Drifting through on a long wooden boat into the gaping mouth, just before we are engulfed in darkness, light, shining through at the other end, lush green jungle. A huge opening, water drips from the ceiling as I swim on my back looking up at it. Tham Xieng Liap is a river cave, and it’s August, the rainy season, the river runs high. The only way to access the cave is by boat.
Also called “Tham Xiang Liap” “Xian Liap” “Xieng Liab” and “Xiang Liab” (Try saying that ten times, fast), Xieng Liap Cave is just a short drive from Thakhek and one of the first and must-see stops on the famous Thakhek Loop in Central/Southern Laos.
The cave isn’t very long but it has a high ceiling and is a refreshing place to swim on a hot day in both the dry & wet season.
During the dry season park near the school (down a dirt road on the right (South), just after the bridge) and walk through the forest. The paths will split up. If you go to the left you will climb through a much smaller side entrance. This connects to the main part of the cave where you can swim or just enjoy the vastness of its large opening. Take the path on the right to enter the cave through its large, main entrance. If you’ve entered from the small side entrance, once inside, turn right and climb over the rocks to exit via the main entrance.
Xieng Liap can be visited in both the wet and dry seasons. During the wet season hire a boat next to the bridge, to take you up the river and through the cave. You can stop and swim in the cave (highly recommended).
The cave is not light, so bring a headlamp if you have one. It is short so you can probably manage without a light if you enter and exit through the main entrance. If you go through the side entrance (path on the left) then you will need a light.
If you’re driving the Thakhek Loop it’s a quick easy stop on the first day. On Route 12, about 13–14 KM East of Thakhek, you will see a sign for the cave, just after the bridge, pull off on a dirt road (South. Right-hand side of the road if you’re coming from Thakhek). The cave is marked on Maps.me as “Entrance to Xieng Liap Cave”. If you see the sign for “The Falang” or “Green Climbers Home” then you’ve gone too far. There is a small school and a large place to park not far from the road. There might be a man charging 5,000 kip (60 cents) to park, he might also try to charge 10,000 kip. I’m pretty sure there shouldn’t be any fee, but 5,000 to park for peace of mind is reasonable. If you choose not to pay just park further from the school.
Fishing near the Cave:
There’s a small man-made lake next to the school where you might find locals fishing for their lunch.