Is Kong Lor Cave Worth It? A Brutally Honest Review (2024)

Laos is a country with marvelous nature and some ridiculously impressive views, scenery, and untouched landscapes.

And the title for the most remarkable goes to, drum roll please, Kong Lor Cave!

Maybe.

The entrance to Kong Lor Cave
The entrance to Kong Lor Cave

After reading tens of highly enthusiastic praises for Tham Kong Lo (as it’s called in Lao), I went to visit the 7.5km long cave.

I ain’t the one to sweet-talk attractions. All in all, I liked Kong Lor Cave and the boat ride. But there were a few sour things about the whole experience which left me thinking.

So here are my thoughts, my honest review about what I liked and what I didn’t as well as some first-hand tips about planning your visit.

What is Kong Lor Cave like?

Kong Lor Cave is a stunning geological wonder. It’s not just a cave – calling it a vast cavern is more suitable. It’s grand and imposing.

The cave is 7.5 km long with plenty of stalactites (hanging), stalagmites (going up), stalagnates (pillars), and draperies (similar to fish gills). Most of them are hidden in the darkness that envelops the whole cave, but 2 sections with artificial illumination allow for pictures and some exploring on foot.

Beautiful limestone cave formations inside Kong Lor

You will journey through the darkness of the cave on a small boat called a sampan. It carries up to 4 people, one of whom will be your driver/rower/guide. The only lights are those from the headlamps which are bright enough to combat claustrophobia but too dim to show you most of the cave’s formations.

The best moment is exiting the cave on the other side. It’s as if you’ve just discovered a new world – secluded and preserved in time. And that’s (almost) exactly what it is.

The exit of the cave
A brand new world awaits!

Tips for the boat ride

Kong Lor Cave opens at 8:00 am and closes at 17:00 every day with the last boat ride possible at 16:00.

The boat ride inside Kong Lor Cave takes around 75-90 minutes, including the two short stops.

The return trip takes 40-50 minutes without any stops.

  • Wear flip-flops, sandals, or water shoes: there are places where you will need to be inside the water
  • A waterproof bag is not strictly necessary but a smart idea
  • Take a hoodie: it gets a tad chilly as the boat is moving inside
  • Carry a strong headlamp if you have one: the ones provided are weak
  • Help with getting the boat through rapids: there are a couple, depending on the season
riding the sampan boat
Cruising on the boat on the other side of Kong Lor Cave

What I liked about it

It’s easy to like Kong Lor Cave, especially if you haven’t been to many caves before. I have and still, hand-to-heart, Kong Lor is quite impressive.

I liked:

  • The illuminated sections are beautiful
  • The cave is massive
  • It’s a boat ride! I love boat rides (even when the experience is so-so like at the Cai Rang Floating Market)
  • There is a sense of discovery and adventure, especially when exiting on the other side.
  • There is information in English about the history of the cave and the legends of the region.
  • Everything in the area is managed by the local communities. It’s community-based tourism and all profits are equally split among the locals involved in maintaining, cleaning, driving the boats, selling food, organizing activities, etc. All money spent benefits the locals directly.
Cave formations
Cave formations

What I didn’t like about Kong Lor Cave

I promised to be brutally honest and up until now in the article I’ve sung praises of Kong Lor Cave left and right. Here’s where I balance them out with what I didn’t like and what I think the locals should do to improve the experience.

High price

The price was drastically increased just months before I visited in March 2024. It used to be per boat (around 100-150k LAK) but is now per person!

The price for the Kong Lor boat ride is 200.000 LAK (10$) per person! This price includes entrance fees to Phu Hin Bun National Park (formerly 2.000 LAK) and the cave (formerly 10.000 LAK).

This jumps to 300.000 LAK if you’re going on the boat solo.

The wooden ticket booth to Kong Lor Cave
The ticket booth

This price may not seem like a lot in the grand scheme of things but is exorbitant when you consider the cost of things in Laos.

It’s quite expensive for Laos – #facts.

Darkness

This one goes both ways – on one side, darkness is the natural way a cave is. It creates a sense of mystery and stillness. On the other, I went inside the cave expecting to see beautiful limestone formations.

In all fairness, the 2 sections where you get off the boat and walk on foot are well-illuminated and show you beautiful cave formations.

Draperies limestone formations inside the cave
What you see is nice but most of the cave is things you DON’T see

But the rest of the cave is complete darkness. The measly lumens of the headlamps are not enough to see anything in a way that’s pleasant to the eyes.

Rushed experience

Before going, I read reports of other travelers about how they got to explore the other side around Ban Natane village for a few hours.

Nope.

Once we got to the dock on the other side, our driver/guide said “10 minutes”.

I tried to reason with him but in vain.

Trees and alleyways in Ban Natane boat landing area
Ban Natane boat landing area – We got just 10 minutes to spend here. Disappointing.

You can decide to stay longer but you will have to buy a new ticket to go back. 200.000 LAK more, ouch!

Why can’t the locals organize it so that you can spend a few hours in the area? It’s such a pristine and beautiful region! Also, all the money I would’ve spent there – food, drinks, renting a bicycle, heck even some adventure activities – would go to the locals, right?

What’s the rush to bring me back as soon as possible?!?

A bunch of cows drinking water from the Nam Hin Boun river

Environmental Impact

Hear me out before sighing!

The have been plans to replace the diesel-engine boats with electrical boats and/or install CO2-capturing equipment in Kong Lor Cave since 2018!

None of this has come to fruition, still. And while the environmental impact is not that big, it’s not negligible either.

My verdict: Is Kong Lor Cave worth it?

Yes, but.

If you haven’t been to many caves before, you will find Kong Lor Cave outstanding, fascinating, and the experience of a lifetime.

If you are doing the Thakhek Loop and are already in the region, by all means – go visit Kong Lor village even if you don’t do the boat ride inside the cave.

High karst mountains creating impressive scenery near Kong Lor village
Admiring the beautiful scenery around Kong Lor Village

If you’re in Vientiane, Thakhek, or Pakse and plan to go all the way to Kong Lor just for the cave – honestly, don’t bother. Combine it with other places in the Khammouane province.

Last but not least – 200.000 LAK (potentially increased even more by the time you read this) is A LOT! It’s not on par with the experience, especially since you’re not even allowed to spend a few hours on the other side. When it comes to value for money, Kong Lor Cave fails the test.

How to get to Kong Lor Cave

Kong Lor Cave is remote! It’s not near any big cities – on the contrary, it’s not even near small towns. The villages on both sides of the cave are small hamlets. It’s 315 km from Vientiane, 185 km from Thakhek, 300 km from Savannakhet…

The best way to visit Kong Lor and the one most backpackers opt for is as a stop on the Thakhek Loop. It’s a 45 km detour from the main Road 8 between Vieng Kham and the Nam Phao border with Vietnam. This is what I did – Kong Lor was the highlight of day 3 on the Thakhek Loop for me.

Other ways to reach it are by songthaew (tuk-tuk) or by bus from either Thakhek or Vientiane.

Thakhek to Kong Lor by Songthaew

Two songthaews leave from Thakhek towards Kong Lor village daily – one in the morning and one in the early afternoon. Precise times are not a thing for such smaller transport operations in Laos, so it’s best to ask at the Petmany Market in Thakhek where they leave from.

If for some reason there is no tuk-tuk going all the way to Kong Lor, there will for sure be one going to Nahin, 45 km from Kong Lor.

In Nahin, you can get on a more local tuk-tuk to Kong Lor village. Note that you won’t be able to go back to Thakhek on the same day – you have to stay in Kong Lor Village.

Vientiane to Kong Lor by bus

There is a direct bus to Kong Lor from Vientiane Southern Bus Station departing at 10:00 AM.

It takes around 10 hours to travel. Yes, it’s a long journey.

You will have to stay the night in Kong Lor and visit the cave the next day. If you want to return to Vientiane, you have to stay 1 more day as the only direct bus back leaves Kong Lor at 7:00 AM.

Where to stay in Kong Lor Village

Kong Lor village
Wherever you decide to stay, with this scenery Kong Lor is definitely worth a visit!

There are numerous guesthouses in Kong Lor. You will be able to find a place to sleep even if you don’t book in advance. I stayed in Konglor Alounmai Guesthouse (not listed online) – clean and relatively cheap (200.000 LAK / 10$ for a double room with AC) but had a bit of a “ghost vibe” to it.

Another good budget option is Thongdam Guesthouse, whereas Spring River Resort is a bit more on the lux side.

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