22.05.2011 - 26.05.2011 39 °C
If you have stumbled on this page after googling ‘How to get to Kong Lo Cave’, the bullet points below give you all the information you need. Below the bullet points is our adventure of Kong Lo Cave.
• Buses leave from the Southern Bus Station at 5am, 6am, & 7am to Lak Sao – around 70,000 kip.
• Around 7hrs drive from Vientiane you will hit a tiny dirt road village called Ban Khoun Khan, this is where you have to hop off. If you wait until the bus stops driving any further you will probably be standing at the Vietnamese border scratching your head wondering where it all went wrong.
• You have a few options once you get to Ban Khoun Khan, you can either do the cave tour the same day or chill out and do it the next day. We decided to do it the next day as we were fairly tired after the bus ride. This is where your next option arises. You can stay in one of the guesthouses/hotels in Ban Khoun Khan (if you’re looking for air-con/hot showers) or do a homestay in Kong Lo, we did the homestay and it was great.
• Kong Lo village is about 90 minutes’ drive away, so you can either hire a motorbike or take one of the many tuk tuk’s. We hired a motorbike for 50,000 kip per day.
• There is only one road to get in and out of Kong Lo village so there is no chance you will get lost.
• If you chose to do the homestay just organise it with one of the friendly locals in the town, they are all just chilling out and signs point you to the houses that are keen for guests. It should cost around 50,000 per person, although you will probably want to give a bit more after your stay.
• To get to the cave entrance you just keep driving on the main road past the village for about 5 minutes – you can easily walk there from the village.
• Once at the cave entrance you just pay one of the cheery boat owners and they will take you through a cave you won’t easily forget.
Now for our story…
The Lonely Planet book that we had been using to help us find what adventures and activities to pursue during our trip so far was a 5 year old, $4 photocopy that we purchased from a boy in the street during our time in Hanoi.
Needless to say the prices that it quotes and several other things are either wrong or completely gone, but we have been using it as an aide to help us form a rough guide on the overland routes we would take and see the sights that it highly recommends.
Kong Lo cave was mentioned in our book, but literally as a 20 word sentence that pretty much just said ‘Big cave in the middle of nowhere’. But we did some ‘googling’ and thought it sounded pretty cool. The only problem that it was a bit off the beaten tourist track and although you could get to it through a travel agent in Vientiane, it was a blatant rip-off, and they smashed the huge journey into a massive 1 day event that pretty much meant you would see the cave for an hour and the other 18 hours would be spent in a bus. Not something we were too keen on.
So we were up at 5am riding the tuk tuk out to the bus station with the plan to catch the 6am bus. Unfortunately we lucked out in the tuk tuk department as the one we picked could only go 10km/hr and had to stop to pour water all over the steaming engine. Long-story-short we ended up catching the 7am bus.
During the bus ride we met a crazy Czech entomologist who was planning on walking through the jungles of Laos alone before they were ripped down by illegal loggers. He was a bit sad when we told him we were Australian because he thought all of the Australian rainforest would be gone before he had a chance to wander through them, I told him there was still plenty left but I’m unsure if he believed me or not.
When we arrived in Ban Khoun Khan it was stinking hot, at least 39 degrees with super high humidity, and the thought of an air-conditioned room over a homestay was tempting, but we decided to stick to our guns and head to Kong Lo village for the night.
We hired a motorbike and stopped in at the Tourist Information centre (on the main highway – just outside the village) and organised to leave our big backpacks there overnight and just take daypacks, which was a huge help. The crazy Czech guy was also there but he was planning on doing a 2 hour return hike to a nearby waterfall, we considered joining him but as there was only about 3 hours sun left in the day we decided to start heading for Kong Lo village.
^^ Fueling up the bike
The drive to the village was AMAZING! The landscape was breathtaking and within 5 minutes we were sooooo glad that we had hired the bike and could go at our own pace.
Black, rumbling, thunder clouds rolled across the top of towering mountains with sheer cliff faces.
Farmers and their children rested inside thatched bamboo huts that dotted the countryside as they let the day’s heat pass.
We passed houses that had been extended several times with different materials; brick, wood, iron, bamboo, and even mud; marking either a good years harvest or a growing family.
Buffalo fled the sweltering temperature by immersing themselves in the cool waters of the fields.
^^ Crossing the bridge
As you can see from the photos the peaceful drive from Ban Khoun Khan to Kong Lo village is worth the visit alone.
Once we arrived in the village we found a homestay and relaxed by the riverside as the village children splashed around and gave daring glances and smiles at us. The kids were super cute and even though they didn’t speak a word of English Kirby still managed to have a game with one of the young girls.
We were really bummed out that we didn’t buy a Laotian phrase book because it would have been invaluable during the homestay, as the family we stayed with spoke only a few words of English. Although, by the end of a long day the hunger in our eyes needed no words and we were treated with a fried rice feast.
^^ This door was decommissioned after the house extension
^^ Our bedroom
The next morning we were up early as the dawn orchestra of farmers and their buffalo headed back out to the fields. After breakfast and a 5 minute ride down the road we found ourselves staring at a beautiful oasis. Water trickled down out of the black cave mouth and pooled in a crystal clear swimming hole, full of fish!
We found a boat man and headed into the cave. The boats are moored just inside the mouth of the cave, although I think when it’s got more water flowing through it they keep them on the bank of the swimming hole.
As you enter the cave it’s a mixture of excitement and foreboding doom. I don’t think anyone likes heading into pitch black, especially a place that looks a bit like the entrance to the underworld. Although it’s not long before all bad feelings are replaced with awe, it’s amazing inside. Giant stalactites and stalagmites reach for each other in a process that can take millions of years, especially in a cave this big. Some parts of the cave are so high/deep that the combination of temperature change and no wind makes huge walls of fog sit under deep sections – really cool. There was one small area of the cave that had mounted spot-lights which allowed you to walk through a short section of the dimly lit cavern.
Unfortunately you can’t take any pictures inside the cave because it’s pitch black (other than the 2 guides that have giant spotlights), so you will have to come yourself to enjoy its awesomeness .
After about 45 minutes motoring through the mountain you see light ahead and before you know it you are ‘birthed’ out the other side. When you look back over your shoulder at the mountain you just passed through it feels like it wasn’t real.
^^ Coming out the other side
After a quick break and a drink it’s back through again. We then had a swim and watched all the butterflies dance around the water’s edge.
Kong Lo Cave and Kong Lo village was well worth the visit and anyone contemplating whether or not to deviating from the main tourist trail should just go ahead with it, because it was really cool and it won’t be long until it’s a stop for everyone’s trip through Laos.
After saying our goodbyes to Kong Lo village we took our time riding back to Ban Khoun Khan enjoying the great scenery once again.
When we arrived at the Tourist Information Centre we saw the crazy entomologist Czech man we had met the day before out the front on the phone, and everyone in the centre fussing around. We asked what was happening and it turns out that the poor guys 2 hour return walk to the nearby waterfall ended up being an overnight stay sleeping on the wet jungle floor, and he had only just arrived back this afternoon. Apparently he lost the path and before long it was dark. The staff at the Tourist Information Centre had expected him back before nightfall and had been organising a search party for him all night and day; lucky we decided not to tag along with him! The poor guy told us that it was the most hellish night of his life, but he got nice and close to all the insects!
That night we enjoyed the pleasures of hot water and an air-con room. The next morning we headed for Thaekek (not sure on spelling), the only way to get there from Ban Khoun Khan is in the back of a ute, it cost 50,000 kip, 2 sore arses, and took 4 hours. After arriving in Thaekek we took a local bus to Pakse. The bus had more roof tiles and bags of rice than people, and the constant stopping to drop off these supplies to various villages made the trip 9 hours. When we finally arrived at Pakse it was 10pm so we just found a cheap guesthouse and collapsed.
The next day the plan was to catch the bus to Si Phan Dom, but we overslept and when we arrived at the bus station it had already gone! This meant bad news because we only had 1 more day left on our visas! So tomorrow we have to get into Cambodia.
On the tuk tuk back to town we passed the local market place and a local man hopped on going the same way. He had just purchased a bag full of snakes and some perfume. Without warning he whipped out the perfume bottle and covered me with it. Sprayed me in the mouth and eyes and all over my shirt, and then turned to Kirby and unloaded on her, so strange haha. We just cracked up laughing as we sat there drenched in his hideous perfume that smelt like toilet deodorant! He just sat there chuckling to himself as we looked at each other in shock, in fact as I’m writing this it’s making me crack up, just one of those weird unexpected things that happens while travelling in a foreign country that catches you completely by surprise and the only response you can muster is bursting into laughter.
That afternoon we just shopped for snacks because now that we are going all the way to Phnom Penh, Cambodia’s capital city, it’s a 14 hour bus ride.
The next morning we were up nice and early to head to the southern bus station, it was the last day on our visa so we had to get into Cambodia. Once again we decided to choose the s l o w e s t tuk tuk in the world, and the 8km to the station took 45 minutes!
When we arrived at the southern bus station we couldn’t find the bus that was going to take us, so we asked the information desk for help, the very same people that we had spoken to the day before about catching this bus to Phnom Penh. We couldn’t believe it when they told us that we were at the wrong bus station and were meant to be at the ‘VIP’ bus station, even though yesterday they told us to come back here. Anyway after some back and forth they got the bus driver to come to this station to pick us up on his way through, thank god!
The bus trip was good; the staff even wore ties which was a bit fancy. When we crossed the border we had to pay $20 for the Cambodian visa and a $4 bribe on either side for the guards to stamp it, fairly standard from what we hear. Just across the border the driver had to stop the bus outside an eatery for an hour because the air-conditioner had ‘broken’, at which time he promptly received his free meal in return for dumping 30 tourists at their restaurant, pretty shady but all the busses do it.
A little while later the bus dropped some British tourists off at a small Cambodian town call Stung Treng. As soon as the door opened the most heinous smells assaulted everyone’s nostrils and I might have heard one of the girls hopping off crying. It wasn’t very nice, or at least the place they were getting dropped off at wasn’t very nice.
^^ Stung Treng bus stop
Anyway we eventually made it to Phnom Penh and this marks the start of our Cambodian leg! Yay.