Stray Laos: Seven Kilometer Cave At Kong Lor
The spectacular Konglor Cave is actually a portion of the Hin Phou river that has worked its way, over some vast period of geological time, through 7.5km of solid rock. It's a truly awesome experience, from which no one ever walks away disappointed.
The original plan for today called for an early departure from our campsite at Tad Leuk waterfall and a 'quick' six hour drive to Kong Lor to check out the 7.5 kilometer long underground river there. It looked like the two strayed mates (pun intended) would mess up that plan, but once they magically emerged from the jungle, we were able to get on the road around 9am.
The overall condition of the road along the way was surprisingly good, with just a few, albeit pretty significant, bumps. After a while, we stopped for lunch and then continued to the Salavie view point where we spotted a duck, a snail, and a couple elephants. Well, the ones with imagination saw the elephants while others pretended to see a kid's face looking up - you be the judge of that. Unfortunately, because of our morning delay, we did not have time to check out the boats made out of bomb shells in the nearby village of Tha Lok.
It was already late afternoon when we arrived to the tiny village of Kong Lor. We were staying at Chantha guest house, located in-between tobacco fields with picturesque mountains in the background. The rooms were fairly basic with hard beds, but nice ensuite bathroom/shower combo. The staff did not speak a word of English, except for the manager (owner?) so it was a bit of a hassle ordering dinner when we came back. Also, strangely, they did not offer any internet access (which was not surprising for the size of the town we were in), but they do have a website. Go figure.
As nice as the view was, we did not have much time so we dropped our bags off and jumped back on the bus to head out to the cave. Once there, we paid the 2,000 kip/$0.25 admission fee and split the 115,000 kip/$14 boat hire fee between three people, got our lifejackets and soon got on our way. Being more than just a tourist attraction, the underground river serves as the transportation corridor linking the two villages on the opposite sides of the mountain (a hike around the mountain would take over ten hours). Because of this, there was a decent amount of boat traffic transporting people, goods, motorcycles and everything else imaginable.
With no lighting anywhere in the cave, the two boatmen were using their headlights to frantically search for the way, seeking out deeper spots to guide the boat through (it is the dry season so the river level was really low). Many times we had to stop and get out of the boat while they dragged it through the sand and rock bars before allowing us to jump back in. At least the water in the cave was crystal clear, unlike the muddy, nasty water inside the underground river in Puerto Princesa. The round trip with a brief snack stop at the other side must have taken us about two and a half hours - easily twice the time it took only a few weeks ago when the water level was a bit higher.
The highlight of the trip was the lighted walk through one of the 'islands' inside the cave with majestic-looking formations of stalactites and stalagmites. While there were not many of them, their grouping made for quite a view and with the addition of some colorful backlighting, the walk itself would of been worth the trip. Still, I really enjoyed the boat ride as well - the darkness and mystery awaiting beyond every turn made it seem like we were the first explorers of the cave. Even the roar of boat motors did not seem to take away from the experience. In the end, this was definitely the coolest cave tour of all I have been to, and easily surpassed the other underground river I checked out in Puerto Princesa.