When I was a child I vaguely recall reading an Enid Blyton book where the child protagonists made an escape from their dastardly captors through an underwater river. The tale is long forgotten, but I do thoroughly recall the excitement of it to that young mind. If travel is to be about new experiences, then this certainly counts. For that youthful read is something I haven’t thought about for 30 years, and probably won’t think about for another 30, yet an underground river holds a endless fascination.
The Kong Lor caves are an undoubted highlight of any trip to the region. Located in Phou Hinboun Nbca, they arch over an 8 kilometre long underwater river. The entrance itself is truly beautiful, the river flowing out into a large pool with an impressive mountain backdrop. Within there are stalactites and stalagmites aplenty, with each cavern spacious and spectacular and the Naga Palace in particular taking the breath away. In order to reach each one you travel by boat, and if there’s one thing which is at once both surprising and very obvious, it is that it’s extremely dark inside. Apart from the torch of the boatman, the only sensations are the motion of the craft and the sounds of the water rushing by.
To that end it’s important to remember you are going to get wet walking to an from the boat through the shallows, so dress accordingly. The warm weather means you soon dry off but flip flops and shorts are the order of the day.
The caves are normally lit, but power is unreliable and in many ways seeing it in the darkness with torches flashing is the best experience of all.
Within you have no end of stalactites and stalagmites to view and the darkness caused by a power cut added to the experience if anything. Seeing a cave as it should be seen is perhaps the best part of the visit.
Certainly it contrasts well with Tham Nang Ene cave where for reasons that are exceptionally hard to comprehend, the authorities have seen fit to “improve” nature with an array of garish coloured lights within. A wonderful site thoroughly ruined, and therefore of the two Kong Lor is the one to see and the other to skip.
Two experiences (a third was inaccessible due to the rains) and two contrasting ones. The choice is easy.