June 28-29, 2009
From Vang Vieng we continued south to a place called Kong Lor Cave.
Our first bus took us to Vientiane, the capital, but we decided to immediately continue onward. We made this decision partly because we had limited time until our next flight from Bangkok, but also because we heard Vientiane is kind of like Luang Prabang but bigger and less charming.
The second bus dropped us off at a random intersection along Route 13, and from there we caught a pick-up ride to Ban Khoun Kham which is the small town closest to the cave.
Pnina standing next to rice fields and mountains not far from Kong Lor Cave:
A woman tending the rice field:
So what’s the big attraction with Kong Lor? It’s this: Kong Lor is a 7-kilometer-long cave running through a limestone mountain. The cave was carved by a river that runs the full length, and you can now hire a motorized canoe to take you upstream through the cave from one end to the other and back again.
Inside the cave it’s pitch black. Pnina and I brought our little LED headlamps but they were pretty useless in there. The boat people brought a much more powerful flashlight, but even with that light we only had a dim view as we went through cavernous rooms and narrow passages, all the while trying to avoid trickles of rain coming down from the cave’s ceiling. It’s an awesome feeling, something like being in an action sequence from a Lucas movie.
Part of the trip involves pausing by a “shore” half-way into the cave, and taking a short, slippery walk to view stalagmite formations. As with other caves we saw in Laos, the formations here are OK but not amazing. The real adventure here is in the feeling of riding in a boat inside a dark cave.
To reach the cave we caught a 30-minute pick up ride to the park entrance. From there we walked a short distance to the river:
At the riverbank, we could see the cave’s entrance:
First we took one non-motorized canoe across the river and upstream towards the cave. It wasn’t clear how we would actually get inside because there was a minor waterfall just outside the cave. The solution was to pull this canoe ashore, walk a short distance into the cave, and then hop into a different motorized canoe that was waiting inside:
Standing at the cave’s entrance:
One of our two guides prepping the canoe’s motor:
It’s hard to take a good picture in complete darkness! 🙂 This shot was taken as we neared the far end of the cave, seven kilometers later:
And here’s a video showing us exiting from the other end of the cave:
The mountains on the other side were gorgeous and we would have loved to hang around longer, but we just couldn’t communicate with the guides. So, unfortunately, we spent about 5 minutes here before turning around and heading back downstream through the cave. If you go to Kong Lor, we highly recommend marking arrangements ahead of time to go further upstream on the far end of the cave:
When you order coffee in Laos, you generally get it with a thick layer of very sweet condensed milk at the bottom, so it’s important to stir it well before drinking. Otherwise you end up with bitter coffee followed by “dessert” 🙂