By: Jas Mitch
As you may have noticed, we had not been particularly loving Laos - however getting off the typical Luang Prabang to Vientiane tourist route has completely changed our view. I can not recommend anyone visit Laos and just do the typical tourist trail. Get far, far away from it.
Maybe its not for everyone, we have been ‘roughing’ it a bit more now. But the people are much more friendly, more genuine and the the scenery is phenomenal.
First stop out was the Konglor Cave - a 7.5km river cave a few hours out of Vientiane. It’s just starting to get noticed as a tourist destination so there are not many bus options to get out there, but it is easy enough. The road takes you into some pretty special Karst formations which shoot up out of the landscape.
They paved the road right up to the cave only a couple years ago however they half arsed it a bit so it is packed with gigantic potholes. Pretty funny watching our driver trying to get a double decker bus down there. One point I think we got some air.
As you may know, I do love caves. Something about the atmosphere of being cut off from the outside world - and this cave was by far the most eerie I have ever been in.
The NZ and French governments have set this place up to support the locals so all the local boys hang out near the cave ready to drive the boat through. Once you buy your ticket, they grab one of the boys who will pick a canoe and then they select one of these many fine engines they have sitting on the cave mouth to start your journey.
Going in was a very unnerving and unsettling experience. It’s wet season at the moment so the water is moving very quickly but the unsettling part was that it was pitch black in there and the driver goes in at full speed guided only by the light of (very) underpowered headlamps. All while trying to dodge the many waterfalls from the ceiling (wet season). Seriously, you cannot see anything in there. However for the most of the river part it is pretty plain with not many stalagmite/tites to see. But it is by far the most exciting ride in the darkness. You tend to wonder what would happen if you had a crash a few kms into a 7.5km pitch black cave… But the guide was a real pro and he knew exactly where he was going. Sorry, I don’t have many good photos of this bit due to the darkness.
Actually, I really enjoyed the complete darkness. This cave feels much less “commercialised” than many I have visited with the over the top lighting setups and steel stairs/walkways. Having said that, there was one lit up part. In the middle of the cave they drop you off on a sand ‘beach’ where you walk through a dry part with the best cave formations. You are completely alone here since the guide drops you off then heads on up the river to the other side. The lighting in this area is only for the ‘features’ so you are still very much navigating by headlamp and scrambling over rocks. We even caught a glimpse of a couple giant cave spiders (not many, its a cave after all and there is not much life here).
The village we stayed at is one of the friendliest places we have ever been. The locals there have only recently picked up on this “tourist” thing so they have thrown up a couple of guest houses. Everything here is more genuine and you feel a lot more connected with the families in the community. The guest house we stayed at was family run and only the dad could speak english. It was good for casual chat, however we got caught out at one point when all the local men in the village went to the “house with the best satellite dish for pirated Thai TV” for the Muay Thai fight.