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Tham Kong Lo
Wikipedia | Google | Google Images | FlickrTham Kong Lo, or Konglor Cave as it is most commonly known, is an 8km long karst limestone cave regarded as one of Southeast Asia’s most stunning geological wonders. Surrounded by luscious, tropical rainforests, and with the Nam Hin Bun River flowing straight through it, it is one of the most remarkable sights in Laos and the absolute highlight of the less-visited, southern half of the country.
Traveling through southern Laos is not nearly as easy as doing the same through the north, due to a major lack of tourist infrastructure and the fact that the main highlights are spread out quite far and wide. Yet with just a little effort, you could enjoy the most spectacular part of the whole country and most dramatic landscape by far.
Konglor Cave is the main highlight of the famed Thakhek Loop Route, which starts and end in the southern border town of Thakhek and takes intrepid adventurous on a magnificent 200km loop through flooded limestone forests, tropical rainforests, and karst mountains.
There are waterfalls, lakes, and caves to discover, and a smattering of charming villages along the way boasting authentic guesthouses and eateries. The loop is best done by renting a scooter from town for 3-4 days and, thanks to a recent upgrade on the roads, is not nearly as hazardous as it once was. Only about 30kms of the entire journey is on unsealed roads. Being the less-visited part of Laos, you’re likely to come across less than a dozen tourists during the entire trip.
Visiting Konglor CaveKonglor is the main drawcard of Laos’ Khammouane Province , despite the fact that there are numerous stunning attractions to discover all over. Found about halfway through the Thakhek Loop, Konglor warrants a full day’s exploration thanks to it boasting a fantastic riverside beach and quite spectacular swimming spot. The cave can only be visited by long boat and the experience, sights, and sounds are incredibly remarkable.
The cave is within the boundaries of a protected reserve, for which you’ll need to pay a ₭5,000 ($0.60) entrance fee. Once you reach the riverside, you’ll see a ticket booth on the right-hand side, where you can purchase boat tickets and borrow a head torch and life vest. Boats carry up to 4 passengers and cost ₭120,000 ($14). If traveling alone, you may be lucky enough to come across other tourists willing to share the boat, and the price.
A short walk along the riverside, where you’ll stroll past the swimming beach, will lead you to the boat landing at the enormous opening of the cave. Board the boat and let the adventure begin.
Boat Ride Through Konglor CaveThe boat ride takes just over an hour, thanks to the length of the cave, slowness of the boat, and pit stop to admire stalactites and stalagmites along the way. For most of the way, the only light you’ll have is what emanates from your boat driver’s head torch, making the experience quite eerie indeed. You’ll arguably enjoy the most impressive sight of the whole trip once you emerge into the tropical landscape on the other side of the cave.
You can explore the shores on shoot, and here you’ll find a few stalls selling snacks and souvenirs. Once you’ve enjoyed a relaxing break, simply hop on your long boat and enjoy the long, mesmerizing ride back.
Once the boatman drops you off at the starting point, you are free to explore, picnic, sunbake, and swim to your heart’s content. Pack some food and drinks in town before you head here and you could easily spend an entire day within the gates of the national park.
How to Organize TransportAlthough it’s possible to do the Thakhek Loop by public transport, it is neither easy nor convenient. Minivans and songthaews do ply the main thoroughfares, yet doing the loop means you’ll need to change buses and directions several times. Lack of any kind of set timetables means that you’re likely to spend more time waiting for transport, rather than exploring the region. To add insult to injury, southern Laos also boasts the most decrepit buses in the country, with many 50km stretches taking more than 5-6 hours thanks to the incessant breakdowns. All in all, public transport is not a very recommendable option.
In the small, sleepy riverside town of Thakhek you’ll find a plethora of scooter rental agencies around the main square, which will provide you with gear, scooter, and a map for just over ₭80,000 ($9.60) a day. Taking off to explore the region on your own is infinitely more enjoyable and rewarding.
Where to Stay Along the WayAt Ban Konglor, the last town about 3kms north of the cave, is where you’ll find at least half a dozen guesthouses offering cheap accommodation and excellent home-made meals. A divine resort about 3kms north of town is where you can splurge on luxurious riverside bungalows, in a gorgeous estate which also offers basic huts (no hot water, no fans) for a bargain price. Here you can enjoy delectable, freshly-caught fish cooked in spices and coconut sauce. The Thakhek region boasts some of the most delicious food you’ll have in Laos.
The most popular overnight stops along the way are in Ban Na Hin (a small town on the junction between Road 8 and southern road leading to Konglor) and Tha Lang. The latter is a gorgeous, little, two-horse town set on a lake and home to possibly the best guesthouse in Laos. Sabaidee Guesthouse is owned by an incredibly hospitable local and offers the most amazing array of Laotian and western specialties, including wood-fired pizzas, huge hamburgers, and home-made chocolate croissants. Sabaidee is reason enough to tackle the Thakhek Loop in a clockwise direction, so you can enjoy a two-night stay and rest day here. The town can be explored on foot in about 10 minutes and offers a delightful glimpse into Laotian country life.
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Author: Laura Pattara. Last updated: Feb 03, 2015