Konglor Cave Village
How a quick stopover on the road to the capital
became the venue for some of my best days in Laos
Before entering Laos and staying in a totally unheard-of region, Konglor was not remotely on my radar. I never knew it existed. Basically, while looking at the map to strategize how to best get to the north, I decided to split up the long journey to Vientiane by stopping for a day in a small town called Konglor Village.
Driving through on the back of an uncrowded songthew, an open-air bus, Dain turned to me and remarked on how similar the landscape was to Yosemite Valley. We definitely felt a twinge of homesickness because it's true; the staggeringly steep cliffs jutting straight up out of the valley reminded me of my first time standing in that otherworldly national park. As we drove through, we saw just a few small shacks and homes that couldn't have been home to more than a couple hundred residents in the whole town. Children were playing soccer in a dusty rice field, dry this season, dogs and chickens and cows were milling about on the road, skinny cats waited for table scraps from the couple of restaurants nearby. Slow-paced, friendly rural village life was just what I needed coming off of a whirl-wind motorcycle trip in Vietnam.
The main thing to do in Konglor, naturally, is to see Konglor cave. A short walk through the village will lead you to a small forest where you'll eventually meet the river and can hire a small boat to take you through. Boat is your only option here because the 7km pitch-black cave is too much to navigate on your own either on foot or kayak. Even though we had on headlamps, it was clear our guide knew which rocks to avoid and down to get up the small rapids. It was a thrilling ride, playing "I spy" every time I turned my head to illuminate a large cluster of stalactites or rock island. Maybe it was because we'd just spent an hour in near darkness tunneling through a mountain range but when we emerged on the other side of the cave, we could not stop talking about how beautiful it was. The sun draped the river, the mangroves, the bathing water buffalo, and the surrounding mountains we'd just gone through in a flood of stage light.
When we got back to the start of the park after a few hours, we were looking forward to escaping the heat with a dip in the cool water from the cave river. The boys we were with had no problems getting into their swim suit and canonballing in, but Laos is a very conservative culture especially in regards to women. They see no difference between a bathing suit and someone walking around in their underwear, so outside of the tourist towns you really have to be careful not to offend anyone. To be respectful, I jumped in with my clothes on which ended up being just as fun.
Konglor cave is an excellent place to spend a day relaxing by a swimming hole with very few people around. If you go before 8am or after 4pm, not only is entrance to the park free, but you'll likely be the only person there. They keep it very clean and natural, which is a special treat considering the practice of throwing your garbage anywhere on the ground is the standard practice in most of the country. As Laos as a whole grows in popularity for tourists and backpackers, and villages in the southern part like Konglor, I can only image it'll boom dramatically in just a few years. The Loop, a motorbike route across southern Laos growing in popularity, has already attracted more and more guests to Konglor. It was not on my original itinerary but it would have been such a shame if I had not taken the time to visit. I'm not sure if that's an argument for doing more research on a country before I visit or spontaneous exploration.