Rock­et­ing through the dark­ness on a long, thin wood­en boat, the local guide skill­ful­ly maneu­vers around the obsta­cles fol­low­ing the wind­ing path of the riv­er cave. Look­ing up at the ceil­ing of the cave stirs my imag­i­na­tion, I’m inside the bel­ly of some gar­gan­tu­an sea crea­ture. Some­thing from a Jules Vern nov­el. A crea­ture named Tham Kong Lor. Kong Lor Cave.

First Expedition through Kong Lor Cave

Kong Lor Cave - Thakhek Loop

The oth­er end of Kong Lor Cave

It wasn’t until a bun­dle of rice seedlings and then an ox yoke float­ed out of the cave that the locals ven­tured inside. Assum­ing it was the start of the riv­er, they had no rea­son to go fur­ther than it’s mouth. Now, what if a civ­i­liza­tion was on the oth­er side of this deep, dark, mys­te­ri­ous place? 7 brave men set off in boats into the dark­ness of the cave. Torch­es light the way, and 3 days lat­er they emerged back into the sun­light on the oth­er end hav­ing gone 7.5 kilo­me­ters under­ground, straight through the moun­tain. Tham Kong Lor (Kong Lor Cave) was now explored.

Introduction to Kong Lor Cave

A high­light of the Thakhek Loop moto adven­ture Kong Lor Cave is a must-see for this region and for many, a major high­light of any trip to Laos. 40 kilo­me­ters off the main road, past rice fields and through small vil­lages backed by jun­gle-cov­ered karst peaks, lies Kong Lor Cave. Get­ting into a long wood­en boat (called a sam­pan) with an out­board motor, your guide will take you through 7.5 kilo­me­ters of an under­ground riv­er as it twists and turns far below the earth­’s sur­face, until you emerge back into the day­light at a few remote vil­lages. Dur­ing the first part of the trip through the cave, you will stop at a short walk­ing sec­tion where the jagged sta­lac­tites, sta­lag­mites, and oth­er cave fea­tures are illu­mi­nat­ed. Oth­er­wise, the cave is pitch black, light only by your headlamp.

If you’re doing the entire Thakhek Loop check out the com­plete guide here.

Thakhek Loop — The Com­plete Guide

Kong Lor Cave

Fees ($1 USD =  ~8,000 KIP):
Park­ing: 5,000
Entry: 2,000
Boat Tour: 110,000 for the first per­son and 10,000 for each addi­tion­al per­son up to 3 peo­ple (maybe 4, if you have small people)

Sampans at the start of Kong Lor Cave

Sam­pans at the start of Kong Lor Cave

Park­ing area out­side the cave (5,000 kip). There is a restau­rant here with rea­son­able prices. A tick­et office (2,000 kip) and small vis­i­tor cen­ter which recounts the leg­end of the two women who first set­tled this area and some oth­er infor­ma­tion. A nice walk through the for­est (5–10 min­utes) and you’ll arrive at a small booth to pay for your tick­ets. Lock­ers are pro­vid­ed as well as a (not very good) head­lamp and san­dals if you need them (your feet will get wet)

Inside Kong Lor Cave

Board a Sam­pan and you’re off, motor­ing into the dark­ness. But don’t get too com­fort­able, after 5 min­utes you’ll get out of the boat, the only sec­tion of the cave with lights. 10–20 min­utes walk­ing through some nice­ly light for­ma­tions and you’re back in the boat. The entire trip inside the cave is about an hour, zoom­ing through the darkness.

Look up at the ceil­ing and walls, try to spot debris (logs and sticks) wedged high above you, a tes­ta­ment to how the water can get when it floods. Shine your light on the water and mar­vel at the lights rip­pling reflec­tion on the cave walls. Try to see the bot­tom of the riv­er where it’s shal­low, through the clear water. Get dis­ori­ent­ed look­ing at the reflec­tion of the walls and ceil­ing, try­ing to fig­ure out if it’s a reflec­tion or if you’re look­ing through the water. Some fun activ­i­ties to keep you look­ing around.

Inside Kong Lor Cave

Inside Kong Lor Cave

In the dry sea­son, you will prob­a­bly have to get out of the boat a few times to cross a rapid. In the wet sea­son just hold on while your skilled boat oper­a­tor guns the engine before quick­ly pulling the pro­peller out of the water as you go up the rapid.

The end of the cave and the light out­side beck­ons you back to the world of the liv­ing and the heat of the day.

Ban Natane — Other side of Kong Lor Cave

(Ban Natane, Ban Na Hang, Ban He, Ban Phone Khan):

Ban Natane and surrounding villages

Ban Natane and sur­round­ing villages

Short­ly after you emerge on the oth­er side into the sun­light you will dock at an area with some build­ings sell­ing food and drinks. You can rent a bicy­cle here to explore the local vil­lages start­ing with Ban Natane, some­thing I’d def­i­nite­ly rec­om­mend if you have time. Bicy­cle Rental Fee: 2 hours = 20,000 kip Half Day = 30,000 kip Full Day = 40,000 kip. There is a marked bicy­cle loop (small red signs with bicy­cles paint­ed on them). The sign says you need 2 hours to ride the loop, but it can be done in 1 if that’s all you’ve got (though you can relax and stop for snacks or lunch if you have more time). Take a pic­ture of the map when you rent the bike and if you get lost while rid­ing just ask any local “Kong Lor?” and they can point you the way.

The first time I went through Kong Lor Cave I didn’t bike around Ban Natane or even real­ly leave the dock­ing area. The sec­ond time I went through Kong Lor we had time so we spent about an hour bik­ing the small loop through the vil­lages. It was well worth it and I found myself wish­ing we had more time.

It appeared to me that this area was rarely vis­it­ed by tourists and all the chil­dren came out­side their homes to greet us with enthu­si­as­tic “Sabaidee” greet­ings press­ing their hands togeth­er and bow­ing slight­ly, it real­ly made my day! Not only this but the land­scape is spec­tac­u­lar and the vil­lages, so authentic.

Accommodation in Ban Natane:

It’s pos­si­ble to stay in Ban Natane or the oth­er vil­lages in the area. Just show up and you’ll find a home­s­tay. If you have time you can stay here for a day and explore the area. It’s places like this, authen­tic, rur­al vil­lages, where you can find the real heart and spir­it of Laos.

If you do stay the night in Ban Natane you will like­ly have to pay the boat ride through Kong Lor Cave twice. Once when you arrive and once on the way back.

Back to Kong Lor Village:

Kong Lor Cave, Thakhek Loop

At the entrance to Kong Lor Cave

The trip back through Kong Lor Cave will be quick­er as there is no stop­ping (oth­er than to cross a rapid or two in the dry sea­son) and you will be going with the current.

There is a bridge and cabanas set up at the entrance of Kong Lor Cave in the dry sea­son. It’s an excel­lent place to hang out and go swim­ming after your trip through the cave. (In the wet sea­son the water flows high­er and the cur­rent is stronger, though it’s still pos­si­ble to swim here. Just be wary of the current)

Things to know about Kong Lor Cave:

1. Your feet will get wet and you might get splashed. Brings san­dals or oth­er water shoes. There are sharp rocks so some­thing stur­dier will be bet­ter. San­dals are avail­able for you at the boat tour office (includ­ed in the price) but aren’t good qual­i­ty and might not be in your size.
2. Lock­ers are avail­able at the boat tour office to store your valu­ables (includ­ed in the price).
3. If you bring any­thing with you make sure it can either get wet or bring a dry-bag for your elec­tron­ics and phone if pos­si­ble (or be very care­ful). The bot­tom of the boat has water and water may drip from the ceiling.
4. A head­lamp is includ­ed in the price, but it’s a very focused beam and doesn’t illu­mi­nate a whole lot. If you real­ly want to see the cave bring the bright­est light/lights you’ve got.

Kong Lor Cave, Thakhek Loop

Inside Kong Lor Cave

 

Wet Season vs Dry Season

Kong Lor Cave can be vis­it­ed in both the wet sea­son and the dry sea­son. Extreme rain and flood­ing could affect this but in gen­er­al, you should be able to access the cave year-round. In the wet sea­son, every­thing around the cave will be much green­er and the air will prob­a­bly be clear­er. Inside the cave, you will feel clos­er to the ceil­ing in places when the water runs high­er and you prob­a­bly won’t have to get out of the boat at the rapids.

Getting to Kong Lor Cave:

Thakhek Loop:

Most peo­ple access Kong Lor Cave by motor­bike on the Thakhek Loop. From the main high­way (Route 8 ) take a left fol­low signs through Ban Nahin. There is a rough sec­tion of dirt road but it’s short and most of the 40 km is nice­ly paved, up until the last few km at the end.

By Bus from Vientiane:

A bus to the vil­lage of Kong Lor (1km from Kong Lor Cave) departs the South­ern Bus Sta­tion at 10:00 am dai­ly, 80,000 kip 7–8 hours. Most Guest­hous­es in Vien­tiane will sell you a tick­et for 90–100,000 kip for trans­port to the bus sta­tion from your GH. Sout chai Trav­el runs a bus from Vien­tiane http://soutchaitravel.com/transportation/

By Bus from Thakhek:

It’s pos­si­ble to get to Kong Lor by pub­lic trans­port from Thakhek but you will have to change bus­es a few times. From the main bus sta­tion in Thakhek take any North­bound bus (to Vien­tiane for exam­ple) and get off at the Route 13 & High­way 8 junc­tion in the town of Vieng Kham (~100kms 1.5 hours). The next des­ti­na­tion is Ban Nahin. Take a bus from Vieng Kham to Ban Nahin at 2 pm (20,000 kip/1 hour). From Ban Nahin take a minibus depart­ing at 3:00 PM (25,000/1 hour) to Kong Lor. Dou­ble check with your hotel and/or the tourist infor­ma­tion cen­ter in Thakhek for bus times or a direct bus to Kong Lor. Either way plan on spend­ing one day in transit.

Sunset over Ban Nahin, Thakhek Loop

Sun­set over Ban Nahin

Kong Lor Cave Accommodation:

Thakhek Loop:
If you’re dri­ving the Thakhek Loop on a motor­bike you have more options. Stay in Nahin or in Kong Lor Vil­lage. Nahin is on the main road (High­way 8) about 40 kilo­me­ters from Kong Lor and so a good place to stay for two nights while you explore Kong Lor Cave. Or, if you arrive in Nahin ear­ly in the after­noon then you can con­tin­ue dri­ving all the way to Kong Lor Vil­lage. How­ev­er, I def­i­nite­ly DO NOT rec­om­mend dri­ving this road at night as it is very dark and there are lots (and I mean LOTS) of cows and many pot­holes near the end of the 40 kms.

There are Guest­hous­es and Home­s­tays in both Nahin and Kong Lor. If it’s an extreme­ly busy peri­od you might want to book in advance, oth­er­wise I would just show up.

Sanhak Guest House

A great place to stay in Ban Nahin, clean, friend­ly staff and a good on-site restau­rant. Lots of infor­ma­tion is avail­able here on the local attrac­tions as well as motor­cy­cle rentals and tours.

Dorm Bed: 30,000 kip
Pri­vate Room: 50k to 60k kip (fan only. Price goes up if you need A/C)

Turn left off of Route 8 at the first road in Nahin. San­hak Guest­house is just a few min­utes down the road on the right.

 

Click here for more pictures of Kong Lor Cave and the surrounding countryside

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