Float 8km into a vast cave of darkness and wonder.
One of the highlights of our Laos adventure was taking a very out-of-the-way trip to visit the famed Kong Lor Cave. The karst limestone cave is located in Phu Hin Bun National Park, in Khammouane Province, Laos. Its roughly 130km north of Thakhek, on the Nam Hin Bun River, which flows into the cave.
The cave is nearly 8km long and to visit you must take a motorized long-tail boat along the river that runs through it. The river is nearly 20m wide at some points, making it look and feel like a proper river.
To access the boats you have to walk through the small park/beach area where there is a small swimming hole. From there the driver will walk you to his boat and you will likely have to wade through some shallow water to get there. Once in the boat it gets very dark very quickly. The only other lights are ones from other boats coming back out of the cave. There are a limited number of boats allowed in the cave at one time so you will never feel as though it is overcrowded.
The ride itself will give you a very eerie/surreal feeling. You are surrounding by complete darkness with just the light of your headlamp and the sound of the motor humming. Because the cave reaches upwards of 50m at parts, it's easy to forget you are inside a cave at all.
In the middle, the boat will pull over to allow you to walk through a section of the cave which bypasses part of the river. Here they have installed lighting and paths with steps so you can admire the stalactites and stalagmites. Although it's clearly intended for tourists, it's very well done so you do not feel as though it is disrupting the natural beauty of the place.
At the end of the pathway you will find your boat captain waiting for you to continue on through the cave. Once through, there are spots to have food/drink or if you didn't lose your sandals, you can hike about 2km to a nearby local minority village for lunch. When you're ready, meet back up with your boat captain and ride back through the cave to the entrance.
GETTING TO KONG LOR CAVE
The cave is located in Phu Hin Bun National Park, in the Khammouane Province, which is about 6-7 hours south of Vientiene. We took a local bus from Vientiene and asked them to drop us off on the road near our guesthouse. The local bus was heading all the way into the village near the entrance to the park outside Kong Lor Cave, and with little convincing we were able to get the driver to stop the bus so we wouldn't have to walk the 2km to our guesthouse. Many people often visit the cave while motorbiking the Thakhek loop. In hindsight we would've preferred this option as our departure journey to Pakse was nowhere near as easy as getting to the cave.
WHAT YOU'LL NEED
With your ticket you have access to a locker, headlamp (1 per boat) and a pair of flip flops, which you will definitely want to have if you go during dry season as there will be times where you have to get out of the boat and walk along. We opted to bring our own headlamps also as you only get one per boat, plus the drivers.
Tip 1: Exchange your shoes/sandals for the sandals they provide. Even though they aren't the best or most comfortable, you are likely to lose them when your boat driver asks you to hop into the water to help pull the boat over a small waterfall during low season.
Tip 2: If traveling as a couple or can team up with other people it will save you a bit of money. There is a max of 3 passengers allowed in a boat plus the driver. The cost goes significantly down the more people you have. Be sure to fix your group before buying tickets.
WHERE TO STAY
Spring River Resort
A bit of a pricier option and slightly further out of the main town area, but a really lovely place. The food at the restaurant attached was incredible. We recommend the fried fish and the curry. In the evenings they have a bonfire which is great for meeting other travelers and sharing stories.
Also on the same river as Spring River Resort, is one of the more popular spots among backpackers and low budget travelers.