Where We Be
|Clear water from the Nam Hin Bun River gathers
into a lovely lake before flowing through Kong Lo Cave
Tham Kong Lo is an eerie 7½ km (4½ mi) cave
explorable only by boat. A shallow river runs
through its entire length. You start at one end
and take a longtail boat all the way through to
the other. The best parts, in our opinion, are
entering and exiting. When you first enter
through a wide cave mouth, you quickly go
from light to dark and feel the heat of the day
dissipate into cool air. The cave mouth
dwindles behind you and you find yourself in
total darkness, other than the spooky headlamp
lights playing over various parts of the cave.
The boat driver and his assistant both have
spotlights, and we passengers (typically three
to a boat) also are given headlamps, so you get
a weird light show as you make your way
through the pitch blackness. It's big enough
that even with five different headlamps shining
around, you still only get a partial sense of the
huge caverns you’re passing through -- some
with ceilings over 300 feet high. It’s a strange,
dramatic journey. It put me in mind of Gollum’s
watery cave. The whole subterranean passage
takes 30 to 45 minutes each way, including one
stop inside where you get to explore on foot.
|The cave looks small from the outside but is plenty big inside.
In places the ceiling towers 300 feet above your head!
|Longtail boats like these take you on your cave adventure.
Each boat holds three tourists, plus the driver and his assistant.
|Once you leave the cave mouth behind, a few features are lit up -- but most of the cave is dark, dark, dark,
lit only by spotlights playing over the walls and ceiling. Our boat grounded in the shallows more than once
and we had to get out and push. We also got the chance to walk through the most dramatic part of the cave.
|And then you finally see light at the other end of the long cavern.
The karst mountains look doubly dramatic after 7½ km of darkness.
|Our longboat beached at this picturesque bend in
the river and we clambered out for a look around
|A refreshment stand at the far end of the journey offers
this refreshing way of dealing with empty soda cans
|After half an hour we returned, passing through the entire cave once again
|The fine scenery at the far end of the cave was an unexpected pleasure
|While not the most beautiful cave we’ve ever seen,
Kong Lo's sheer size and length leave you impressed
|The countryside near Kong Lo is stunning -- this popular overlook features row upon row of karst limestone hills. If we were
to visit again, we would try to stay closer to Kong Lo just for the scenery, despite the logistical challenges of getting there.
|We stopped for lunch at a local restaurant close to the cave and
got a chuckle at the menu's "Can of deer" and "Drinking pig water"
|Kong Lo is a tough place to reach. From Pakse a night bus dropped us off at Thakhek at 2:30 am, where we caught a tuk-tuk
to Thakhek Villas ($19 per night). The villas are just across from Thakhek Travel Lodge, where we hired a van along with six others
($38 pp including cave entry). The van took us another 185 km north to Kong Lo. Round-trip travel time was 6 hours -- with a fast driver.
|Prices are 100,000 kip for the shared boat (~$12.50)
plus 10,000 kip (~$1.25 pp) entry fee ($1 US = ~8,000 kip)
|Here you can see how the cave burrows beneath the mountain