“Pleasedon’tcrash, pleasedon’tcrash, pleasedon’tcrash!’ This chant kept running through my mind as I gripped the sides of the long tail. My knuckles were as white as sheets and my eyes as wide as saucers. Except nobody could see to know that as we were hurtling through the pitch black on a rather scary long tail boat.
It had started off in a less dramatic fashion. We had stayed the night near the entrance to the cave after another long bus journey from Vientiane to Khong Lor. We had got up that morning to stroll the last kilometre to the entrance. Both of us were excited about our boat ride through the 7km long cave complete with stalagmites and stalactites.
We both clambered into the long tail and entered the dark. Our driver had a very powerful torch that pierced the darkness allowing him to see the way forward. We also had a torch each which weren’t a patch on his torch. The boat puttered forward for about 10 minutes before we reached the stalagmite and stalactite area. Here we disembarked to explore these geological wonders. Neither of us had ever been in a cave this awesome before.
After we had wandered around we got back on the long tail. I wasn’t too sure what happened next. We headed off further into the cave with our driver flashing his torch around chartering the way forward through the twists and turns hidden in the dark. Periodically the torch would stop shining forwards as he leant down to bail out water which seemed to perpetually leak into the boat.
A bit further on and the boat ground to a shuddering halt lurching us sideways as it ran aground in a shallow patch. My heart leapt into my mouth at this surprise. Thankfully we stayed in. Our driver managed to push us off again and I didn’t think too much more of it.
Then it happened again! My confidence in his abilities to navigate us through the cave started to waver. I wasn’t really equipped to fall in today in the pitch black for three reasons:
1) I was wearing my sensible sandals perfect for splashing around in wet conditions. Enroute to the cave they decided to die on me leaving me with less than sensible shoes for clambering around over wet rocks in.
2) We were given life jackets. Alan was given a nice man-sized life jacket that fitted him with three secure looking buckles. I had been given a life jacket clearly made for someone far smaller than me, a child perhaps, that barely clipped up.
3) I had also stupidly not put my camera in the dry bag with my other valuables.
I held onto the side of the boat for grim death willing us not to end up in the river. I would only let go when he steered us close to rocks and I was in danger of losing the skin off my fingers.
A few more crashes later and a near head on collision into a rock (our driver leapt the length of the boat skilfully avoiding knocking into either of us to reach the front to push us away from the looming rock face) and we reached daylight.
He gestured for us to get out of the boat which we duly did. I took this opportunity to stash the camera in the dry bag away from harms way. Then we realised he was gesturing to us to help him drag the boat up some shallow rapids. We both went forward to help, but I was shooed away. I watched as Alan and the driver struggled with the heavy wooden boat. They clearly needed assistance but each time I stepped forward to help I was sent away again. In the end I got fed up with this and ignored him and helped anyway. That tiny extra bit of lift I could give further down on the boat was the extra bit needed to get it up over the rocks.
He then took us along the river to an area with food stands set up. We had a quick drink there before returning onto the boat. I gripped the sides the whole way back, getting out when told to for the return over the rapids. I gritted my teeth each time we got thrown around by his little crashes. Thankfully we didn’t come to a soggy mess and got back relatively dry.
Later that day when speaking to an Australian couple we had befriended they told us how they had two people on their boat. One to drive and the other to assist with hazards. Their boat journey hadn’t been the least bit eventful. We clearly we had been unlucky. Still, the stalagmites and stalactites had been well worth seeing so we were glad we had gone. The rest of it though…