Ah, community life -woken at 4am with a slow gong, call to prayers, flashlights in the forest, then the chanting.... Suspet stopped to say good morning and we gave him some groceries, he had us correct his English pronunciation of each item. Before we left he came back with some peeled fruit that sounded like "Guam"; GirlRob’s stomach was still queasy at smell but others seemed to enjoy it.
Followed road east until turned north towards Thakhek for lunch. Lots of new development (apparently due to Chinese investment recovering from GFC). Chinese tractors, rattan walled dwellings with strong lists to the side, heaps new buildings going up especially service stations (for all the long nose/ Hyundai cars) and houses (every second block has a house under construction (have they just received a stimulus package of bricks??)
Limestone mountains and kaarst formations appearing as travel north. Fences woven, warp and weft, no wires... bouncy bouncy road. One sugar mill, one rubber factory to date - not much large industry. Turned off to east at Vieng Kham, first non-appetising lunch reported ("do you reckon this is goat or dog meat?"). Immediately into jagged limestone peaks with the odd cave; more dense vegetation as we climb. Good view from lookout before moving back into agricultural holdings and dry rice paddies.
Crossed 4 or 5 wooden one way bridges, then hit tobacco farms, with two-story rattan drying sheds. Women in one large shed squatting on floor sorting and tying leaves.On to Phon Hin Poun National Protected Area. Checked out times and prices for Kong Lo Cave tomorrow – a three hour longtail boat trip through 7.5kms of underground tunnels, "beaches" and cavern walks. Watched boys play form of bolle with iron balls. Found gorgeous campsite further down river – and didn't have to ask anyone if we could stay - bonus! Several people used long poles to pull down elkhorns/ crows nests (for sale or eating?)
BoyRob had been noticing gauges saying engine overheating during hill climbs or faster speeds so we pulled everything out of top boxes, consoles, and bolster boxes to commence investigations. After an hour there was still no obvious source of problem so we put it all back together again to prepare dinner at the outdoor kitchen. Halfway through, this too had to be hastily repacked, as the thunderstorm that had been threatening gave way to lightening, thunder and rain. Fortunately it cooled the place down and only lasted a half hour, so resumed cooking outside for our later than expected but welcome dinner.
Most were asleep by the time the three different sets of people with flash lights came and checked us out after lights out...