Sayabouly Caves

Plenty of caves pock Sayabouly’s mountains. Some are easy to reach, while others take a trek, but all are worth the journey.

 

Tham Ou Toum Kham: Go about 2 km from Xienghone Town in the province’s northwest to Ou Toum Kham Cave at Ban Kham, and inspect its monk cell chiselled out by locals. Also inside are a stupa and several Buddha images.

Tham Luang: In Khop District, investigate Phou Pha Daeng Mountain’s 200-metre-long Luang Cave. The entrance opens to a 50-metre-wide, 30-metre-high fresh-air grotto leading to five large chambers.

According to legend, the venerable Buddhist Monk, Inthanou, lived in the area about 100 years ago, and earned a reputation for performing magic and being indestructible. When a French army captain heard of his abilities, he investigated and tested the revered monk. Fearing the captain’s motives, Inthanou hid in Tham Luang for two weeks before disappearing to Chiang Mai, never to return.

To reach the cave, head 4 km south of Khop Town (Ban Phabong) to Ban Nam Phao Village and a further 2 km to the Nam Phao River, and the challenging hike up the mountain. The climb takes about 30 minutes, and a local guide is required.

Tham Nang Ngoy: Climb a steep 50-metre trail up Pha Nang Ngoy Mountain to the entrance of Nang Ngoy Cave, but you can’t enter the holy cavern, as locals believe it houses the spirit of a mythical young woman.

Legend holds that a Xienghone District widow drank water from an Oupalath bull’s footprint, became pregnant, and had a beautiful daughter, Nang Taeng On. One day she asked about her father, and unsure how to reply, the widow said, “Your father was an Oupalath bull, and wanders between here and Khop.”

Nang Taeng On followed the bull’s footprints to Khop District, and continued through a field near Ban Nam Pao, where she noticed a cave, and resided there to watch for her father. Every day she washed her clothes on a metre-long stone, took a bath, and returned home to powder her face, dress nicely, and appear at the cave’s entrance.

One day, some villagers went to the cave to collect soil, but fell ill and died. Soon after, Nang Taeng On vanished, as did her washing stone. Locals say she took a novice monk for a husband, and they claim that on a full moon, she appears in front of the cave. 

To visit the cave entrance, travel 3 km south of Khop Town to Ban Nam Pao, and continue for 15 minutes to an access road leading to the steep outcrop and a view of the cave.

Tham Phounoy & Water Cave: A 1-km trail from Ban Tham, which wanders through rice fields framed by limestone outcrops, leads to Tham Phounoy and Water Caves, drilled into the same karst. A stream with freshwater shrimp and small fish feeds Tham Phounoy (Small Crab Cave). Neighbouring Water Cave contains interesting formations, including ones resembling a standing Buddha, elephant head, and butterflies. Though accessible year-round, the Water Cave becomes too deep to explore in its entirety from June to November. These caves are located 8 km southeast of Khop municipality in Ban Tham. You’ll need to hire a village guide to visit the caves.

Tam Phakounhuoay: On the 90-minute drive from Sayabouly Town to the Houay Namsai Herbal Spa Centre, stop to examine Tham Phakounhuoay Cave and its impressive limestone formations. The more adventurous and physically fit can follow the cave’s stream that runs for several kilometres through an extensive cavern network.

Tham Loup & Tham Chia Khiu Circuit: Follow a Ban Keo Village guide on a 1-km steep forest climb to Tham Loup Cave, perched on a limestone ridge. The large entrance – 7 metres high and 14 metres wide - drops into a sinkhole (loup) and lands in a wide cavern with a sandy floor. The cave continues for 130 metres to a pile of boulders with a slot allowing you to exit to an isolated jungle valley surrounded by cliffs. 

A short hike across the valley leads to the “backdoor” of Tham Chia Khiu, named for the faint but pungent aroma of bat guano (bat droppings). The wide tunnel passes a formation shaped like a large elephant, before arriving at a cliff and natural stairs. The steps traverse down a hole with a series of windows shedding light to a lower passage. The expedition continues past rock formations to a cliff-top view of the forest canopy, valley, and road to Ban Keo. Backpedal to the upper passage and exit.

To reach these caves from Sayabouly Town, take the Paklay road south. Turn left at the sign to the Nam Thang 1000 Caves Area. Continue down that road for about 5 km. Once you’ve passed Ban Nasam, turn right and proceed along the road south for about 25 km until you arrive at Ban Nathang. Ban Keo is a further 9 km south or about 50 km north of Paklay Town.

Tham Nam Lot: Only the adventurous and physically fit need apply to scour Tham Nam Lot. Start at the sinkhole entrance and follow the Nam Tham Stream as it cuts a 1-km mountain tunnel. Your expedition requires a local guide, total water immersion, and crawling up slippery rock walls with no safety net. You’ll exit where the resurgence river ebbs and flows through the channel. Tham Nam Lot worms through the mountain under Tham Loup and Tham Chia Khiu, but no one knows if the two cave systems connect. Tham Nam Lot opens just over 1 km from Ban Keo, and exits close to the village.

Paklay Cave Cluster: Several caves hide in Paklay District’s more remote areas, and several huddle in a 3-km radius some 50 km north of Paklay Town around Ban Keo. Prior to reaching Tham Nam Lot near Ban Nachan, stop at Ban Muong Pa to explore Tham Peo Pong Pha (Sky Cave), with the sun peeking through a roof slit over the entrance chamber.

Next up is Tam Kok Ma, considered by locals as the Wind Cave for its natural air-con. A local hot springs near Ban Keo offers a soothing respite after inspecting the caves. Ban Keo also launches an uphill hike to Tham Pha Keo, located near the phenomenon that gave the village its name. Pha Keo, means “crystal cliff”, as at certain times of year it reflects rays of light across the valley to a cliff across the Poui River.

Some 35 km southwest of Paklay Town lands at Khun Lou Cave. Just 16 km from the district centre near Ban Phon, you can inspect Tham Nang Phom Hom and the wide tunnel-like Tham Phabon with a Buddha image in its alcove.  

To Open Soon

- Phan Tham Namthang Cave

 

Sayabouly: The Land of Elephants

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