjana Gorge in the Kimberley.A Scottish couple, a German lad and myself headed out on a two day trek into the area. It was hot but not strenuous, especially as there were ample opportunities to stop for a swim. We walked through a vast cave which reminded me of Tunnel Creek minus the crocs, to find some large Buddha images at the entrance. I spent most of the day being grilled by our local guide, Mr Mee, on my Lao language skills, turns out he used to be a school teacher! We passed a 600 year old stupa in the jungle, and we stayed overnight in a friendly village where we were treated to a Baasii ceremony, a traditional welcoming involving tying a string around your wrist whilst wishing long life and health, washed down with a good helping of Lao Lao!!The following day saw us walking to another village where we experienced the novelty of being taken by tractor to visit a sacred pool. It was indeed a special place, where I revelled in playing with my polarising filter for some real blue shots.The tractor then came in handy to deliver us a further 7km down the road (yes we could have walked but the trek isn't designed for seasoned walkers) where a short 4km walk got us to some rapids and a final swim before the tuk tuk ride back to town.