I like caves – big ones more than small ones. I also like boats – mid-size ones the best but small or big will do. Not surprisingly, the idea of taking a 7km boat ride through a cave was one that appealed to me. So much so that I went completely out of my way to get to KongLor cave in Central/Southern Laos. Also spelled Kong Lo, I’m going with how it appears on signs in the area.
The ride starts easily enough in wet season, hopping in a longtail boat for a trip across a calm river, then walking up a path to the mouth of the cave itself and hopping in a different longtail after the guys rig it up with a motor. By the time everyone is seated, headlamps should be on as the light disappears instantly.
And that’s when the fun begins. Mine was the sole boat in the cave so light came only from our headlamps and the flashlight I’d brought with me. In places, the ceiling is so high my light couldn’t find it. In others, I was ready to duck as the skipper steered us close to an overhang. Some spots are so shallow rocks scrape the bottom of the boat and twice we hit rapids. While the boat ride is a blast for those of us comfortable in the inky black and trusting of the people guiding us through it, the real beauty comes when the boat pauses to let its passengers out for a bit. Stretches are illuminated and a path marked out allowing for up-close viewing of some tremendous stalactites and stalagmites. Sadly, half the lights weren’t working when I went through so I missed out on the trippy blue and orange display some photos reveal.
After the initial ride, one has a chance to walk around outside for a few minutes. I’ve read these places used to be open, selling food and drink but perhaps as it’s rainy season, they don’t bother these days.
Then it’s back to the cave for another dark ride. I’m not one to let my imagination run wild just because I can’t see. But even I can understand the reference some make to the mythological River Styx, this being a not-so-short journey through the dark in a boat steered by one who seemingly knows each turn of the river and wall of the cave with barely a pinprick of light. If passing to an underworld involves a ride like the one through KongLor, I can’t imagine the underworld is all that bad.
Aside from the fact that my guide and skipper pretended to not understand my requests to slow down, I loved my visit to KongLor and highly recommend it to anyone heading to Central Laos. The beauty of the surrounding area doesn’t hurt, either.
Entrance to the park in which KongLor cave sits costs 2,000 kip (about $0.25). After paying that fee, one walks through the park then pays 10,000 kip for permission to enter the cave and 100,000 for a boat ride. The boat can hold up to three passengers and the 100,000 fee is the same whether it’s one, two, or three people. Although the three foreigners I’d met in town the night before each assured me that I’d find other people to jump in a boat with at the cave, that proved not to be the case. I had the whole place to myself until the final minutes of my trip when a boat full of tourists appeared. Getting to KongLor from Vientiane is a 7-hour bus ride (80,000 kip plus at least 30,000 for a ride in a shared tuk tuk to the bus station; easiest option is to pay 110,000 kip in town for a ticket that includes transport to the bus station 35-75 minutes away). Most people I met in the area arrived on motorbikes, completing the loop out of Tha Khaek or simply heading north from Cambodia. There are more than enough guesthouses in town to choose from plus the option of a homestay. Nightlife is non-existent in town so if possible, I’d suggest picking a guesthouse with at least one friendly English-speaker and/or one where other travelers are staying.