In sleepy Khammouane Province, central Laos, lies a spectacular natural wonder, Konglor Cave. Konglor Cave, hidden in the dramatic karst mountains of Hin Boun district, is essentially a tunnel cut right through the moutain by the Hin Boun River, a 7.5 kilometre turquoise waterway. The highlight of this cave is the fact that travellers can hop into a longboat and journey in the inky darkness along the entire length of the river to emerge on the other side of the mountain. Spectacular indeed!
The entrance to Konglor Cave
Konglor Cave is the highlight of many a backpacker’s trek whilst on the “Thakek loop” (also known as the “Konglor Loop” or “the Loop”), a 500 kilometre motorcycle journey through central Laos’ Khammouane province. The journey takes between 3-5 days depending on how long you spend in each location. Khammouane province is famous for its stunning scenery of dramatic karst mountains, rural villages, tobacco farms and caves, but remains quiet on the tourist front as the lack of quality roadways makes access fairly difficult. Most visitors arrive in Konglor via motorbike or Songtaew (a small shared taxi/bus) from the town of Thakek. We chose to drive in our 4WD for this roadtrip and you can read below specific directions on getting to Konglor. So, if, like me, you love the beautiful scenery of Laos’ Vang Vieng but without all the crowds, then Konglor Cave and its surrounds are for you.
Day Trip to Konglor Cave
Having risen early to wander in Ban Tiou village from our scenic accommodation at Spring River Resort we arrived at the entrance to the national park at around 8.30am. Not a tourist in sight! We were the second visitors to arrive at Konglor Cave (and we saw around 8 people in total all day). Being the peak of “tourist season” I had expected to find many more travellers here. We paid a small park entrance fee (2,000 kip) and hired a longboat and guide for 50,000 kip each.
Beating the crowds
A curious bystander at the entrance to the park
The mouth of the cave barely visible amongst the trees. And that lagoon!
A fairly plain entrance belies what is inside
Our chariot awaits!
Following our guide into the cave entrance, we turn on our head torches and hop into a traditional wooden longtail boat. The guide starts up the motor and we speed off into the near-total darkness. The temperature drops; the water sprays us lightly and our vision is limited to the small spotlight beaming out from our headlamps.
The boatman expertly maneuvers us through the 7.5 km cave in near-total darkness
After around 10 minutes the cave opens up to a sandy beach area alight with green and orange to highlight the stalagmites, stalactites and other rock formations. Our boatman drops us at the beach as he motors off into the darkness. Hope we will see him again!
Heading deeper into Konglor Cave
We reach the other side of the beach area to find our trusty boatman waiting for us. We set off in our boat again to traverse the inky underground river. In several sections the river is quite shallow with the boatman struggling to keep the rudder off the bottom of the riverbed. At one point we all had to get out and help push the boat up and over some small rapids. After almost one hour we emerge on the other side of the mountain.
There is literally light at the end of the tunnel!
We exit the cave and as our eyes adjust back to the bright light we leisurely motor towards the village of Ban Natan for a short break. Time to grab a coffee and chat to the women weaving traditional Pha Biang (shoulder cloths).
The journey back is via the same route and we once more need to disembark to assist the boatman with pulling the boat over a small section of rocks and rapids.
Returning once more to the entrance to Konglor Cave
All up, the journey took around 3 hours and it certainly lived up to its hype!
Best time to go
The best time to visit is during the dry season between the months of November – March.
What to take
Take shoes that can get wet because you will need to get out of the boat a few times, especially in the dry season when the river is quite shallow. I prefer to wear water shoes (or beach shoes) as they are non slip and won’t wash away in the flowing water. A dry bag for your camera or personal belongings is also a good idea although it is safer to leave your belongings in the lockers at the ticket office. You will be provided with a life vest and a head torch, which was surprisingly bright and strong.
National Park entrance fee cost 2,000 kip (USD 25 cents) per person and boat hire and guide cost 50,000 kip (6 USD) per person to hire. The boats seat three plus a guide and it is perfectly acceptable to find someone to share the costs. It is usual to tip your guide a small amount if you think he has done a good job.
The National Park and cave entrance opens daily from 8.00 am – 4.00 pm.
Getting to Konglor Cave:
Driving from Vientiane:
Travel via the National 13 Road South until Vieng Kham. Turn left onto Road 8 and continue to the Na Hin turnoff. Follow the signs to Konglor Cave. Total driving time from Vientiane to Konglor Cave is around 5 1/2 to 6 hours. See detailed driving directions in my post on roadtripping to Konglor Cave here.
Public bus from Vientiane:
There is a direct bus departing from Vientiane’s Southern Bus Station to Konglor at 10.00 am daily which costs 60,000 kip for a standard bus and 80,000 kip for a VIP bus. The journey takes approximately 7 hours. There are several other buses departing at different times Vientiane for Thakek and it can be a good idea to ask the bus driver if you can alight at Vieng Kham (the turn off for Road 8) as you will need to double back this way from Thakek anyway. Once in Thakek (or Vieng Kham) catch a songthaew to Konglor village which costs 75,000 kip and takes around 5 hours. To return to Vientiane the public bus departs at 7am each day from Konglor Village from outside the Chantra Guesthouse.
Travelling from Thakhek, Savannakhet or Pakse:
Travel along the National 13 Road towards the North until you reach Vieng Kham. Turn right onto Road 8 and continue to the Na Hin turnoff. Follow the signs to Konglor Cave.
Stunning viewpoint whilst driving along Road 8 in Khammouane Province
Where to Stay
The villages of Konglor (around 10 minutes from Konglor Cave) and Ban Tiou (around 20 minutes from Konglor Cave) both have accommodation. Just keep in mind that they both have limited rooms and I would recommend booking in advance.
My favourite place to stay (and the cream of the crop) is Spring River Resort about 1 km from Konglor Village. Smart bungalows, amazing service and a view that will make you want to stay forever. Interested to see more of Spring River Resort? Read all about my stay here.
The simply majestic Spring River Resort
Another travellers’ favourite option is the Chantha House in Konglor Village with clean but basic rooms.
Have I inspired you to visit the spectacular Konglor Cave and Khammouane Province? I know I can’t wait to return!
Pin for later!