When the group I traveled with and I decided to go on an off the beaten path journey to Kong Lor cave in Laos, I wasn’t quite sure what to expect. Yeah, I wanted to go, since it was one of the few places in Laos I hadn’t yet visited. But I wasn’t mega enthusiastic, which ended up to be a slight mistake.
Do not ever believe your expectations. One of the greatest things that traveling taught me is that the reality is most likely not going to meet your expectations. Going on this off the beaten path journey to Kong Lor made this lesson even more clear.
The bus drive we did from Tha Khaek was quite hellish. As normally happens in Laos, the people selling you your bus ticket tell you a certain amount of hours the bus should take. In Laos, always add a minimum of three hours. It almost never happens that the bus will take the amount of time they promised you. Therefore, also be prepared for the worst. Enough water, snacks and entertainment on the way are an absolute must (actually I’m writing this in a bus from Savannakhet to Pakse, that is how I spend my bus journey).
All goes fine until you reach a village where you will spend 1,5 hour loading and unloading stuff. This village is only forty kilometres away from Kong Lor, so our hopes were up. The thing that no one tells you though, is that the last kilometres of road are absolutely horrible, as it often is when going off the beaten track, especially in Laos. It shouldn’t even be called a road, the mud where the enormous bus tries to plough through. Which is a good sign of truly going off the beaten track though. This last bit is done in a shaking two hours.
Back home I live in the biggest city of the Netherlands. It’s never quiet. Cars, music, neighbours, sirens, everything keeps on going, 24/7. In Kong Lor it is completely different. At night, all you hear is the sound of insects coming to life, and all you see is a sky full of stars. But it’s in the morning after you wake up your jaw literally drops. It’s not everywhere you see stunning views like this.
With our group of five we decided to explore the caves that day. During breakfast we observed an older woman using an impressive looking loom. I tried to take some pictures from our breakfast table but wasn’t very successful. After breakfast we passed the woman’s house, where she was still working. So we asked if it was okay we took pictures.
A huge smile appeared on her face and she started nodding her head wildly. Immensely proud she gestured us to follow her inside her house. Two bamboo sticks were covered with her sarongs and scarfs. Inside the living room was an even bigger and more sophisticated but obviously home made loom. Still with the enormous smile on her face she gave us a demonstration. It happens so often that people are more open and friendly in the middle of nowhere.
We bought some of her home made cloths before continuing our journey to the cave. It’s a one kilometre walk through the village, rice fields and finally a forrest. There a boat brings you to the other side of the river, the mouth of Kong Lor cave. The cave is over seven kilometres long and a river runs through it. Small wooden boats take you through the cave, which is quite a mystical experience. It is pitch dark, all you have is the light of your torches and the sounds of bats. Halfway into the cave the boats leave you on shore to explore the stalagmites and stalactites that have grown there over the centuries.
On the other side of the path the boat picked us up again. We were about halfway through the cave. We didn’t expect the mouth we got out of on the other side. All of a sudden we were surrounded by jungle, a monkey leaping off of tree branches every once in a while and a handmade, not very stable, shipping dock around a corner.
The path leading from the shipping dock brought us to a small and old traditional village. Kids, accompanied by chicken, ran up to us. Especially my bearded, tall and tattooed friend got a lot of attention from the kids. The kids were the surprise of the village. The traditional bamboo huts are to be found everywhere around Laos, and everyone, naturally, keeps with their own business – looming, harvesting, taking care of goats and chicken. The kids wanted to play games, have their pictures taken and laugh at each other while staring at the small screen of the camera. I wouldn’t be surprised though if this village turns into a tourist trap during the next couple of years, where the locals will sell drinks and their homemade sarongs.
All in all it is a nice, quiet spot in the jungle and since it hasn’t been spoiled by tourism yet it’s definitely worth a visit. The nature is beautiful, as are the people.
Take care!: if you come from the south or want to move on to the south from Kong Lor you will have to take a two hour shared tuk tuk drive to Savannakhet. There’s only a bus service from the north.