After a lovely 5 hour ride in a half empty bus with leg room (yeah!), we were told the bus wasn’t going any further. All of us jumped out of the bus to see why it had stopped. As we stood there in the rain we saw that the road twisted up ahead and was flooded as far as we could see. The town of Thom Kong Lo lay just 45 minutes away and beyond that Kong Lor cave; the whole reason for our visit to this part of Central Laos. A 7.5km-long subterranean tunnel, 30m wide and between 20 and 100m high, located in the National Protected Area Forest Area of Hinboun Mountain (the cave was formed by the Nam Hinboun river), this seemed like the perfect place to get just a bit more off the beaten path.
So with three other lovely backpackers, in the rain, we threw our packs into the back of the tractor and set off. The flooded road lasted about 1-2km and after getting to the other side, we arranged a ride were really happy we ventured on. One pick up truck later, we checked into one of two guesthouses in town and settled in for the night. Thom Kong Lo is a small village consisting of probably about 200 people, most of whom work in the surrounding rice fields. Even at night, in the pitch dark, you can stare out into the fields and see scattered headlights. And after seeing a pile of snail shells, the size of a fist, on the ground near the gate the next morning, we can only assume they were “fishing” for them in the fields.
Getting to the cave remained a bit of a mystery until the morning when we awoke and walked 15 minutes to the river. The 7km long cave carved by the river long is accessed by chartering a boat and having the driver take you through. Midway, the little boat with two drivers pull over and you can walk around and view the stalagmites and stalactites. It was pitch black, our headlamps were worthless and we should have rented the big bulb lamps at the boat dock, but it was still amazing.
Hopping back in the boats we came out the other side of the cave, chilled for a bit, and then they took us all the way back through. The ride itself was pretty impressive, but because of the pitch black darkness we don’t have many pictures to show from it. There are times in the caves where you have no depth perception because the “ceiling” is so high. I thought we were out of the cave at one point, but realized it was just so tall that I couldn’t even tell. The only thing that would have made it an even better boat ride was if the boat drivers slowed down to shine their light a bit more. The cave is also home to the largest cave dwelling spiders on earth, but I’m sure they were well hidden from the noisy engines of the boats.
Since the cave was the main reason we had come to the small town of Kong Lor, we made a perfectly timed exit on a songtheaw (pick up truck with covered seats in the back) and headed out of town for the five hour ride to Thakhek, a main transport hub in Central Laos. It was a quick respite as our main goal was to get down to southern Laos for the last part of our time here. We are currently in Pakse and heading off this morning for a two day trek around the area and then going to see the 4,000 islands.
*Travel Tip: There are buses directly from Vientiene going to Konglo (Ban Kong Lor). We suggest doing that instead of staying in Ba Na Hin so that you can just wake up and go to the cave. There are two guesthouses in town and a homestay is possible, but for 60,000 kip a room we opted for the guesthouse. The one restaurant in town at the end of the road is pretty decent. A boat is 100,000 kip and each person is 5,000 kip for each additional person. The whole trip took us two hours round trip. The first songtheaw/”bus” out of town is at 11:30 AM on the dot so make sure you get back from the cave by then and wait on the side of the road. It took us to Ba Na Hin where we switched songtheaw’s to another one to get to Thakhek, arriving after 5 hours of travel. If you have other questions about the cave, just let us know. It was well worth the trip.