Laos - Day - 20 - 7.5km Natural River Cave
May 21, 2012
|Woke up early and met Chris and Sue for breakfast at 7am. Headed out walking through the village to Khong Lo Cave, just 1km down the road. Gorgeous sunny morning, crisp clean air and local villagers going about their daily routines - all amongst the settings of the surrounding mountains and rice fields.
We were greeted by a passing tuk-tuk, the driver stopped and offered us a free ride into the cave, we quickly boarded where we were welcomed by Angela (from Canada) and Becky (from England) - two passengers who came from the drivers homestay. It worked out perfectly, three passengers per boat, and we shared the cost between three people which made it cheaper for all around.
Each boat had two guides; one in front who controlled the direction and maneuvering through the shallow parts of the river and the other in back working the motor. We all boarded a wooden boat together and were ferried across to the riverbank, where we departed on a walking trail into the mouth of the cave. As we got closer to the entrance you could feel the temperature drop, suddenly witnessing the gaping mouth of the cave, your breath stolen before you've even entered the eerie, black cavern. Passing into the church-high darkness (100m in some places), watching the light of the cave mouth recede, is almost an uncomfortable spooky experience. Your eyes have to adjust to the darkness surrounding you. Armed with torches, we boarded two boats, three people in each and set off into the darkness of the massive Khong Lo Cave, where 7.5kms of river awaited our arrival. We were the first group inside, we had the entire cave to ourselves and we were happy to finally be in the tunnel running beneath an immense limestone mountain.
Unlike anything you can imagine, and in the words of a previous traveller: "I've done loads of caves, but this is the creepiest and the best I've ever seen." It was an outrageous experience and one that we hope to never forget. We maneuvered around the river canals of the cave in complete darkness, the only light supplied by our torches. From the quiet stillness of the water, to the echo's of the boat motor in parts of the cave, the water raining down from the ceiling - hitting the water with a splash of renewal, hugging the cave walls to avoid the shallow banks of the riverbeds and being amazed that the boatman knows exactly where to avoid these spots in the dark - are all apart of the experience you receive. Once in a while you come upon a spot inside the cave where a fresh air stream washes over your face, renewing your sense of excitement and leaving you begging for more, not wanting the journey to come end.
We moored up to a bank where we got out of the boat and made our way up a path to a spot in the cave where we walked through some amazing stalactites and stalagmites, you feel like you’ve wandered into an old Star Trek set, your water bottle spiked with LSD. We spent about half an hour walking around and taking photos, what a mind blowing place this cave is, 7.5kms of stupendous adventure. Not to mention all the weird and wonderful creatures that live inside this cave system, we spotted a huge centipede like creature, scurrying along the sand bank to its home.
A few spots were too shallow, the boat would come to a stand still, everyone would get out and the boatmen quickly pulled the boat over the rocks into deeper water where we continued on our journey. It took us an hour and a half to reach the end, where we escaped the dark depths of the cave and entered a truly amazing tropical jungle nestled in amongst karsts limestone mountains. Thousands of sparrow like birds flew high above us as we exited the cave. We were taken to a bank where we climbed out of our boats and walked up a steep hill into a small “base camp” if you will that leads to the nearest small village of Ban Kong Lo where you can do an overnight homestay during peak months. We soon enough realized we could not make the trek to the village (guides would not allow us to) so we walked around the area, exploring the forest and nature within.
One amazing sight to note; all the very large blue packages that were being transported from the nearby village by hand powered carts, onto the banks of the river, loaded into wooden boats and taken through the cave back to the entrance. Once back at the mouth of the cave entrance they off loaded the blue packages and carried them up and over rocks to be loaded onto trucks. One of the guides told us they were tobacco bundles, just freshly farmed from the fields, dried and packaged up to be sold in the nearest towns. They must have some huge tobacco plantations because the amount of large blue bundles being boated off were in the hundreds. We were passed by a lot of boats in the cave carrying this payload, makes me wonder as to why we were not allowed to walk into the village - perhaps it was opium and not tobacco in those bundles...LOL. None the less we managed to grab some great shots of this tobacco moving process in its entirety.
It took an hour to go back through the cave, the journey seemed too short as we had fallen in love with the Khong Lo Cave. Wishing we could explore more and spend a few more hours searching every nook and cranny of this amazing place. Once back at the beginning, everyone but me (I forgot my swim apparel) jumped in the river at the mouth of the cave and took a little swim. Jason, Chris and Sue did some rock jumping - Jason did a weird back jump and landed in a v-shape entering the water - dare I say it looked like it hurt, I managed to catch that one in “photo” evidence.
We made our way back to our respective rooms, checked out and had a bite to eat with Chris and Sue before boarding a tuk-tuk headed to Nam Hin Bun where we planned on catching another tuk-tuk to the nearest junction. From there we could catch an overnight VIP bus headed to Pakse. Easier said than done, we managed to catch up with Angie and Becky, who joined us in our great crusade to go to the junction and catch a VIP bus to Pakse. The weather went to shit, rain poured down, our bags got a little wet, we were transported to a roadside restaurant where we could wait for local and VIP buses going to Pakse. Upon entering the restaurant I said to Jason that it smelled like something died in there, rotting corpse or something.....later in the evening we witnessed the owners/local workers pry open a floor board and remove a very large dead chicken from inside - winner, winner - chicken dinner!!!
Long story, short; we waited for a “VIP” overnight bus to Pakse from 3:30 in the afternoon until just after 11pm. Several thunderstorms passed over during this time. We saw a huge bullfrog jump around the entrance of the restaurant - very handsome frog he was. The lovely staff of the entertained us with dance music, as we busted a move and groove to the music they bursted out in laughter. They cooked us some chicken noodle soup and chicken lapp for supper. They witnessed us brushing our teeth and spitting into the water drain outside of the restaurant, later on mocking us as one of them held a tooth brush to her teeth and pretending to do like we did, when done she stuck the toothbrush back into her hair. They tried several times to flag down a passing bus for us going to Pakse, problem was that they were all full and not even sitting room between the isles was available. On several occasions the bus drivers tried very hard to convince us that their bus was a VIP bus and to get us on board for a large amount of money (so they could pocket it for themselves), making the locals move out of their seats they paid for to make room for us - cramming them into the isle sitting on plastic stools. Two sleeper buses came by; one wanted to move people out of their sleepers for us and another wanted us to bunk with some of the locals (which happened to be all men the woman of the group would be sleeping with), one woman invited Jason to come and bunk with her in her private sleeper. LOL
We would not have any part in that, how horrible we felt that they would make the locals move to give us a seats/sleeper beds on an overnight bus! We turned down 5 buses in total - driving the woman from the restaurant nuts as she was the one flagging down the buses and trying to get us a ride. Finally, SUCCESS - we found a bus just after 11pm that had room, no one had to move out of their seats for us and all 6 of us good be together. It turned out to be a night ride from hell but in the end we made it to Pakse around 5:45am the next day.