I put my foot down gingerly, half-expecting to hear the dreaded click of a landmine.
This was no sick war fantasy. The rule in Laos was never walk off the trail. After all, Laos is the world’s most bombed country. Unexploded bombs litter every province.
It’d been stupid to leave the track, and we were desperate to return to the road’s safety. We kept crossing the field, and I tried to distract myself by admiring the surrounding landscape.
The karsts seemed to stretch for miles, a jumble of coarse crags and sleek towers. We passed a lake covered in water lilies bigger than frisbees. The grass crunched underfoot, the parched ground crying out for water.
Relief flooded me as we reached the road and could get back on our bikes. I covered my mouth as dust spewed from the passing vehicles. It was awful now, but this road would be a muddy hell come the wet season.
We rode past farmers working in the midday heat. Small shelters dotted the land, unoccupied as their owners toiled. In a bid to cool down, we headed to the blue lagoon. A swim was tempting, but we had other plans first — to go underground.
Laos is famous for its caves, so we wanted to glimpse this subterranean world. We slipped and slid over the damp rocks, careful to avoid a calamitous plunge into the cave’s depths.
A disused shrine occupied the cave’s centre, parts of which had fallen into the pit below. A lone monk stood next to it, his orange robes the only colour in the cave’s grey interior.
I had no idea what the monk’s purpose was, and I decided not to find out. The cool waters of the blue lagoon beckoned, and the rest of the day was blissfully uneventful. Looking back now, it almost seems like the universe was exacting a toll. For the following day I would have one of the scariest experiences of my life.