The natural wonder Kong Lo cave and the friendliest Laos people

Kong Lo cave was an amazing experience – a lovely landscape, very friendly and helpful people, funny local transport experiences and a stunning natural wonder.

I made my way from Vientiane to Ban Khoun Kham as the only Westerner on the bus – nothing new to me as I did a lot of off-the-beaten track legs around Southeast Asia. In Ban Khoun Kham I walked down the street to find a guesthouse when a friendly jumbo driver stopped next to me and told me that he’s driving to Kong Lo village in a few hours and there are lots of places to stay there. We agreed that I would meet him at the bus station a few blocks away if I’m deciding to take the trip. After lunch the decision was made that I would stay in Kong Lo village directly.

The drive to the village was stunning – rice fields and carst mountains like in the area of Vang Vieng. The jumbo stopped and a girl passed by and offered me accommodation. The little terrace going out from the other side of my room faced the rice paddies. How wonderful? I quickly learnt that I ended up staying at the guesthouse of the jumbo drivers family. It was him who cooked me dinner, drove me to the cave the next morning and arranged all the onward transport. It was a little homestay experience with the family sitting on the floor and eating their dinner by hands. And I realised that even in rural Laos the men have the same behaviour in front of the television – zapping through the channels whilst the woman shakes her head and wants to stick to the soap opera.

In the national park the next morning I learnt to know a lovely German couple I did the tour with. The guy behind the ticket counter was the father of the jumbo driver ;-) He handed us our tickets over and we got on a small wooden boat paddling towards the cave. I didn’t believe my eyes when we paddled towards the cave – one guy using his flip flops as a paddel – as it seemed like we had to pass a rapid that would be rated as class 4 in rafting and then paddle through a 7 km long tunnel like this… Then we turned right, got out of the boat and walked to the cave entrance where we entered another boat. Comforting to know that the boat had an engine…

As we penetrated into the tunnel our rented flashlights just gave a little glimpse of the dimensions of that tunnel. The tunnel is about 7 km long and there is a river going through. On the other side of the tunnel is a village only accessible through that tunnel. Parts of the tunnel are at least 30 m wide and 100 m heigh. My mouth was open, I’ve never seen anything like this before… After a few minutes boat drive we stopped and walked up a sandy hill. Then the flood lights went on and we could admire the stalactites and stalagmites. It was a wonderland. The journey went on to the other side of the tunnel where we stopped for a few minutes before we went back again. On the way back we saw boats overloaeded with locals, equipped only with bad lights.

I kept using my flashlight to lighten the insides of the tunnel. I’ve seen many caves and this one is truly amazing because of its dimensions. I spotted the electricity cable on the way out only about a meter above the waterline and it was the beginning of the rainy saison… at least the flood light was switched off… Not to think about what would happen if you fall out of the boat and/or your flashlight gets wet and doesn’t work anymore. This is true adventure… even if you’re only sitting in a boat…

Another interesting journey awaited me on the way to Thakhek. I was on the jumbo with the same driver. Back on the road to Ban Khoun Kham he blew the horn so that the jumbo going in the other direction stopped. The driver other driver was being told where I want to go and loaded my backpack on the trunk. Again I was the only tourist on the jumbo – that wouldn’t change for my Kong Lo cave adventure. On all transports it happened that the young Laos men shyly sat next to me and used their 3-5 English phrases they know. Where are you from? What’s your name? Where do you go? Some sheepish smiles until they runned out of phrases and turned away sending me a curious glance from time to time.

As it was, the next jumbo was already sorted out. The driver signaled me that we’re leaving in an hour. It was lunchtime and I decided to have a noodle soup. I left my backpack on the trunk of the jumbo – still in sight from the restaurant – and only took my drybag with my valuable things with me. Went to toilet after lunch and when I came back I quickly panicked. The jumbo was gone – with my backpack. Okay, the jumbo might have left to pick up some more people and be back within a couple of minutes. So it was! They even left the young guy who knew the most English on the side of the street to wait for me and tell me that they’ll be back soon. That’s how I experienced Laos – the most honest, calm and friendly people ever. And how the people smiled at me on those jumbos… I was so touched by their warmth that even now writing this, my eyes are close to water…

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