Khong Lor Cave
Khong Lor Cave is located in Khammouane Province in Central Laos. It is one of the highlights of travel in Laos and probably one of the best cave tours in the region in terms of accessibility and a sightseeing experience. Khong Lor cave is one of the regions longest fully traversable cave rivers and the distance from the downstream to upstream entrance is 7.5 km. The traverse is completed in small motorised, flat bottomed, long tail boats (similar to the Thai long tails but with a shallower draft). The highlight of the trip is a stop at the formations plateau (approx. 1 km from the downstream entrance) where sightseers are given time to view the beautifully illuminated stalagmites and stalactites, on a wide rock shelf which looks down on the river. When the cave was set-up for tourism a team of French lighting specialists installed an array of blue, white and orange lights to highlight the forest of formations on the 300 meter long plateau. Sightseers normally take 30 – 40 minutes of viewing time before re-joining the boats to complete the run to the upstream entrance.
To get to Khong Lor Cave you will need to travel up from Thakhek or down from Vientiane. Those going there from Thakhek usually do so on a motorbike as part of the “Loop Trip.” To get there from Vientiane by bus you will need to use the dedicated Vientiane to Khong Lor bus which departs from Vientiane bus station at 10.00 am each day. If you pay for the ticket at the bus station the price is 80,000 LAK for the one way trip. If you book through a guesthouse in Vientiane the price is generally around 120,000 LAK. However, the guesthouse (or hotel) price also includes transfer to the bus station in a small bus. NOTE: the bus to Khong Lor Cave is a local bus and not a dedicated coach which means it will stop at least 50 times on route to allow locals to board and alight. The distance from Vientiane bus station to Khong Lor Village is approx. 250 km and will take 7 – 8 hours of travel on the local bus. NOTE: the bus does stop twice for meal and toilet breaks. Arrival time in Khong Lor village is approx. 5.30 PM and the bus drops everyone at the ECO-LODGE GUEST HOUSE.
At Khong Lor:
Khong Lor Village is approx. 1 km form the cave entrance and is an easy walk along a sealed road to the kiosk and departure area. Accommodation in Khong Lor is all guesthouse style with prices ranging from 50,000 LAK – 80,000 LAK. For convenience, staying at the ECO-LODGE Guesthouse is highly recommended as this is the drop off and departure point for the daily bus to and from Vientiane/Thakhek. The guesthouse has clean and comfortable rooms, free WIFI in the restaurant, and the food is good. The manager also speaks reasonable English and is able to answer most inquiries.
For those departing from Kong Lor Village, the bus to Vientiane leaves the Eco-Lodge premises at 07.00 AM. NOTE: if you are travelling south to Thakhek, and not going back to Vientiane, the bus will drop you at the junction of Hwy’s 13 & 8. Alternatively, there is a dedicated small bus which departs every morning for Thakhek, from the Eco-lodge Guesthouse, at 6.30 AM. For those going by bus to Khong Lor, from Thakhek, you will be dropped off at the same junction and will need to wait for the Khong Lor bus coming down from Vientiane.
Doing the trip through the cave:
The operating times for the boat trip through the cave are 08.00 – 17.00 daily. The tours are done in wooden, flat bottomed, long-tail boats (similar to the ones in Thailand but with a much smaller draft). The prices currently are as follows: 1 person = 110,000 LAK; 2 people = 120,000 LAK; 3 people = 130,000 LAK. The maximum number of paying customers per boat is 3 people. Tickets can be bought at the kiosk at the departure area which overlooks the freshwater lagoon. NOTE: it is compulsory to wear a life jacket for the entire duration of the trip through the cave, and these are provided for the price of the ticket. NOTE: Miner’s style headlamps can also be hired for the tour, for an additional 5000 LAK. These are highly recommended as the cave is dark with high ceilings and without a light you won’t see very much. The traverse distance is 7.5 km and the run in also includes 30 – 40 minute stop at the formations plateau to view to beautifully illuminated stalactite’s and stalagmites. During the dry season, when river levels are low, the boat may scrape along the bottom in some places and the boat driver may ask you to alight to allow the boat to move off its grounding. This is actually another reason why a head lamp is highly recommended; so you can see the bottom through the clear water and be sure of your foot placement as you wade through knee deep water. With the stop at the formations plateau the run through to the upstream entrance generally takes 1 hour and 15 minutes. You will then exit the cave into a thick jungle, mountainous area and go to a landing where you can alight for a break and stretch your legs.
Sightseers for the cave trip will need to walk around the far side of the lagoon and enter through the small opening which is surrounded by tree growth. After walking through the downstream entrance the cave opens up quite spectacularly to much larger internal dimensions. This is the departure point for the cave tour and a solid cement trail will take sightseers 200 hundred meters inside where motorised boats are parked side by side on an underground beach.
After traveling approx. 1 km upstream by boat into the depths of the cave, sightseers can alight at a beach where the underground tunnel opens up into a massive void (the cave ceiling is 50 meters above the river level). This is probably the most impressive section of the cave. There is a large plateau (approx. 300 meters long and 50 meters wide) which rises to 20 meters above the river level, where sightseers are able to spend some time viewing the forest of impressive formations from the safety of a well-constructed trail. The viewing of the formations along the trail is made even more spectacular by well-placed coloured lighting which illuminates the primordial scene. After 30 – 40 minutes spent on the plateau, sightseers can re-board their boats and continue the run through to the upstream entrance (exit point), some six kilometres further.
As the boat approaches the exit point the glow of daylight penetrates well into the cave. At a point some 400 meters from the exit there is a change in the river level and passengers will need to alight so that the boat drivers can haul their boats up and over the barrier created by the abrupt half meter drop in water levels. At this point sightseers can take some time to walk along the underground beach on the left side of the cave and take some time to admire the sheer size of the cave. After re-joining the boat the trip continues on to a lost world environment, beyond the upstream entrance, where jungle clad, jagged peaks encroach in on the river. After another ten minutes spent admiring the beauty of the natural world along the river, the boat man will stop at a dirt landing where passengers can alight, stretch their legs, and spend some time at the small village nearby where they can have a hot tea and eat some locally grown banana’s. After relaxing for 20 – 30 minutes at the village, sightseers will re-join the boat for the 50 – 60 minute run back through the cave. The world of daylight is left behind once again as one enters the darkened, primordial world of Khong Lor Cave; an experience which is a highlight of a tour through Laos and perhaps, even South East Asia.
The tobacco farmers of Ban Nam Thone:
Ban Nam Thone is the village which is just beyond the upstream entrance of Khong Lor. Aside from a very rough dirt track which comes in from route # 1E, the waterway through Khong Lor Cave is their only means of contact with the outside world. If you visit the cave during the tobacco harvest season (January – February) you’ll be able to see how the farmers transport their raw product to the outside world. The river through Khong Lor Cave is their highway to the markets beyond. During the harvest season you’ll arrive at the riverside landing to see a hive of activity as farmers arrive from the village with their tobacco and load it onto waiting boats. Using small, two wheeled tractors and wooden carts, the farmers truck bundles of semi-cured tobacco into a staging point just above the boat landing area and bundle it up in plastic tarpaulins for the trip down the river. Once they’ve loaded their bundles into the shallow draft boats, they’re soon off on another trip through the cave to a waiting lorry on the other side.
Attraction: Khong Lor River Cave
Location: Khammouane Province, Central Laos
Nearest accommodation: Khong Lor village – approximately 1 kilometre from the cave entrance
Accommodation type: Guesthouses – basic amenities including hot water showers and Laotian meals
Recommended Guesthouse in Kong Lor: ECO-LODGE Guesthouse. Accommodation prices (as of 2017): 50,000 – 80,000 LAK per night. Free WIFI at the restaurant.
Nearest ATM and gasoline station: Ban Na Hin Village – on Highway # 8 and 42 kilometres from Khong Lor
Staging point for the loop and Khong Lor visitation: Thakhek Township
Shortest distance from Thakhek to Khong Lor: 186 kilometres – by way of Highway # 13 and # 8
Best accommodation, food and WIFI in Thakhek: the Inthira Hotel
Thakhek motorbike rental day rates: anything between 50,000 – 100,000 kip (depending on your negotiating skills). NOTE: Mad Monkey Motorbikes has 250 cc and 350 cc motor cross bikes for hire also.
Other worthwhile attractions around Thakhek: Pa Chan Cave, Aen Cave, Buddha Cave and Kong Leng Lake.
Note: The months between December to February can be cool to cold at night in the Laotian interior. If you’re planning a trip to Khong Lor at this time, take a jacket.