Top Tips for Visiting Kong Lo Cave in Laos
Getting to Kong Lo Cave
The usual departure point for travelling to the Kong Lo Cave is the town of Tha Khaek. From here travellers take a bus headed to Vientienne (where some other travellers will likely be heading to Vang Vieng to go tubing). Travellers will need to tell the ticket collector/conductor that they are going to Ban Khoun Kham. There is no bus that actually goes directly from Tja Lhaek to Ban Knoun Kham but if you take the Vientienne bus the driver will stop and let you out at the turn off to Ban Khoun Kham. Another bus will then pick you up and take you into Ban Khoun Kham. Both bus journeys take about 1 hour.
Travel in Laos is not quite as straightforward as travel in other South-east Asia countries such as in Vietnam or in Thailand. It seems a bit nerve-wrecking but what I describe above is normal of Laos and indeed common when you travel in South-east Asia. You just need to go along for the ride and trust that everything will work itself out. It always does somehow.
It's also possible to take a trip from Vientienne to the Kong Lo Cave as part of a Laos Kong Lo Cave travel tour. This may be easier than doing it all yourself but it's a long way and will involve a LOT of travelling.
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Ban Khoun Kham to Kong Lo Cave
When you get to the small town of Ban Khoun Kham you are, unfortunately, still 40km from the Kong Lor cave. You have 2 options at this point.
1) Take a sorngtaau (a modified pick-up truck) to the entrance of Kong Lo Cave. This will cost 50,000kip per person but contrary to what they tell you it will only leave when full. This means, as happened to a couple we met, that you will be waiting around for quite a while.
2) For 150,000kip you can rent a motorbike. Just go to any of the guesthouses in Ban Khoun Kham and ask about renting a bike. If there are 2 of you or more then this is by far the most economical way of going to the Kong Lo Cave and also the most fun. The price is normally 150,00 per day but by the time you arrive in the town it will likely already be lunchtime or later. So, try what we did and negotiate to keep the bike for 24 hours, that way you can spend the night in Kong Lo village.
Getting to Kong Lo Cave by Rented Scooter
We rented a scooter and enjoyed a lovely 40km trip to the Kong Lo cave. Many people who go to Laos will rent a scooter for at least part of their trip as travel in Laos by public transport isn't particularly fun or straight-forward, as I mentioned above. There's only one road to the Kong Lo cave and it's pretty much straight so it's impossible to get lost. There's also pretty much no traffic so even if you are not very confident on a scooter you may as well do it just for the practice. You go through lot's of little villages and the people are very friendly and will shout hello (sabadee) at you.
The road itself pretty much ends at the Kong Lo Cave itself. Kong Lo Village is immediately before the Kong Lo Cave and if it wasn't for the road ending you'd be forgiven for thinking that you'd missed Kong Lo village entirely, it really is that small.
At the end of the road you need to pay the entrance fee to the Kong Lo Cave. It's really only a small fee. We stopped and had lunch at the little restaurant there as we hadn't eaten for several hours since leaving Tha Khaek. The restaurant only really does fried rice or noodles but it's still cheap and adequate.
Do you Need a Guide for Kong Lo Cave?
You can only enter the Kong Lo Cave with a guide. Procuring the guide for the trip through the Kong Lo Cave is easy. We kind of thought it would be a mad free-for-all with lots of independent guides vying for our custom. Thankfully, in this case, it was very organised and very straightforward. We just parked our bike and walked up to the counter where we paid the fee for the boat trip into the Kong Lo Cave (I think it was 150,000kip each). We were given a life jacket and lead to the boat with our 2 guides.
Approaching the mouth of the Kong Lo Cave is awe-inspiring. A big black mouth to swallow us into the depths of hell. You only travel a few dozen metres to the mouth and then you have to get out and wait whilst the boat navigates some choppy water and then you get back in and enter the cave.
What to Expect Inside the Kong Lo Cave
Pretty much as soon as you get into the cave, it's time to turn on your flashlight. If you don't have one it's not a problem as the guides both have bright flashlights.
You travel for a little while and then one of the guides will take you off the boat and give you a bit of a walking tour by flashlight. It's an eerie feeling knowing that you're a couple of kilometres under a mountain with no way of immediate escape. I was also thinking about the fist-sized spiders that I'd heard about. I kind of wanted to see them but also I know my girlfriend, and probably me too, would have jumped out of my skin if we'd seen them,
The walking tour lasts for about 20 minutes and then it's back in the boat for the rest of the trip. I really do recommend taking a good flashlight so you can point it where you like. It's an awesome feeling when you get halfway through, knowing that you're in pitch darkness with no way of escape.
The Other Side of the Kong Lo Cave
When you come out the other side of the Kong Lo Cave you feel a sense of relief. The scenery on the other side is amazing. You get a few minutes to absorb this whilst the boat turns around and then it's back through. Going back is a bit of let-down as it's the same way but you can just sit back and reflect on the journey.
Returning from Kong Lo Cave
Even though we had negotiated the scooter rental for 24 hours we decided to return it the same day and not stay over in Kong Lo village. We returned the scooter to the Ban Khoun Kham guest house we rented it from at about 3pm. However, before that we learned of a viewpoint over-looking the valley from the top of a hill. We didn't really know how to get there but we found a small tourist information office located in a house at the side of the Ban Khoun Kham highway.
We went in and a very helpful lady gave us lot's of information on the best Ban Khoun Kham viewpoints. The ride up (and back down) was lovely and the views from the top were superb. We could see the river from our viewpoint. I'm not sure if there was tubing going on as tubing in Laos is very popular, although the main centre for this is in Vang Vien. We were travelling in Laos in July which isn't a good time for tubing because the monsoon rains make the rivers very dangerous.
Bus Times from Ban KHoun Kham to Tha Khaek
We asked around for the time of the bus back to Tha Khaek and were told that a bus comes through Ban Khoun Kham but at random times. Instead we had the option of taking a Soorngtau. We piled into this pick-up truck and headed back the same way we came. There were a lot of people in this Soorngtau so it really wasn't very comfortable. We kept expecting that after a couple of hours we'd stop at the side of the Vientienne / Tha Khaek road and wait for the passing bus. But no, after a couple of hours we realised we'd have to stay on for another 2 hours until we got to Tha Khaek as we wouldn't be stopping. Four hours sitting shoulder to shoulder with the person next to you and knee to knee with the person in front in NOT comfortable let me tell you!
We didn't have a Laos Lonely Planet or a Laos travel guide so it felt pretty cool having to actually make some effort to get from A to B rather than just read it from a book.
Discovery of the Chom Ong Cave in Laos
Apparently, an even longer cave has been discovered in the last few years, the Chom Ong Cave, but it's much further to the north and a lot less accessible than Kong Lo Cave. If you love caves and have the time and patience (you need lots of patience for travelling in Laos!) then I wish you all the best in seeking this out. However, if you don't fancy that then I will certainly recommend making the effort to visit the Kong Lo Cave.
Have you ever been to Laos?
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This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.
© 2013 Robert Clarke