Ba Nah Hin, a good place to stay when wanting to head out to THE CAVE is… well you know those pictures you see of very northern communities where it looks like helicopters came and just sort of dropped a settlement in a permafrost laden dirt patch. That is what Ba Nah Hin looks a bit like minus the permafrost and plus some very red arid dirt. It’s a quiet little place littered with guesthouses that you can only guess exist for the purpose of housing those brave enough to enter THE CAVE. There may also be trekking opportunities as the mountains that surround the town are quite beautiful. The locals shout hello in Laos at you as you walk by, goats and dogs roam freely and kids buy BeerLao from guesthouse fridges. Regarding that last one I can only assume that the beer was for an adult although I don’t know how lax Laos is on drinking age! It’s kind of a weird place but not Toyabungah, Bali weird more like… well I don’t even know how to describe it just a bit weird!
The bus ride to Ba Nah Hin is dramatically different than the ride to Luang Prabang. The ride to LPB is a bit tiltawhirly, I describe it like that because trying to sleep on that leg of the journey was like trying to sleep on a tiltawhirl. You snake your way up and around mountain after mountain trying to will yourself not to let the nausea get to you as the bus teeters on the edge of every other cliff. The ride to BNH on the other hand is rather straight and otherworldly at times. There are many areas that reminded me of Bali, if Bali was suffering from a severe draught and had turned brown and dry. Then there were gorgeous green mountains that cooled the hot bus off and filled the air with the smell of freshness and vegetation. It’s a bit like driving in Alberta. You’ve got flat and boring, flat and boring, flat and BAM the Rocky Mountains!
I know what you’re wondering and have been wondering since the beginning, what about THE CAVE? Well THE CAVE it would seem is a little known world wonder. It is certainly a bit off the usual traveller path but every piece of information about it includes accounts of the brilliance that is THE CAVE. 7.5km long through a dark river cave reveals ancient stalactites protruding from the at times 100m high cave ceiling. Our first night in BNH we met a very nice Spanish couple who seemed just as interested in discovering THE CAVE as Ally. I on the other hand had my reservations. It wasn’t so much the darkness of it, or the rickety wooden boats it was more the prospect of falling into the water while inside the blackness of the cave and not being able to see anything. I’ll admit that I am somewhat terrified of things IN the water! It is a fear that began late in childhood and has evolved ever since.
Anyway so along with the Spanish couple we booked a tuk tuk for 10am and so we were officially heading to THE CAVE.
We had an hour ride with some charismatic old ladies and a few kids before we arrived at THE CAVE’s entrance. The pool of water in front of the gapping cave mouth was blue and green and begged to be swam in but that would have to wait. Our guides led us into the opening and we wobbled our way into our just calm riverworthy boats. It wasn’t long before complete darkness embraced us and we were floating slowly with only our weak headlamps “lighting” the way. We stopped once to check out some of the impressive stalactite formations and at various times had to hop out so the guides could push the boat through the shallow areas or up tiny rapids. It was a place where you could easily let your imagination get away from you and end up curled up on the boat floor in the fetal position but I’m happy to report I did not allow this to happen and instead enjoyed the sheer magnificence that was THE CAVE.
When our adventure was over we all jumped into the small lake and splashed around happily until it was time once more to get into the tuk tuk and head for our guesthouse.