No Such Thing as Coincidence

My time in Vietnam was incredible and I created some unforgettable memories with amazing people. But I was surrounded by too much noise for too long. So I decided to travel to Laos in search of rest, relaxation, and adventure in nature. It only took about 6 hours for Laos to deliver exactly that.

 

My friend Yon and I traveled from Hanoi to the Na Meo border crossing in two days on our motorbikes. We ate lunch before crossing, a last Vietnamese meal of pho and com rang (fried rice) and headed to the gate. But the guards were eating lunch, so we had to wait another two hours before continuing our journey into Laos.

That’s Yon. He’s French. And a cool guy.

During this time, we met a really interesting South Korean man named Jung. He’d traveled the world for the past 20 years, and had all sorts of interesting stories from many different countries. A group of Vietnamese guys joined for a time until the guards finished lunch. We crossed the border relatively easily, paying $60 USD per person for our motorbike registration and visa, and prepared for the next leg of our adventure.

We hadn’t driven even 1km before being stopped by construction on the road; which was indicative of the first part of our journey, as the road conditions weren’t great. It took us an hour to drive the initial 20km (about 12 miles) through pockmarked roads, muddy trenches and gravel paths. But we did this with smiles on our faces because it was part of the adventure in the stunningly gorgeous country of Laos.

 

But since the border crossing had taken longer than expected, we were confronted with a bit of a conundrum: we had only 2 more hours of sunlight and 70km to the nearest town. So what were we going to do?

 

Well…why not sleep in a cave?

 

Yon and I had chanced upon a beautiful cave nestled in the forest by the side of the road. After exploring the cave for a few minutes, we decided that sleeping there would be our best option. So, with the remaining two hours of sunlight, we gathered firewood in the nearby forest. Unfortunately, we had driven all day in the rain, which meant most of the wood was too wet to start a fire. We gathered a measly amount of wood that would maybe last for three hours. As the sun began to set, we made our camp for the night at the mouth of the cave.

I set up my hammock right at the opening, and we laid down our ponchos that would serve as Yon’s bed. By this time the sky was dark, and there was certainly no going back on our decision; so we built a fire and sat down to a dinner of what little food I had in my backpack:

  • 5 Choco Pies
  • 4 small peanut energy bars
  • 2 small packages of crackers

After dinner, we shared our last half liter of water, and I brought out the ukulele. Turns out, Yon had played the guitar for three years, so he quickly adjusted to the instrument. We spent the next few hours playing the uke, swapping stories, and marveling at the serenity of the nature outside our cave. Neither of us had expected to end up in this position, but we were both quite content with our decision.

 

I wish I could say that after an enjoyable evening we slept soundly through the night, but alas, it was not mean to be. The temperature dropped to about 55 degrees F that night, which doesn’t sound too cold. But anyone who’s slept in a hammock before knows that in even mildly chilly weather, the heat gets sucked right from your body. And you get colder and colder as the night goes on.

 

After only four hours of restless sleep I had to join Yon on the ground, encasing myself in the hammock; I still slept fitfully, but at least it was a bit warmer. In the morning, we woke up to absolute peace and beauty. Birds were chirping, and we could hear a babbling brook not too far off.

One week later, in the city of Phonsavan, we met a man of Laotian descent from Chicago. I showed him the picture of us sleeping in the cave, to which he quickly replied, “Oh, that’s Kam Tai Cave. Apparently, during the Laotian Civil War fought from 1945-1975, the president and many troops lived in our cave and two more in the nearby area, hiding from American and French bombers. People died in those caves. And the larger cave is supposedly haunted; luckily we didn’t’ encounter any ghosts where we slept.

 

But this leads me to believe that everything happens for a reason. Because, what are the odds that an American and a French man would sleep in the very cave that was attacked by American and French troops during the war? This was a truly special experience.

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