The day has come. We ride.
Our morning starts with a trip to Wang Wang’s to pickup our bikes and learn how to ride them. After a lesson that consists of Mr Wang pointing out the controls and gear shifts, we each take our bike for a test drive that covers less than 100m. Relief: the bikes are clutchless manuals and are therefore much easier to ride than the full blown manuals we assumed we were getting. Noticing that the fuel gauges on our bikes are less than empty, and buoyed by the fact we don’t have to ride real manuals, we skip the extended practice we had planned and ride down the main drag of Thakek to find fuel.
The ride to the fuel station is our first real test, and thankfully we pass. Not with flying colours, because we’re feeling a little wobbly and unsure of ourselves, but we stay on and crawl along the edge of the road without getting in the way too much. We also had the foresight to make sure we knew where the fuel goes (under the seat), and how to access the inlet. Trying our best to look like we’ve done this before, we pop our seats and the station attendant fills up our bikes for us. So far so good.
Crawling out of the fuel station, we take it to the next level and take on a roundabout. Another success. Now we’re on the highway that will take us north by north-west for 100 kilometres. Starting with caution, we maintain about 20 km/h for the first 20 minutes or so. Slowly we begin increasing our speed as we get more comfortable with the bikes and the road. It’s surprising how much riding a small motorcycle feels like riding a big heavy bicycle, but without any effort. It shouldn’t be, because that’s exactly what we’re doing, but here we are, feeling surprised. Our self-imposed speed limit is about 50 km/h, which seems plenty fast enough for our little bikes. Used to bicycles, maintaining 50 km/h without pedalling is an incredible luxury.
Once we get over the excitement of riding bikes and edging the speed up, we settle in and wait for our turn off. It’s not a very exciting ride, but we’re glad to have the smooth, straight highway to practice on. We’ve heard it gets a bit gnarly later on.
The road to Kong Lor
With a few short drink and toilet breaks along the way, we make our turn off after a few hours. Shortly after the turn we happen upon a lookout with panaromic views of cliffs and forest. We take a break for about half an hour and chat with a German couple who also discovered the lookout and who are also making their way to the caves.
The change in scenery is almost immediate after leaving the lookout, with low lying scrub on the side of the road giving way to lush farmland against dark cliffs. Relaxing and taking in the views, we cruise for another 35 km before starting to look out for accommodation. Our plan is to stay at a guest house down near the cave, see the cave tomorrow morning, and then get back on the road. We’ve heard that Sala Kong Lor is a nice place to stay, but we’re getting a little worried that we haven’t come across it yet. After some pointing and miming with a local, we discover a guest house a couple of kilometres farther on. It looks OK, but given that we still have some daylight hours left to us we forge on in search of Sala Kong Lor, happy that we have a fallback.
Success. A sign for Sala Kong Lor appears only a few more minutes past our fallback. Heading down a dirt road between farms, the guest house comes into view through some trees after 500m. It’s beautiful, and even better, we can afford to stay in one of their basic rooms. We even get to eat our meals on their deck that overlooks the Nam Hinboun River and surrounding cliffs.