Kyle and I had seen more than our fill of caves by the time we reached Laos. I partly blame this on our underground experiences in China, where every cave we toured through involved detailed descriptions from our guides on how much a particular rock formation resembled an elephant, or a horse, depending on which way you looked at it. We eventually decided that walls of stalactites and stalagmites just weren’t our thing, and resolved to avoid them for the rest of the trip…until we heard about Kong Lor Cave in Laos. Lonely Planet describes this destination as a spot to see fist-sized spiders amongst other things, so at first we were both apprehensive considering Kyle and I experience a variety of loose bowel movements upon seeing the hairy critters. However, after seeing photos and hearing great accounts from other travellers, we decided to suck it up and take the plunge.
Kong Lor Village
There are a couple of ways to see Kong Lor Cave, one being to start in Thakhek and do “The Loop” on a rented motorcycle/scooter. This involves stopping at Kong Lor Cave and a few other sites over a three or four day period, but unfortunately Kyle and I didn’t have time for this so can’t give too many details! Instead we took a bus directly to Kong Lor Village (walking distance from the cave), from Vientiane, and stayed for two nights at a great little guesthouse called Chantha House (great according to Laos standards, there were a few ants in the room). We didn’t stray off the beaten path too much in Laos, and many people do home-stays in small villages to get a sense of the local culture. For us, Kong Lor Village provided an apt glimpse into the life of the people in Laos, while also allowing us the comforts of a more western accommodation. While visiting here I would highly recommend to wander through the village to understand (or at least scrape the surface) of how many Laos people live on a daily basis.
Cost in Canadian Dollars
Park Entrance: $0.27
Kong Lor Boat Hire: $14.67 per boat with a maximum of three people per boat
In order to see the cave, you must rent a boat: after all, the cave is over 7km long with a massive river running through it. We paid for our slightly rickety motorized canoe-like contraption, which included a driver, and headed into the darkness with only the light from our smartphones and a headlamp strapped to the man steering us into the unknown. The least comforting part about climbing aboard a tiny boat is your driver scooping out buckets of water before hopping in: as always, safety first in Southeast Asia. The sounds of a scraping bucket against the bottom of the boat continued throughout most of the journey.
Like Angkor Wat, to say the cave was impressive is a complete understatement. After jumping in the death-like boat contraption, we headed into complete darkness, and I gave one last glance at the now-distant daylight that soon was sucked out of sight. Looking ahead, all we could see was wherever the driver pointed his headlamp. Without this there’s no way you could even see your hand while holding it in front of you. After puttering along for a good 10 minutes, we stopped on the side of the river for a quick walk around. Lights and a walkway have been constructed here, making it easy to wander while following your guide. Then, it was back in the boat until we finally reached the opening on the other side. After being stuck in complete darkness for a good 20 minutes while boating down a river, I have to say I was quite relieved to see daylight again.
There’s a small village on the other side where Kyle and I stopped for a soup lunch cooked by a local Laos woman. Afterwards it was back on the boat and back into the cave! No stopping this time, except for when we slowed down to see the bats hanging from the roof of the 300-foot-tall ceilings. When we arrived back Kyle also had a quick swim at the mouth of the cave in the emerald-colored water.
Looking back, Kong Lor Cave is a highlight of not only Laos, but the entire trip. Cruising down a river, in a cave surrounded by complete darkness while your driver scoops water out of the boat is not an experience that’s easily forgotten. For those visiting Laos, don’t miss this stop, and don’t let the thought of spiders deter you!