The caving opportunities that surround Vang Vieng is in one word, awesome! There are many many small unexplored caves, and the ones that have been explored often have minimal facilities…usually just a guide who carries a small lead acid battery hooked up to a head light. If you are lucky the guide will have extra lead-acid headlights. Unlike more “developed caves” the caves near Vang Vieng are not improved inside at all. Rarely will their be steps, or lights, or guiding ropes. The caves are basically still left in their natural state.
On more than one occasion I found myself wading through neck deep water to reach the inside of a cave and crawling through holes slightly larger than the diameter of my body. I was always with a guide as a result I never did any independent cave exploration and I never became lost. Maps of cave locations are sold by some of the tour companies as well as several of the restaurants in town.
Usually the tour companies will incorporate cave exploration into their days’ activities. If this isn’t the way you would like to see these caves, you can certain see them on your own. Hire a motorbike or a mountain bike and drive or ride to the particular cave. Often a small sign on the side of the road will be the only clue to the cave’s whereabouts. The entrance fee to most of the caves is about 50 cents US. It is always a good idea of have your own supplemental light in addition to the guides light.
Several of the caves are within a few miles of Vang Vieng. Cross the Nam Song river via the main bamboo footbridge (this bridge is also wide enough to drive a bike across). There is a nominal fee for crossing this bridge – both leaving Vang Vieng and also when you return. Once on the other side as you head away from Vang Vieng within the first couple of kilometers there are some small caves on the right hand side (towards the tall limestone karsts). These can be best accessed by motorbike or on foot as they are at the end of very rough small dirt roads that wind their way through the jungle until they reach the base of the limestone karsts. These small caves are close enough to Vang Vieng that they are within walking distance. There is usually a guide present – even at these small caves.
Tham Phu Kham cave is about 4 miles from Vang Vieng – again take the bamboo footbridge across the Nam Song river – besides the toll that you will pay to cross this bridge, there is also one more toll bridge you will have to pay to cross before you reach this cave. Both of these tolls are nominal payments. Once you cross the Nam Song continue down the dirt road until you reach a fork in the road (just after the second bridge). At this fork in the road you will find a very very small village called Ban Na Thong – you will take the right fork in the road which leads towards the cave. Once you reach the fork in the road its about a half a mile to the cave entrance.
The road to this cave from Vang Vieng winds through the jungle. Instead of driving directly to the cave I stopped and visited with children walking home from school. They begged me for rides which I gave them after trading them a ride for a bite of their sugar cane! I would race down the dirt road a couple of hundred meters and then zoom back and repeat the process for another child. These children like other children I met in Laos asked me to give them “pens”. They are desperately in need of writing instruments so before your trip to Laos consider buying a package of pens.
The Tham Phu Kham cave is located on the other side of a very blue/green stream which you pay a small amount to cross via a sturdy wooden footbridge. Once on the other side you have to climb a considerable distance up the side of the mountain – up very steep very well worn limestone steps. Be especially careful on your return trip down the mountain. Once you reach the top of these steps you are at the caves entrance. Be extremely careful that you don’t bump your head on the jagged low cavern entrance. There are no clearly marked pathways inside the cave so you are pretty much on your own in semi-darkness as you climb down to the “reclining Buddha.” This is a golden Buddha set within the cave laying under a small canopy – its in perfect light in the late afternoon when the sun is in the right position to shine through a small opening in the cave (see photo below). The rays picks up the dust inside the cave a somewhat ethereal image. Inside you may find a guide who has a headlamp or two. For a nominal fee he will give you a 15-20 minute tour through the rest of the cave.
After leaving the high humidity of the cave and carefully walking down the steep slippery steps you may want to consider a refreshing dip in the crystal clear waters of the nearby stream. This “swim hole” is popular with visitors. You can swing yourself via rope out into the swimming hole or if you are more adventurous you can climb out onto a tree and jump in. Benches and tables are available on the banks of this river. An out door toilet and a convenience stand selling drinks and snacks is also available.
Tham Sang, a very small cave (also called the Elephant Cave) – is located just above the banks of the Nam Song river about 4.5 miles north of Vang Vieng on the west side of the river. It s within walking distance of the small town of Ban Na Dao – this town is on Route 13 north of Vang Vieng.
Elephant cave is given its name because of a stalactite that somewhat resembles an elephant. There is also a few Buddha images and a neat plaster “Buddha footprint” here.
We actually found the village life to be the most interesting aspect here. A live monkey was tied to the tree and would hop upon anyone who ventured within “hopping” distance. We walked around and visited with some of the villagers – one lady invited us into her house and showed us the incredible colored shawls she was weaving by hand. None of the villagers here spoke any English.