Thakhek to Konglor – Riding a Boat Through a Mountain

After the relaxing river town of Luang Prabang we wanted to start making our way down south through Laos on our way to Cambodia. We had heard about Konglor cave, and after our previous issues, (see motorbike crash on the way to Phong Nha) we knew we had to make this a part of our trip. Konglor cave did not disappoint. Not only was it awe inspiring, but Ban Konglor village nearly outshines the attraction itself. The food is excellent, wonderful people with infectious smiles are everywhere, and the farm animals sharing the road with us are adorable.

Lonely Planet and Trip Advisor would tell you a good place to stay for day trips out to Konglor cave is Thakhek. Taking their word, we booked a couple nights in Thakhek before checking a map. Rookie mistake. Once in Thakhek we found out that to get out to the caves it would not only take the entire day, BUT it would cost us $140 per person for the day trip. Literally, that is insane. I don’t know who pays for that, but it forced our thinking caps into full operation. We went a different route, and not only was it cheaper, but we got to experience some Lao farming village culture, and a charming river resort.

  • Day Trip Cost: $140 per person X 2 = $280 CRAZY!
  • 2 nights and Konglor Cave cost: $36 per person = $72 REASONABLE!
    • $8.50 per person Songthaew
    • $15 x 2 nights Lodging
    • $7 per person Cave entrance and guide
    • $5.50 trip back to Thakhek

Konglor is a good way off the beaten path and looking for the cheapest way out, we decided we would take the local bus songthaew’s out to Konglor. We caught the songthaew out of KM2 Market in Thakhek around 9:30am at $8.50 a person. We were transferred twice and had to wait in the middle of nowhere for 3 hours, but in the end we arrived in Konglor around 4:30pm.

So you have a visual of a songthaew
The Taxi station we waited at before our last songthaew to Konglor

The last leg was the most crammed songthaew I have ever seen, to the point of comedy. Just us, and 30 of our closest friends, sitting in the area that would comfortably fit 12.

Can you feel the love?

For $15 a night we stayed at a garden view bungalow at the Spring River resort which was fantastic. There were cheaper places you could stay along the way, but we liked the restaurant, location, and whole vibe of the Spring River. The staff was very friendly and had all sorts of options to get to the caves or other attractions around the area. Spring River is the upscale option out in Konglor but at $15 we thought it was quite a good deal!

Walking to the Spring River after our ride from Thakhek
Our Jungalow

We elected to strap our day packs on and walk the 30 minutes down to the park where Konglor cave was located. Although it was a bit of a hike, it was fun to walk through the village towards the cave. Konglor is still very much a rural farming community. Each home we passed we were greeted by little Lao children eager to practice their English, or by local folks in the village tossing out the Lao hello “Saw Baw Dee!” (that’s the phonetic 😊) We couldn’t help but have ear to ear grins as we walked along towards the cave despite the intense heat.

“Hello! What is your name?” Common question asked by beginners in all languages 🙂

The entrance fee to the park is $7 per person and that includes a guide who will take you through the 7 km (4.4 miles for us Americans) long cave. Arriving at the river you are assigned a personal guide who takes you out to the entrance of the cave.

The entrance to the cave itself is simply enormous. For many centuries, the local people of Konglor had no idea the cave went all the way under the mountain to a neighboring village. For trade and contact with villages on the other side of the mountain, small expeditions would hike the treacherous mountain pass to reach the other side. When bits of bamboo that had been worked by man, and ducks started coming through the cave entrance they began to suspect the cave may lead through the mountain. However, believing that there were bad spirits under the mountain it was some time before the first crossings happened. Today, flat motorboats with long tail outboard motors run through the cave all day long. The long tail outboard motors allow the guide to navigate through as little as 1 foot of water with ease.

Oh, and did I mention it was pitch black? Headlamps of good quality are needed to see anything as you cruise through the cave navigating patches of rocks coming out of the river by mere feet. The cave was simply magical rising as high as 300 feet wide or high in parts. The guide was constantly checking his guide points as he moved through the 30-minute ride. The boat ride through the cave was equal parts impressive and scary in the dark of the cave.  

Light at the end of the tunnel

Sometimes you need to forge your own path when faced with an easy, expensive decision. We have hit this point a couple times on our trip and try to find a way to the middle. Not the lowest level cost, but one that will provide some of the creature comforts and won’t break the budget. We loved our time in Konglor, and were glad we got to spend some time in the farming community. From cows, to water buffalo, to chicken, to dogs, the whole community had animals roaming everywhere. I don’t think I have ever seen happier cows than in Konglor.

Happy cow and happy water buffalo

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