When I was planning my Laos trip, one word of solid advice I received was: make sure you go to Kong Lor Cave.
Looking at the map of Laos, I saw that while most of my Laos itinerary route hugged the border with Thailand, Kong Lor Cave jutted slightly inland. At the time, I was looking for things to do between Pakse and Vientiane (and wondering ‘surely there’s more than there is on the internet?’. Spoiler: there is, and I’m going to tell you all about it).
Eventually I thought, screw it, I’ve got time and I haven’t been to anything like this before – I might as well try the hardest I can to get to Kong Lor Cave.
But is Kong Lor Cave worth it – if, unlike me, you don’t have all the time in the world? I would say yes – and no.
Getting to Kong Lor
Firstly, it depends on how you get to Kong Lor. Laos has no trains; the only option throughout the whole country is bus travel (you could fly between some cities, but it’s expensive and I’m an overland travel blogger, so let’s pretend that flights don’t exist).
However, Kong Lor is a little different. No buses go there. Your only option is either to drive yourself on a motorbike or take a bumpy five hour songatheaw ride from Thakhek. Or you could take a bus from Vientiane to ? and then transfer to songatheaw for the last 45 minutes.
Visiting Kong Lor Cave
Of course, the main attraction of Kong Lor is the famous cave. This 7 km long cave is only navigable by boat – you’ll get out a couple of times to see some stalagmites and stalacites and to climb over some rapids without getting wet. The tour will then visit a small local village, where you can buy a drink or some lunch, before heading back the same way. The whole thing takes about 2 hours and costs 100,000 kip for a boat.
You’re provided with a head torch and life jacket. The cave is surreal – seeing the rock formations, as well as bats flying ahead, is tranquil and fascinating. And the scenery on the otherside is otherworldly.
At the mouth of the cave, there’s a nice swimming spot, where you can enjoy the specactular view into the cavern itself.
Other Things to do in Kong Lor
- Kong Lor Park – the park around Kong Lor Cave is great for some short walks, to get to know the flora and fauna, and to enjoy being in the trees.
- Hiking in Kong Lor – you can arrange a hiking trip with your guesthouse. They will take you through the mountains around the village, giving you the chance to interact with locals and enjoy some of the spectacular views over Kong Lor. I didn’t get the chance to do this on my trip but I would have loved to!
- Hang out in Nature – just hanging out in Kong Lor is a great way to pass the time. There’s plenty of beautiful nature to enjoy, as well as spectacular sunsets across the mountain-fringed plain.
The Thakhek Loop
The reason most people visit Kong Lor Cave is because of the Thakhek Loop. This motorbike circuit starts and finishes in Thakhek and includes Kong Lor Cave amongst others.
If you can ride a bike, I highly recommend that you do the Thakhek Loop and Kong Lor Cave. You can either get a bus from Vientiane or Pakse (you can stop over in Savannakhet like I did if you desire), rent a bike from Thakhek, and complete the three day circuit. It’s an adventure like one you’ve never had before; the countryside around Thakhek is absolutely stunning.
If you can’t ride a bike, I highly recommend that you don’t start by careering around on the roads near Thakhek. They aren’t in great condition in lots of places, there are some very scary lorries that go past, cows sometimes wonder around in the middle of the road. It’s not somewhere for beginner motorcyclists.
Visiting Kong Lor Cave without doing the loop
As I explained before, the only option for visiting Kong Lor Cave if you don’t / can’t/ won’t ride a bike is to take a bus from Vientiane and then transfer to a songatheaw, or take a songatheaw from Thakhek all the way to Kong Lor.
- If you take a local bus from Vientiane and then transfer to songthaew, the journey will take around six hours.
- If you take a songthaew from Thakhek, the trip will take around five hours.
- If you don’t go to Kong Lor and just take the bus from Thakhek straight to Vientiane, that journey will take X hours.
So you’re looking at X more hours of travel time. If you’re doing it as a side-trip from Vientiane, it’s a 12 hour round trip. And unless you’re looking at going on hikes in the area or just wanting some ultimate chill time, you can easily do Kong Lor in half a day (or even less!). So is it worth it for the long, bumpy journey?
I’d say yes… and no.
It depends on a few things. When deciding whether Kong Lor Cave is worth it for you, ask yourself some of these questions.
- Have I been to many caves, in particular South East Asian caves, before?
- Do I mind long journeys that I probably won’t be able to sleep/ read on?
- How much time do I have?
- How much Lao nature have I done?
- Am I a travel blogger who feels like they need to see absolutely everything?
Have I been to many caves, in particular South East Asian caves, before?
If you’ve been to similar caves, like those around Pai, or the Phong Nha Cave in Vietnam, you might feel like Kong Lor is quite similar. They all feature boat trips, stalagmites and stalacites, bats and eerie, dark walks. So you might decide that Kong Lor Cave isn’t worth the trip for you if you have seen lots of caves previously.
Do I mind long journeys that I probably won’t be able to sleep/ read on?
I’m one of those weird people that really enjoys long bus rides, although it must be said after a month of buses in Laos I was getting slightly jaded! The bus/ songthaew will be bumpy and likely not very comfortable, so don’t have high hopes of sleeping off a load of Beerlaos or re-reading the whole series of Harry Potter, or anything like that.
However, if you’re a podcast listener or just want to catch up with some new albums, you should be able to do that!
While the journeys in Laos are long and uncomfortable, they’re beautiful and interesting, and the Vientiane or Thakhek to Kong Lor journey is no exception.
How much time do I have?
If you have the time, Kong Lor is definitely worth stopping over. If you’re in a bit of a rush, you might want to skip it, due to the length of the journey.
How much Lao nature have I done?
Kong Lor is a great place to get in touch with Lao nature. And I’m not just talking the nature around Vang Vieng that’s bombarded with a zillion tourists – this is real, untouched Laos nature, rural living, and absolute serenity.
It’s a great spot to go to relax and unwind, take some wonderful photos and just experience a slow pace of life (not that any of Laos is exactly fast paced). If you’ve seen more of the rural north, like Nong Khiaw and Luang Namtha, or the Bolevan Plateau in the south, you might have seen similar nature – but if you haven’t, Kong Lor is a great side trip.
Am I a travel blogger who feels like they need to see absolutely everything?
Guilty… there was no way I wasn’t going to Kong Lor Cave. Being a travel blogger is absolutely incredible, the best job I’ve ever had by about a million miles, but it also means that I can never read an article like ‘is Kong Lor cave worth the trip’ and make an executive decision. I’ve got to go everywhere to see it for myself!
Is Kong Lor Cave worth the bus journey?
To sum up, Kong Lor Cave is worth it if:
- You’re already doing the Thakhek Loop
- You haven’t seen much Lao nature (or just really love it)
- You haven’t been to any other South East Asian caves
- You don’t mind long journeys and have lots of podcasts to listen to
- You’ve got lots of time in Laos for a side trip
It’s beautiful, it was one of my favourite places in the country – but the journey does take it out of you.
Everyone, and every Laos trip is different, so definitely make your own mind up about whether Kong Lor Cave is worth the trip for you. Let me know whether you decide to go or not!
Where to Stay in Kong Lor
If you’re travelling Laos and South East Asia, be sure to check out the following blog posts and resources for all of your travel information!
- Things to do in Savannakhet
- Complete Vietnam Itinerary
- Guide to Trekking in Sapa
- Bangkok Itinerary
- A Guide to Getting the Train from Bangkok to Chiang Mai
- Elephant Nature Park – an ethical way to see elephants