Luang Namtha Caves
Tham Kao Rao: Take an easy hike through the 30-hectare Tham Kao Rao area near Vieng Phoukha Town, and explore an endless underground labyrinth. Spelunkers once mapped the cave network for some 1,000 metres, but after 8 hours in the hole, they returned, exclaiming, “There is no end in sight.”
The trail to the cave starts at Ban Nam Eng, where a village guide leads you on an easy trail that gently climbs through primary forests. The path then levels off, and follows the Chook River. As you approach the cave, the guide points out the older trees, demonstrates bird-calling techniques, shows you how to feed the river’s fish, and explains the area’s geological past.
The path ends at a tall, narrow slit in the mountainside. Slide through the opening and step down to a rock-walled hallway and well-lit limestone wonderland. The subterranean system includes “wet” and “dry” caves, and limestone columns serve as geological gateways to side chambers. These rock rooms unveil gours (dry floor pools), stalactites, stalagmites, and stone wet pools rimmed with cave pearls. Though narrow, the cave network is quite easy to navigate, and acts as a natural air-conditioning system.
The half-day cave tour ends with two options. You can return to Vieng Phoukha by tuk tuk, or select an overnight homestay at Ban Nam Eng. Ethnic Khmu established the village in 1972, though the locals’ ancestors lived in the Vieng Phoukha area for more than 300 years. Villagers greet you with a massage, before you watch them make baskets and prepare traditional meals. You can also try fishing in the Eng River and planting rice. After dinner, villagers present an evening of traditional singing and dancing, and old folk tales before turning in for the night.
Vieng Phoukha’s Eco-guide Unit offers the cave tour that begins at Ban Nam Eng after a 12-km, self-arranged tuk tuk ride north on Route 3 from Vieng Phoukha Town. The cave is also just 46 km south of Luang Namtha Town, and travel agents in the provincial capital can arrange tours.
Vieng Phoukha Jungle Cave: Spend the night at a jungle camp at Maamaint Cave on a 3-day trek from Vieng Phoukha. Your journey starts after a 20-minute drive north, where the trail cuts through the Nam Ha National Protected Area. You’ll pass through fields and between rock walls, as you climb and descend the mountains to Tah Long. After a brief visit at the Khmu village, head through dense jungle, old forests, and bamboo groves to the Maamaint Cave and your campsite. The guide will prepare dinner using bamboo tubes to cook local food and mountain rice, before a good night’s sleep.
Vieng Phoukha’s Eco-guide Unit offers the 3-day trek as do Luang Namtha Town tour operators