Caving, Trekking & Kayaking
Explore the remarkable landscapes
What we say:
The stunning limestone mountains that tower over Vang Vieng are riddled with caves of all kinds. Some are large with spectacular stalagmite and stalactite formations, while others are so small you can barely squeeze inside.
Some are filled with water and it's possible to swim or kayak through, while some drier caves have become sites of worship and filled with Buddha images.
It's possible to visit most of these caves either by yourself or with an organised tour. Daytrips can be booked at many of the tour companies in town, and usually involve a combination of caving, trekking, kayaking, tubing on the river and visiting some of the local ethnic minority villages. A two-day trip includes overnighting in an eco-lodge, visiting the Organic Farm, and more water activities the next day. Itineraries vary depending on the season, and usually include an English-speaking guide (of varying ability) and meals.
With Green Discovery a day tour costs $30 each or a two-day tour costs $66 each based on a group of two. More people mean lower prices, so it's worth trying to rustle up a group. The day tours booked at the various guesthouses and travel agencies are usually run by the same tour co-operative, which means you'll be joining a group and should get a lower price even if you're solo. A day trip shouldn't cost more than 150,000 kip, though it's worth referencing a few prices against each other to ensure you're getting a fair deal. If you're going kayaking or climbing, ensure you know all the details about who will be taking you and ask to see the equipment.
One of the more remarkable of the co-operative trips is also an interesting way to break up a journey to Vientiane. The trip involves travel by pick-up for 40km to the Nam Lik River followed by 17km of white-water kayaking and river jumping. The group is then collected and driven the last 70km to Vientiane, arriving the same day. Your luggage can make the trip entirely in the songthaew so it doesn't get as wet as you do. The trip should cost around $30, depending on group size.
It's possible to visit some of the closer caves independently. Hand drawn maps giving directions are available in a number of shops for 10,000 kip or the much higher quality Hobo Map for 25,000 kip. It's best to hire a bicycle or motorbike for the 3 to 10 km trip, or to hire one of the tuk tuks which can be found along the main street with signs saying they'll take you to the caves. A fair price for the return trip plus waiting time is about 120,000 kip (for up to six people). If you only hire them for a one-way ride there, be warned that it's common for an entirely different fee to be demanded for the return journey.
The most enjoyable cave to visit is Poukham (Golden Cave) , 7 km away. An entrance fee of 10,000 kip gets you inside to see the reclining Buddha and glimmering stalactites that give the cave its name, but the main attraction is the swimming lagoon with gorgeous green-blue waters, a rope swing, and fish that you can feed. The lagoon and the cave are the main attraction on the loop, a route on the west side of the Nam Song popular with (motor)cyclists and trekkers. With a further five caves, three villages and several river crossings along the way, the loop heads west through rice fields and deep into karst country before swinging back on itself, and returning to town along a different track.
Another favourite cave is the large Tham Non, about 4km north of Vang Vieng. It's known as the "sleeping" cave because during the war locals took refuge and slept there to avoid being bombed. This cave is popular with tour groups and climbers and a 10,000 kip entrance fee is usually collected.
The entrance to Tham Hoy (aka the Snail Cave) is guarded by a large Buddha and runs at least 7km deep. Beside it, Tham Loup is rarely visited and filled with impressive stalagmite and stalactite formations. These caves are 15km from the town and hiring a guide is recommended, or you can visit on a day trip. You'll have to pay a 5,000 entrance fee and a 5,000 bridge toll fee to get here.
Tham Chang is a largish and well-lit cave across the river near Vang Vieng Resort. It's the most popular with tourists, and even though it's not the most spectacular, it does have a lookout point with a great view back over Vang Vieng, the river and mountains. The cave is open 08:00-11:30 and 13:00-16:30 and foreigners pay a 15,000 kip entrance fee, though you can swim in the lagoon for free.
Tham Nam, better known as the Tubing Cave, is frequently visited by day-trippers who float inside on their inner tubes. As the opening gets smaller you'll have to leave your tube behind, but as you progress deeper inside it loops around and you reclaim your tube. The 10,000 kip admission fee includes a headlamp so you can find your way around.
Plenty more caves are being discovered and opened up to tourists. The best way to learn about all your caving options is to enquire at a tour company or get yourself a good, up-to-date map. If you're exploring on your own, look for signposts pointing the way and expect to pay small entrance and guide fees, usually to local kids with a flashlight who'll show you around.
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