Konglor Cave (Tham Kong Lor) is a one-of-a-kind place and an unforgettable experience. Nestled in the jungles of Central Laos at the end of a long and winding highway fringed with stunning karst peaks, Tham Kong Lor is a 7 km (4.5 mile) long cave cut clear through a limestone mountain by a rushing river.
While there is a small illuminated section deep within the cave for exploring on foot, travelers don’t visit Konglor for what they can see, and that’s what makes 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 relaying on all your senses, and a stranger to guide you through safely.
We’ve done it twice now over a five year period, and while the complex around Konglor cave has changed a bit over the years, the experience within the cave has changed very little.
Here are all the essentials for visiting Konglor Cave, including information on getting there, tickets and guides, where to stay, what to pack, what else to do in Konglor Village, and where to go next.
(…and don’t miss our helpful Laos travel resources section at the end of this post!)
Konglor Cave: The Ultimate Guide for Travelers
How to Get to Konglor Cave
Konglor Cave is about as remote as you can hope to get in Laos as a traveler. Yet getting to Konglor Village is easier than most visitors think.
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Keep in mind that, because of Konglor’s relative isolation, the journey will take some time (1-4 days, depending on your mode of transport). Either way, enjoy the journey!
Tourist Method (Joint Ticket Option)
From Vientiane, there are daily buses available to Konglor Village. While tickets can be purchased at the Southern Bus Terminal, we strongly advise booking a joint ticket through your guesthouse or travel agency in Vientiane city center.
In addition to including transfer to the bus station from your guesthouse (or downtown), going the joint ticket route means you don’t have to mess with the language barrier, which can be particularly challenging at Laos bus stations.
Local Method (Public Bus)
If you’re keen on putting the trip together completely on your own, there is a daily bus from the Southern Bus Station [map] in Vientiane to Konglor Village that currently leaves at 10 am and costs around US$10 / 80,000 LAK (Mar 2020). The journey takes around 7 hours to Konglor with a stop for lunch.
If you miss the Konglor 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 Konglor, or one to the village of Nahin, and an additional Songthaew to Konglor. If you stay the night in Vieng Kham or Nahin, your guesthouse can help you arrange onward transport.
To reach the Southern Bus Station in Vientiane (north of town because of the way the highway bends around Thailand), you can either hire a tuk tuk (expect to pay as much as the bus ticket to Konglor!) or grab the #29 bus (US$0.50 / 4,000 LAK) from Central Bus Station (currently under construction, but look for the green/white buses near the Morning Market).
Keep in mind, you’ll either have to hire a tuk tuk or hoof it 1-2 km to the Central Bus Station, depending on where you are staying in Vientiane.
From All Points South
If traveling from Savannakhet, Pakse, or 4,000 Islands (Si Pan Don), grab any bus heading north, preferably passing through Vieng Kham (this would likely be a Vientiane-bound bus), or Thakhek.
If you are coming from 4,000 Islands, you’ll most likely find yourself on a bus from Nakasong to Pakse, then onward to either Thakhek or Vientiane (via Vieng Kham).
Either way, stay flexible and plan for a very long 1-2 days of travel to arrive at Konglor. As always, your guesthouse can help you with arranging the transport you need.
Adventurer Method (Public Bus + Laos Loop)
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!
Thinking about riding the Loop?
You’ll want to first read our insider’s guide to motorbiking the Thakhek Loop (freshly updated for 2020) with everything you need to know for the journey!
Heads Up! Don’t even think about riding a motorbike in Southeast Asia without travel insurance! Get an instant quote from World Nomads, which can be purchased even when you’re already traveling.
Konglor Cave Tickets & Guides
Konglor Cave is located at the far edge of the village. Ride, walk, or flag a ride from Ban O 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 March 2020. Each boat can carry 3 passengers.
|Phu Hin Bun National Park entrance fee||US$0.23 / 2,000 LAK|
|Motorbike parking (if applicable)||US$0.56 / 5,000 LAK|
|Konglor Cave entrance fee||US$1.13 / 10,000 LAK|
|Boat Tour (per boat, up to 3 pax)||US$11.25 / 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 journey 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.
What to Expect
Now, the moment you’ve all been waiting for! It’s time to boar 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. Awesome.
If you’re a visual person, you might enjoy taking a look at the map below from OpenStreetMap.org. They’ve actually mapped Konglor cave, along with Ban O 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 summary of how it all goes down
First, you follow your guide down a set of steps and cross the river via a small wooden bridge.
Next, you are led down a sandy/rocky path into the mouth of the cave where you 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 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!
10-15 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 a rough, fast-moving section of the underground river, meeting you at the other end of your little trek.
You 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 may vary depending on 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 15-45 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 have to wade through chilly, fast moving water. Those with fears of tight spaces or darkness might find the adventure especially challenging.
Some Helpful Tips
- 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).
- Think twice before trying to bring your motorbike through Konglor 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. If you’re hellbent on doing this, make sure you provision accordingly and are an expert rider and navigator. Lao language skills are strongly advised.
Where to Stay in Konglor Village
If relative comfort and a relaxing vibe along the river is what you’re after, check out Spring River Resort. 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 other guesthouse in the area.
For an excellent option close to the village center check out Thongdam Guesthouse (Khounmee GH). Be sure to book/request a rice-paddy-facing bungalow if one is available!
Things To Do in Kong Lor
If you’re looking to disconnect from the outside world for a while, it’s hard to do better these days than Konglor Village.
One gets a sense that not much changes around these parts, even in the face of increasing tourism development over the years. And in fact, the Laos government goes to great lengths to keep it that way, which has its pros and cons for local residents.
For now, life ambles on as it has for decades in the communities that make up what visitors call “Konglor Village.” With big changes on the way for Laos, no telling how long communities like these will continue to exist in this way.
For visitors, it’s a chance to experience a lifestyle far removed from the hurry-hurry of the West, and what many might consider the “real Laos.”
So, what is there to do in Konglor?
Well, if you’re here already, you’re pretty much looking at it. Exploring Ban O and Ban Gnang 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.
Additionally, Spring River Resort often offers 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 largely unexplored.
What to Pack for Konglor 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:
▸ 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 board journey, but you should also plan to bring a bit extra for a drink or snack at the snack shack on the other side. With regards to water, we recommend bringing your own reusable bottle of drinking water in your pack.
Currently, there is NO ATM in Konglor Village.
The nearest ATM is in Nahin, so plan accordingly!
Where (+How) to Go After Konglor Cave
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 Konglor to Thakhek is the direct songthaew that leaves daily at 6:30am, takes roughly 5 hours, and costs around US$8.50 / 75.000 LAK. There is also a songthaew that leaves Konglor for Nahin around 7:30am (~US$3 / 25.000), 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 around US$10 / 80,000 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.
▸ For offbeat and lesser-known things to see and do in Vientiane, check out our guide.
Don’t Forget Travel Insurance
Laos is among the safest countries for travelers in Asia. With that said, stuff happens — severe weather, road accidents, broken ankles, tropical diseases, etc.
If you’re motorbiking the Thakhek Loop, you’re especially going to want to have coverage. Make sure your policy covers riding a motorbike and that you have the required license/ endorsement for coverage!
Keep in mind that parts of the Thakhek Loop (like Konglor Village) are remote and medical facilities for treating traumatic injuries can take hours to reach. That’s when you especially want that medivac coverage.
Don’t risk it. Get good international travel insurance so you can sleep easy and enjoy your trip to Laos!
We use and recommend World Nomads.
Is Konglor Cave Worth It?
Well, that really depends on you. Personally, after having done it twice now, we think it’s absolutely worth the effort for the experience!
The feeling of rocketing through the subterranean world on a speedy motorboat is compounded by the darkness and whizzing right under the [at times] very low ceiling of the cave.
I couldn’t help but wonder not IF this wasn’t a bit crazy, but just HOW crazy…I mean, this has got to be somewhat life-endangering, right? — zipping along on what amounts to a supercharged wooden canoe through near-total darkness down a narrow and winding variable-depth waterway miles underground in one of the remotest parts of one of the poorest countries on Earth? Nah…not dangerous at all.
But in all seriousness, that uncertainty is what makes it a real adventure.
Don’t get me wrong, this is a generally respected operation with reasonable safety standards and no major incidents to speak of.
The reality is, the uneasiness is fleeting and once you get over the initial natural human response to speeding through a dark cave at breakneck speed, it’s an awesome once-in-a-lifetime experience, and one you’ll likely find nowhere else in the world today.
Have You Been to Konglor Cave?
Tell us about your experience in the comments below.