The Hinboun river flowing out of a nondescript opening at the base of a towering cliff hints there may be something wondrous inside. It is in fact 7.5 kilometres of wonder—a river passage through solid rock, and travellers can traverse the entire length to the other side on an exhilarating boat ride. This is Konglor Cave, a highlight of Laos.
Hop into a wooden sampan, the boatman pulls the motor’s rip cord and off you go, plunging into the inky void, aided only by a meagre spot of light from a head torch. For nearly eight kilometres the canoe races along the serpentine river, the boatman managing to slip around every corner and every hazard—and there are many hazards.
It’s hard to reign in the imagination, which vividly plays out the boat and your brain suddenly dashed upon a rock. Soon your eyes adjust and focus on the incredible: immense chambers—one vaulting up to 100 metres—spooky formations that beg the mind to find figures and faces. Feel the spray of the water, the chill of the air, the thrill as you storm up rapids with rocks that the boatman handles with ease yet you shudder to think that just one inch to the left or right and…
Konglor is located in the Phou Hin Phoun NPA, 180 km by road from Tha Khaek. By car, it can be visited as a long day trip from Tha Khaek, but the region’s jaw-dropping landscape of rural flat lands combined with a “forest” of karst makes a strong case for staying longer. There are good guesthouses in Konglor and 40 km to the north in Na Hin, as well as village homestays.
The cave entrance/boat station (open daily 08:00-16:00) is a kilometre from Konglor village. Each boats can accommodate up to three passengers. You can save money by finding people to share with or try your luck waiting at the boat station. It is allowed to share and ignore the ticket seller if they try to tell you otherwise. It’s 110,000 a boat for one person, 120,000 kip for two, 130,000 kip for three.
You’ll be given a life vest and a head torch; bringing your own extra torch doesn’t hurt. It’s a good idea to wear shorts and footwear that can get wet because you will get wet, especially in dry season when you have to climb out and help push the boat through shallow sections. If you don’t want to lose a flip flop in the rushing water, tie them to your feet—seriously—and don’t bring valuables!
After five minutes, the boat stops and passengers take a guided walk through a section of the cave with stalagmites, stalactites, columns and other formations tastefully lit, before embarking again and then it’s all the way through, a journey that can take up to an hour.
On the other side of the mountain is Ban Natan where both you and your boatman take a break. There are vendors selling drinks and souvenirs such as textiles. Homestays are available on this side in Ban Natan (2 km walk) or Ban Phon Kham (1 km).
Roundtrip, the entire journey takes at least 2.5 hours. Enjoyed the trip? A tip to the boatman would be met with much appreciation.
Konglor cave is part of the Tha Khaek Loop, a motorbike journey that circles the Phou Hin Phou NPA and takes a minimum three-days. For those short on time, from Tha Khaek travel 105 km north on Route 13 to Vieng Kham, head east on Route 8 (the road to Vietnam) 37 km to Na Hin, then 40 km south.
The provincial tourism info office in Tha Khaek and Green Discovery offer tours to Konglor. With van transport it can be done as a long day trip. An overnight trip can be padded with extras such as hiking to Namsanam waterfall, a homestay, picnic lunch and trek over the mountain rather than through the cave. Green Discovery also has kayaking and cycling.
To get to Ban Konglor (Konglor village) by public transport, there is a direct bus from Vientiane departing the southern bus station daily at 10:00. It costs 80,000 kip and takes 7 hrs. From Tha Khaek, a daily songthaew departs at 14:00, costs 75,000 kip and takes 5 hrs.
There are innumerable other ways to get there requiring changes, songthaews and patience. One option is to catch the first bus heading along Route 13 and get off at Vieng Kham where Route 8 starts. From here you can try to catch transport to Konglor or Na Hin. Get yourself to Na Hin, either with a direct bus or a bus to Lak Xao (get dropped off en route). From Lak Xao, a songthaew leaves the bus station for Na Hin at 09:00, 12:00, 15:00, 16:00. Costs 25,000 kip and takes 1.5 hrs.
From Na Hin to Konglor, a songthaew is scheduled to depart at 10:00, 12:00, 14:00 — departures are more reliable in the morning so if you arrive in the afternoon, you may have to stay the night. Costs 30,000 kip and takes an hour. Or rent motorbikes at Sanhak Guesthouse, who can also arrange for private vehicle for 400,000 kip roundtrip.
By Cindy Fan.
Last updated on 17th January, 2017.
The Travelfish newsletter is sent out every Monday and is jammed full of free advice for travel in Southeast Asia. You can see past issues here.