Konglor Cave is probably the most famous cave in Lao. It's seven kilometers long with a river running through the whole thing. It's only a forty kilometer ride from Khoun Kham so we have a lazy morning and head out after lunch. Natasha takes a turn driving and does quite well. It's a pleasant ride, worth the trip even if we hadn't been going to the cave.
We arrive and are instantly struck by the beauty of the place. Where the river exits the cave, it forms a large deep pool, perfect for swimming. Again, totally worth the trip even if we hadn't planned on going through the cave. There's a pavilion where you go to get a guide, and a few drink shops. The whole thing is pleasantly understated, where it easily could have been turned into Disneylandish nightmare. We grab a guide and some headlamps and head to the mouth of the cave.
It turns out that the guides work in pairs, one in the back of the boat working the motor and steering while the one in the front calls out directions and fine tunes the steering with a paddle. I'm totally impressed by the way these guys navigate through the darkness of the cave. Even with their bright headlamps, I can't believe they can find their way without hitting any rocks or logs.
We see some light ahead and come to a sandy bank. The guides motion for us to exit the boat and one of them walks us through an area full of crazy stalagmites and stalactites where the village has put up lights in various places to highlight the stranger formations. They've done a great job with the lights, creating something both eerie and beautiful. We get to the end of this section and hop back in the boat.
For the most part the river is deep enough to navigate without any problems. But there are times when it is just too shallow for the boat to pass. The guides motion us to get out and we help push the boat through. When we get through they say, “Boat, boat”, so we get back in and continue on our way. I'm loving every minute and am still amazed that anyone figured out that you could take a boat through this cave in the first place, and the proficiency with which our guides manage it.
All in all, it takes about an hour before we emerge from the darkness, and on the other side are a few more drink shops where we take a break. We get a few offers for a "home stay" (where you literally just stay at someone's house and have dinner with them, seeing how they live), which would have been great, but we had already paid for our hotel that night and left all of our stuff there.
It's kind of late in the day when we head back through the cave and we notice quite few boats coming the opposite direction. It seems a bit late for tourists to be starting their trip, and at closer inspection we realize that it's all local people. We even see a boat with a motorbike on it! Never would I have imagined that people would use this route as a regular mode of transportation. It's no wonder that our guides know their way through the cave so well. It seems it's just the fastest way between the villages at either end of the cave. The people of Lao will never cease to amaze me.
Since people regularly use this river for transportation, they've devised this bridge with a gap in it. There's a removable plank laid across so both people and boats can pass. A Lao drawbridge.
We head back to our hotel and arrive just after dark, seeing a beautiful sunset along the way.