Kong Lor Cave is a one-of-a-kind natural wonder offering intrepid travelers an unforgettable subterranean experience. Here are ALL the essentials for visiting Kong Lor Cave, penned by two expats who lived in Laos for three years.
We’ll cover the best ways to get to Kong Lor Cave, what you need to know about tickets and guides, where to stay, what to pack, what else to do in Kong Lor Village, and where to go next.
Like many of our guides, this one is a labor of love with roots in a trip report dating back to 2012. We’ve continued to update it over the years from our own additional experiences visiting Kong Lor and with help from readers like you.
If you find any inaccuracies in our guide, please let us know in the comments section so we can make sure we’re providing the best information for future travelers to Kong Lor Cave and beyond. Thanks!
More Resources to Help You Plan Your Journey
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Why Visit Kong Lor Cave
Nestled in a remote valley in Central Laos at the end of a long and winding highway fringed with stunning karst peaks, Kong Lor Cave (Tham Kong Lo) is a 4.5-mile (7 km) long cave cut clear through a limestone mountain by one very tenacious little river.
While there is a small [artificially] illuminated section located deep within the cave for exploring on foot, travelers don’t come to Kong Lor Cave (roughly translated as “Beauty in the Dark”) for what they expect to see, but rather for what they won’t see. And that’s one of many reasons why this experience so unique.
Have you ever found yourself flying through the darkness at breakneck speed far below the surface of the earth?
It’s a surprisingly adrenaline-inducing sensation, and an exercise in trust—relying on every one of your senses as well as a perfect stranger to guide you through the darkness safely to the other end.
We’ve done it twice now over a five year period, and while the tourist complex around Kong Lor Cave has changed a bit over the years, the experience within the cave has changed very little.
How to Get to Kong Lor Cave
Kong Lor Cave is about as remote as you can hope to get in Laos as a traveler. Yet getting to Kong Lor is easier than most visitors think.
Keep in mind that, because of Kong Lor Cave’s relative isolation, the journey will take some time (1-4 days, depending on your mode of transport). Either way, enjoy the journey!
From Vientiane by Direct Bus
If you are headed to Kong Lor from Vientiane, you’re in luck! There is a daily direct bus from the Southern Bus Station in Vientiane to Kong Lor Village.
The bus currently departs at 10am and takes about 7 hours with a stop for lunch. Tickets cost 100,000 LAK (though rates may change due to the Lao Kip’s current volatility).
Other Options from Vientiane
If you miss the Kong Lor bus (or it isn’t an option, which can happen), get a bus for Thakhek instead, but tell the driver/ money collector you’d like to get off at Vieng Kham (Route 8 junction).
From here, you’ll need to hire a songthaew (pickup-looking thing with two benches in back) the rest of the way to Kong Lor. Or one to the village of Nahin, then an additional Songthaew to Kong Lor.
If you stay the night in Vieng Kham or Nahin, your guesthouse can help you arrange onward transport to Kong Lor.
From All Points South
If traveling from Savannakhet or Pakse, the quickest way to get to Kong Lor Cave is going to be getting a bus bound for Vientiane but getting off at Vieng Khan and following the instructions above.
If you’re coming from 4,000 Islands (Si Pan Don), you’ll most likely find yourself on a bus or songthaew from Nakasong to Pakse, then a bus from Pakse north to Thakhek or Vieng Kham.
Either way, stay flexible and plan for a very long 1-2 days of travel to arrive at Kong Lor Cave. As always, your guesthouse can help you with arranging the transport you need.
Thakhek Loop Method
Riding the Thakhek Loop is a one-of-a-kind bucket list adventure you can only have in Laos. We’ve done it twice and it remains one of our favorite Laos travel experiences.
Use one of the “Local Methods” described above to get yourself to Thakhek. Rent a motorbike and set off on the adventure of a lifetime on the Thakhek Loop!
Read our Insider’s Guide to Motorbiking the Thakhek Loop (freshly updated for 2023) with everything you need to know for making the journey.
Where to Stay Near Kong Lor Cave
Generally speaking, you’ll find adequate lodging if you just show up. It might not be your first choice, and it may lack some amenities you might be used to, but it’ll do the job for a night or two.
We especially recommend going this route if you decide to ride the Thakhek Loop or piecing your transport together, which can require additional flexibility.
If you don’t want to leave things to chance, some of the lodging options below can be booked online ahead of time.
Our Overall Top Pick
If relative comfort and a relaxing vibe along the river is what you’re after, check out Spring River Resort (from US$18), situated right on the banks of a jade-colored section of the Nam Hinboun river.
The major downside to staying at Spring River is it’s a bit removed from the village and restaurant prices tend to be a bit steep compared to local places in town.
With that said, Spring River occupies the most scenic real estate of perhaps any guesthouse in the area.
Our Top Picks In Kong Lor Village
For an excellent choice in the village center, check out clean and tidy Konglor Eco-Lodge (from US$10), a good value for the money.
Top Picks Near Kong Lor Cave
A handful of excellent options have sprung up in recent years just outside the entrance to the cave grounds. We recommend checking out Konglor Cave Resort (from US$10).
Kong Lor Cave Tickets & Guides
Kong Lor Cave is located at the far edge of the village. Ride, walk, or flag a ride from the village and head to the end of the road.
You’ll need to pay the entrance fee to Phu Hin Bun National Park before passing through the large gate. If you have a motorbike, also expect to pay a small parking fee inside (see fee breakdown below).
Head to the ticket window and hire your boat driver/guide (mandatory, of course).
How Much Does it Cost?
Current as of 2023. USD estimates are based on Oct 2023 exchange rate, though rates remain in flux at the moment. Let us know if Kong Lor Cave has changed their fees and we’ll update this section!
Each boat can carry up to 3 passengers.
|Phu Hin Bun National Park entrance fee (per person)||US$0.10 / 2,000 LAK|
|Motorbike parking (if applicable)||US$0.25 / 5,000 LAK|
|Kong Lor Cave entrance fee (per person)||US$0.50 / 10,000 LAK|
|Boat Tour (per boat, up to 3 pax)||US$5.00 / 100,000 LAK|
Changing & Storage Facilities
There is a toilet facility behind the ticket booth where you can change into your swim gear if you haven’t done so already (highly recommended, because you’ll probably get wet at some point! Read more below about what to bring).
You can leave your bag in the locked ticket booth, but we don’t advise leaving valuables.
Along with your boat and skilled driver, you’ll get a life vest and working headlamp, all included with your fee.
How Long Does it Take?
Expect the whole Kong Lor Cave experience to take 1.5 – 2 hours, roundtrip, including prep and half way break. It takes roughly 30 minutes to transit through the cave, but this is dependent on river flow and depth, and number of other boats transiting the cave.
What to Expect at Kong Lor Cave
Now, the moment you’ve all been waiting for! It’s time to board a small motorboat with a driver and transit 7 km (4.3 miles) up a narrow subterranean river.
That’s roughly the length of 75 football fields in near-darkness.
If you’re a visual person, you might enjoy taking a look at the map below from OpenStreetMap.org. They’ve actually mapped Kong Lor Cave, along with Ban O (Konglor Village) and the village on the other side.
On the left is where you’ll enter the cave, and on the right is where you will emerge some 30 minutes later.
I wouldn’t say the journey was terrifying the first time around, but anticipating the unknown does get the adrenaline pumping a bit.
If you’re thinking of doing the trip yourself, here’s a composite summary of our experiences:
First, you’ll follow your guide down a set of steps and cross the river via a small wooden bridge.
Next, your guide will lead you down a sandy/rocky path into the mouth of the cave where you’ll wade over to your long tail motorboat—a long, sleek dugout-looking thing with a mammoth automobile-sized engine mounted on back.
Finally, the real fun begins as your driver takes you speeding down the underground river in near total darkness.
Deeper into the cave, as your eyes adjust, you’ll begin to realize what it is you’re actually in for as you stare into the abyss hundreds of meters into the distance.
The air outside the cave is hot and humid, but it can get quite chilly on the inside. In addition to providing security, our life vests also provided a level of warmth, which was especially welcome at top speed.
There’s no doubt, these narrow wooden boats have got some power behind them!
Ten minutes into the journey, you’ll suddenly arrive at a sandy beach. A land-based guide dressed in military fatigues waits to escort you on foot through the illuminated section of the cave while your driver/guide navigates the boat through the often rough, fast-moving section of the underground river, meeting you at the other end of your little trek.
You’ll get back on the boat and continue on to the rear mouth of the cave. Just shy of the upstream mouth of the cave, there’s a section where you’ll get out of the boat while the boat driver works to push and pull the boat up and over a small set of rapids (this varies depending on the water level).
The same is repeated downstream on the return trip.
Back on the boat, you’ll quickly emerge from the cave into a jungle-fringed gorge. A short while later, the boat arrives at a landing in a small village.
The boat driver will take a break here for anywhere from 15 to 45 minutes. Depending on time, you can walk to an isolated village about 1 km down a path. Or you can wait at the snack shack near the landing with the boat driver and grab a Coke.
After the break, you’ll repeat the boat ride in reverse order back through the cave (minus the trek on foot through the illuminated part) and head back to the parking lot.
2 (out of 5) — not physically demanding, but there are portions you’ll have to wade through chilly, fast moving water.
Those with fears of tight spaces or darkness might find the adventure especially challenging.
Tips for Your Kong Lor Cave Tour
- Don’t be afraid to communicate with your driver! Despite a potential language barrier, be sure to voice concerns if you have them.
- If there isn’t other boat traffic in the cave, don’t be afraid to ask the driver to shut the motor off in the depths of the cave. The darkness, stillness, and silence are unreal!
- If business is slow, don’t be afraid to ask for more than 10-15 in the village on the other side.
- It can get surprisingly chilly inside the cave barreling through at full speed. A rash guard is a good bet if you’re easily chilled. We advise against wearing a windbreaker or jacket as you will probably find yourself sweating a lot under the life vest, particularly on the walk to/from the boat. See more tips below.
- Tipping is not customary/expected at all in Laos, but if your boat driver goes above and beyond (or agrees to wait longer on the other side), a tip might be a nice gesture (10,000 kip or 10% is what we recommend).
- If you’re riding the Thakhek Loop, think twice before trying to bring your motorbike through Kong Lor Cave. For one, it’s dangerous and puts everyone on your boat at an unnecessary risk (this will become blatantly obvious once you’re clambering out of the boat into a rushing river for the first time kilometers below ground in near total darkness). Two, despite dramatic improvements in recent years, large sections of the route on the other side are still reported to be terrible. The route isn’t marked at all and there are limited services.
Things To Do in Kong Lor Village
If you’re looking to disconnect from the outside world for a while, you’ll feel right at home in Kong Lor Village (aka Kong Lo, Ban O, and Ban Gnang).
One gets a sense that not much changes around here, even in the face of increasing tourism development over the years.
And in fact, the Laos government seems to go to great lengths to keep it that way, which of course has pros and cons for local residents.
For now, life ambles on as it has for decades in the various communities that make up what visitors call “Kong Lor Village.”
With big changes on the way for Laos, no telling how long communities like this will continue to exist in this way.
For visitors, it’s a chance to experience what many might consider the “real Laos” – a lifestyle far removed from the hurry-hurry of the West.
So… What is there to do in Kong Lor Village?
Well, if you’re here already, you’re pretty much looking at it. But that’s a good thing!
Exploring Ban O and Ban Gnang (the center of activity where most of the stilted houses are congregated) are good starting points.
Head towards the river and cool off in the crystalline waters (dry season) of the Nam Hinboun (just watch out for the “No Swimming” signs around the fishing spots).
Grab a sundowner at Spring River Resort or just chill in your own hammock back at your guesthouse.
There’s a “Blue Lagoon” worth a visit directly south of Spring River Resort (ask at the resort for details).
Additionally, Spring River Resort can offer guided day trips in the area, which now include a visit to recently discovered Tham Nam None (None River Cave), which is 15 km long and remains largely unexplored.
What to Pack for Kong Lor Cave?
Well, probably what you’d expect to pack if you were planning on wading around in a cave full of water in the tropics. In addition to your regular backpacker gear, here are our recommendations:
Swim Gear You can’t go wrong with board shorts and a rash guard (for both men and women). This is a traditional village in a conservative country, so bikinis are strongly discouraged.
Footwear You’ll want a sturdy pair of submergible footwear like river sandals, as you’ll likely be climbing in and out of the boat into the rushing river multiple times throughout your journey. We strongly advise against wearing flip-flops or going barefoot.
Sun Protection Seems counterintuitive on a cave journey, but plan on getting a bit of sun exposure on your walk to/from the cave, and during the rest interval at the village in the middle. If you plan on walking to the village on the other side, you’ll definitely want sun protection (sunscreen, sun hat, etc.).
Waterproof Pack We found that bringing a small dry bag came in handy for shedding layers once reaching the village on the other side and stowing the camera while getting on and off the boat.
Photo Gear The majority of the journey occurs in extreme low-light conditions (you’re in a cave, after all), so don’t bank on getting a lot of amazing pics of the journey itself. A GoPro waterproof action camera is a good bet for capturing the experience, be it the daylight portions of the before and after, the illuminated portion inside, or the sounds and limited visuals of the ride through the cave. Whatever you do, make sure to devote time to shutting off the camera and taking in the experience!
Money!!! You’ll obviously want to bring enough kip to cover the costs of the boat journey and lodging, but you should also plan to bring a bit extra for a drink or snack at the snack shack on the other side. Keep in mind the nearest ATM is at the Lao Development Bank in Nahin, which may not be functioning. Best to stock up on cash in Vientiane or Thakhek before your journey.
Where to Go After Kong Lor Cave
Please Note: Transport schedules and ticket rates do change from time to time, particularly in Laos (the horror!!!). Sometimes the change is temporary (for a festival…or because the driver drank too much the night before, etc.). Sometimes, it’s a permanent change with no notice. When traveling in Laos, it pays to be flexible, patient, and plan accordingly!
If you’re not riding the Loop, but relying on public transport, we recommend making Thakhek your next stop, particularly if you’re headed south.
Thakhek surprises many visitors with pockets of French colonial charm akin to Luang Prabang (much of it recently restored) without the crowds.
Thakhek town center is a nice enough place to enjoy urban amenities like fresh-baked pastries and coffee shops after an extended time spent outside of towns and cities.
For accommodation in Thakhek, check out Bike & Bed for shoestring travelers, Le Bouton D’or Boutique Hotel for budget to mid-range offerings, and Inthira Thakhek in the heart of the city center for Old World charm, an upmarket vibe, and excellent value.
If you’re looking to make some tracks and want to skip Thakhek, head directly to the Thakhek bus station and grab the next bus to Savannakhet or Pakse as your next stop, knowing that you may very well find yourself staying over in Thakhek anyway due to bus schedules.
The best option to get from Kong Lor to Thakhek is the direct songthaew that leaves daily at 6:30am, takes roughly 5 hours, and costs around 75,000 LAK. There is also a songthaew that leaves Kong Lor for Nahin around 7:30am (25,000 LAK), but you will need to change in Nahin to continue to Thakhek.
Your guesthouse should be able to help you arrange transport to your next destination.
If you’re headed north, you’ll best be served taking the direct Konglor-Vientiane bus without making stops in between. This bus generally leaves between 6:30-7:00am in front of Konglor Eco-Lodge and costs 100,000 LAK.
In this case, we recommend spending a night or two in the Laos capital, Vientiane, before heading farther afield to the likes of Vang Vieng and Luang Prabang, or crossing the border into Thailand.
Is Kong Lor Cave Worth It?
Well, that really depends on you!
Personally, after having done it multiple times, we think it’s absolutely worth the effort for the experience!
Zipping along on what amounts to a supercharged wooden canoe through near-total darkness down a narrow and winding waterway, miles from the nearest entrance in one of the remotest parts of Laos, makes for both an exhilarating and unforgettable experience that you are unlikely to find anywhere else in the world today!
Have You Visited Kong Lor Cave Recently?
Please let us know of any critical updates or corrections and we’ll be sure to add them ASAP. Thanks!!!
I’ve been a blogger and travel writer since 2010, covering everything from luxury hotels to hidden destinations and travel gear. Originally from Oregon, I’ve spent the majority of the past 20 years living outside of the U.S., in Mexico, the Caribbean, Southeast Asia, Africa, and Europe. I received a BA in Communications (Journalism) from Boston College, and an MA in International Development Studies from the George Washington University. I’m passionate about exploration and discovery, and providing independent, thoroughly-researched, ad-free advice for travelers.