Vientiane Caves

When it comes to caves in Vientiane, Vang Vieng is king, with more than 15 distinct caves, many of which are clustered in groups.

 

You can visit the caves on your own, hire a local guide, or join a tour. Most of the caves are easy to reach by motorbike, cycle, and foot, and each one has its own tale to tell, whether legend or historical fact. All the caves are managed and maintained by the communities or local entrepreneurs, and they may charge a small entrance fee.

Tham Lom: Venture 4 km north of Vang Vieng Town to Tham Lom (Wind Cave) for a memorable cave exploration. The adventure begins with a 300-metre walk through a lush forest and a brief clamber up boulders to the cave’s entrance, where a breeze cools you down. From here, a steep path with a handrail leads down into Tham Lom. The 5-metre-wide cave stretches for a full km, so plan on spending an hour or more exploring the bizarre rock formations with embedded crystals that twinkle like jewels under your torch’s light. Afterwards, take a swim at one of the guesthouses along the Nam Song.

To reach the cave, travel north of Vang Vieng on Route 13 for about 3 km, and turn west just after Km 158 near Ban Phou Hindaeng. Cross the Nam Song River and head a bit north to Tham Lom, where you can also hire a local guide.

Ban Pha Thao Group: Legend and history meet at this pair of caves just north of Vang Vieng Town. Tham Pha Thao (Thao Cliff Cave) once served as the home for locals, and you can see the one-time underground residences amidst silver and golden-colour rock walls and formations. Legend has it that those who visit Tham Pha Thao will have good luck, which turns first-time visitors into annual returnees. Legend also shrouds nearby Tham Keo (Glass Cave) named after a beautiful young woman named Miss Keo, who looked like “sparkling glass”, and once lived in the cave.

To reach the Ban Pha Thao Caves, travel north of Vang Vieng on Route 13 for about 11 km, and turn west after Km 166. Signs to Tham Pha Thao and Tham Keo indicate the turnoff to a rough dirt road leading to a bridge crossing the Nam Song and the entrance to Pha Thao Village and its cave group.

Ban Tham Xang Group: Journey north of Vang Vieng to explore the Ban Tham Xang Group, a cluster of four caves just across the Nam Song, with Tham Xang (Elephant Cave) at its gateway. Take the trail to the north as it winds to Tham Hoy (Shell Cave), a tunnel with no known end. According to legend, locals named it after Hoysang (Conch Shell), who protected his aunt from giants in this endless void.

Moving south along the canal, the entrance to Tham Loup (Hole Cave) appears as a huge cleft. Local lore claims a massive mythological elephant, Siho, cracked open the mountain to hide from his enemies. Further along, inspect the 500-metre-long Tham Nam (Water Cave) that once served as the source of an intricate wooden irrigation system.

To reach the Ban Tam Xang Group, travel north of Vang Vieng on Route 13 for about 14 km, and turn left (west) between Km 169 and Km 170. Follow the road, and cross the river to reach the entrance to Tham Xang. You may have to pay an entrance fee in Ban Tham Xang.

Tham Khan: Adventure and history await at Tham Khan (Silver Bow Cave) just 3 km west of town. A hedgehog hunter discovered the cave, with its 1.9-meter-high sitting Buddha at the entrance. Archaeologists examined the cavern and turned up prehistoric knives, small spades, and axes, as well as a “khan” or silver bow, thus the cave’s name. The 3-metre-wide, 200-metre-long cave starts at the foot of Oua Mountain and offers good access throughout. The daring can try to find the secret passage out…it’s adventurous, but quite safe.

To visit Tham Khan, cross the Nam Song in the southern end of Vang Vieng at the Paradise Island Bridge. Follow the road to Long Kouang, pass Ban Houay Nyae, and at electric pole “18”, look for a sign to Tham Khan. Turn north, and follow the rugged road along Laeng Stream to the cave’s entrance.

Bee Cliff Cave Complex: Enter this 4-in-1 cave complex starring Tham Pha Pheung (Bee Cliff Cave) in Pha Khongkao Mountain. Creep into its deceptively small entrance that opens into a 5-m2 room with a 4-metre-high ceiling. A stone elephant head in the chamber reflects a golden tint from the dangling bee hives. Continue another 70 metres along a tunnel to reach a water basin for a refreshing dip. 

Back outside, you’ll enter a scene of rice fields, leafy trees, and the Ka River snaking past the entrance. You’ll also find the trails to the other caverns in the complex, including Tiger Cave, Diamond Cave, and the Gold Mine Cave.

To find the Bee Cliff Cave Complex, cross the Nam Song in the southern end of Vang Vieng at the Paradise Island Bridge to Ban Houay Nyae. Follow the dirt road for around 1 km. Just past the Tham Khan turnoff, you’ll see the sign for the Bee Cliff Caves, and the trail leading south to the cliff on Pha Khongkao Mountain’s northern face.

Tham Phou Kham: Squeeze through the small entrance hole and drop 100 metres into Tham Pou Kham (Golden Crab Cave). Once inside, the cave widens, and a reclining Buddha statue welcomes you to a place once inhabited by bats, gibbons, monkeys, and antelopes. The cave displays several wet rock formations including a pair of “Golden Crabs”. After exploring the cavern, go for a cold swim in the Nam Ka’s water hole. This spot in the river is clean, deep, and safe for jumping in from the trees. A small shop and restaurant run by locals serve meals and snacks.

To reach Tham Pou Kham, cross the Nam Song in the southern end of Vang Vieng at the Paradise Island Bridge to Ban Houay Nyae. Follow the dirt road past the village and turn right (north) at the sharp left-hand turn at Nathong Tai Village. The trail to the cave starts about 1 km past the fork in the road (stay right) in the Ban Nathong Neua area.

Tham Chang: Climb a steep set of stairs to Tham Chang, considered by many as Vang Vieng’s most important cave. Inside the one-time cavern home for Muang Song villagers, you’ll find a very cold water basin. Centuries ago, the villagers migrated to Ban Muang Song to raise vegetables. A civil war broke out in the area, and the villagers, seeking refuge deep in the forest, stumbled into the cave.

Because its high location offered a perfect perch over the Vang Vieng valley and battlefield, the entire village moved there to sit out and watch the war. They named their haven, Tham Jang (Hang Out Cave). During the colonial era, the locals returned to cultivating the nearby fields, and would bathe in the cave’s basin. They claimed the water was so cold that it could freeze your legs to a firm stiffness. They then adjusted the cave’s name to Tham Chang, which means “unable to move”, leaving locals no choice but to “hang out”.

To visit Tham Chang, follow the river road south of Vang Vieng to Muang Song Village, pay the entrance fee at the gate of the Vang Vieng Resort, and cross the bridge over the Nam Song to the steps leading up the cliff to Tham Chang.

Tham Khoun Lang: Spend time at the Khoun Lang Cave Nature Park in Kasi and explore the cave that carries its name. Sneak into its narrow entrance and discover a large 250-metre-long passage that steps over four distinct levels. Along the way, examine the odd shapes and patterns on stalactites, stalagmites, and flowstone, maintained by drops of moisture from the ceiling. Villagers claim some of the stone forms prove the cave served as the home of legendary Khoun Lang.  

In a romantic tragedy starring Khoun Lang and known throughout Laos and Thailand, Thao Khoun Lou is in love with Nang Oua. They became passionate in childhood, and planned to get married when they were older. However, Khoun Lang, a local chieftain, conspired with Nang Oua’s mother so he could marry the young girl, without her consent. She was distraught, and as Khoun Lang’s wedding procession approached with a massive dowry of 100 elephants and other animals, she ran away and hanged herself from a tree. 

The wedding party dispersed and the dowry ran away. A distressed Thao Koun Lou slit his own throat. The prestigious Khoun Lang became so ashamed at what he had caused, that he disappeared. Some say the earth had opened up and swallowed him in revenge for interfering in love.

To visit the Khoun Lang Cave Nature Park, which also features waterfalls, turn west at the southern end of Kasi Town (60 km north of Vang Vieng). Follow the road for 17 km to Ban Houay San and the park’s information centre. Another 2 km ends at the car park and 350-metre trail to the cave. The path follows the Houay San stream through rich jungle, and includes climbing steps and crossing footbridges. Navigating the cave is easy, but some sections are quite steep. The cave floor is usually wet and slippery, so stay on the constructed pathways.   

 

Vientiane Province: Nature between Capitals

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