When talking about highlights of Laos, many people rattle off sights such as Vientiane’s That Luang, activities like taking a slow boat down the Mekong and even entire towns such as Vang Vieng and Luang Prabang. And they’re right. These things are great to experience, just like lesser-known spots we love at Travelfish.org like Vieng Xai up in the northeastern corner of the country near the border with Vietnam. Another place we love and wholeheartedly recommend that doesn’t get mentioned often is Southern Laos’ Konglor Cave.
Konglor Cave is simply a nearly eight kilometre long cave with a river running through it. But it’s no ordinary cave and no ordinary river. The scale of the cave is incredible. First of all, it requires a motorised boat to traverse the snakelike river to the other side. Secondly, the width of the river that runs through the cave is more than 20 metres in most parts and looks and feels like a real river — not just another rocky stream running through another tiny cave. And thirdly, the height of the cave is jaw dropping. At times, the roof towers to in excess of 50 metres above the river below and for the most part it is in excess of 25 metres. It is immense.
Passengers hop on boats at one end of the cave, with a maximum of three paying passengers per boat. The boats set forth with two boatmen and power upriver in the dark, with only headlamps from passengers and crew lighting the way. After about five minutes, the boat stops at a massive chamber where concrete steps and a path have been built which lead to all sorts of wonderfully lit cave formations such as stalagmites, stalactites, columns and interesting bird cage-like sections.
After a brief walk around this section, passengers get back into the boats and head upriver once again and arrive at the other cave entrance, where a hidden valley long isolated from the rest of the world appears. Boats dock at the side of the river and passengers disembark to have a cold drink or something to eat at one of the small stalls. It’s also possible at this point to continue on foot to a nearby village where it’s possible to stay overnight in someone’s house for 50,000 kip. The vast majority of people, however, hop back in their boats and head back downriver the same way they came.
So why doesn’t Konglor Cave get mentioned as often as many other attractions in Laos? Because it’s a little bit out of the way, particularly when most visitors to Laos have Luang Prabang on their itinerary, which is north of Vientiane. Konglor is to the south and requires some determination if you’re doing it under your own steam without the aid of a guide.
A daily public bus runs direct from Vientiane to Konglor (10:00, six hours, 80,000 kip), and innumerable buses can get you most of the way there before requiring a change of transportation and onto a songthaew. A popular option is to catch the first bus heading south along Route 13 (the road to Pakse, Savannakhet and Tha Khaek) and get off at Vieng Kham where Route 8 starts.
From here, songthaews depart regularly throughout the day to Na Hin where there are songthaews direct to Konglor. Another popular option is to stay the night in Na Hin and hire a motorbike for the 45 kilometre journey – the road is sealed and it takes less than an hour to complete and removes your reliance of the songthaew between Konglor and Na Hin.
Plenty of good accommodation is located in both Na Hin and Konglor and doesn’t require any pre-booking. Expect to pay between 50,000 and 100,000 kip for a room.
By Adam Poskitt
Last updated on 30th January, 2015.