Explore Laos’ underground landscape in one of its countless caves. Creep around limestone cavities, boat through mountain tunnels, and visit “Cave City”.


When it comes to caves, Laos is king. Subterranean experiences range from squeezing through crevices to entering spacious grottoes with ancient Buddha images. Cavers of all levels can spend hours examining bizarre rock formations and natural pools in well-mapped cave systems. Boat along underground rivers, sneak around rarely visited crevices, and follow stone paths lit by the sun peeking through roof cracks.

Northern Laos is loaded with caves. The recently opened 6-hour trek through Oudomxay’s Chom Ong Cave is drawing a crowd, and you can be among the first to explore the 1,000 Caves Area in Sayabouly. Luang Prabang’s Pak Ou Caves remains on everyone’s bucket list, and the endless Kao Rao cave system in Luang Namtha deserves a peek. And don’t miss Houaphanh’s “Cave City”, home of the Lao revolution.

Most caves in Central Laos are drilled into Khammouane’s limestone landscape. Choose from the 7.5-km cruise through Konglor Cave, Cave Alley’s six grottoes on a 20-km strip just outside Thakaek, or little-known Xebangfai Cave on the Ho Chi Minh Trail that attracted National Geographic. Vang Vieng is also gaining a reputation among underground adventure hounds, as 15 caves, many in clusters, are within a bike ride from town.

Cave hunters visiting Southern Laos can take a short trip from Pakse to Salavan, where underground experiences continue to be discovered. Caves ready to explore carry catchy names that describe what you’ll find, like Stone Casket Cave and 9-Holes Cave.

Northern Lao Caves

Houaphanh: Explore “Hidden Cave City”, home to Laos’ liberation movement in Houaphanh. You’ll find a string of caves with specific wartime purposes from Cave City and on Route 6 between Xam Neua Town and the Vietnamese border. Viengxay’s “Cave City” housed some 20,000 people, when it served as Pathet Lao revolutionary movement’s command centre from 1964-1975. They designated individual caverns.

Luang Namtha: Luang Namtha presents Tham Kao Rao, one of the longest mapped caves in Northern Laos. 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.”

Luang Prabang: Take a peek inside Luang Prabang’s caverns around town and north near Muang Ngoi, including the main attraction, Pak Ou Caves.  Board a Mekong Riverboat and ship off to the sacred Pak Ou Caves, home to thousands of Buddha images. The riverside cliffs across from the mouth of the Pak Ou River, presents a pair of centuries-old cave temples also known as Tam Ting.

Oudomxay: Topping Oudomxay’s cave menu stands the hottest spelunker’s hit and one of Asia’s longest underground tunnels, Tham Chom Ong.  Creep into the latest Lao adventure in one of Southeast Asia’s 10 longest caves. First explored in 2009, the Tham Chom Ong network rambles some 16 km through a 4-km mountain ridge. The cave features parallel, connecting passages: one dry and one with a river.

Sayabouly: Plenty of caves pock Sayabouly’s mountains. Some are easy to reach, while others take a trek, but all are worth the journey. 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. In Khop District, investigate Phou Pha Daeng Mountain’s 200-metre-long Cave.

Xieng Khouang: Go beyond the Plain of Jars in Xieng Khouang and inspect the province’s caves. Some have wartime stories, while others add a more peaceful Buddhist touch. Experience a wide range of emotions – sadness, curiosity, introspection, resignation, and hope – at Tham Piu (Coffin Cave). The sad hillside hole and its rocky rubble floor reminds visitors of that catastrophic day.

Central Lao Caves

Bolikhamxay: Spelunkers may have to hunt for Bolikhamxay’s mountain holes. The province’s landscape of porous limestone karsts hides plenty of caves for discovering a dark world. Travel north of Pakxan along the Nam Xan River to tree-covered Pha Muang, and inspect the boulder-filled base of the wide, round outcrop. Here, you’ll uncover the opening to small Tham Pha Muang with a sandy, watery floor.

Khammouane: If you like caves, you’ll love Khamouanne. Check out Cave Alley, the first 20 km of Route 12 with a half-dozen caves. Take a boat ride through the world famous 7.5-km Konglor Cave in the Limestone Forest. Travel to the Hinterlands in the mountainous east, which is loaded with caves including the 9.5-km-long Tham Xebangfai river cave.Cave Alley, the first 20 km of Route 12 as it leaves Thakaek.

Savannakhet: Check out Savannakhet’s caves from a pair near the Mekong River to one hidden deep in the Phou Xang Hae National Protected Area. Head to the legendary Tham Phaseng Caves and inspect the sacred stone statue of Buddha chiselled from a natural fossil. The caves’ legend recounts tales of tigers and giant snakes, which have battled at the site over the centuries. Locals have found tiger footprints in the area.

Vientiane: 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.

Xaysomboun: Xaysomboun remains relatively unexplored, but one cave group, named for the former revered King of Laos, Chao Anouvang, is ready for tourists. Explore the two caves that once sheltered Lane Xang Kingdom’s throne-bearer, Chao (King) Anouvong, from invading Siamese at Ban Phouhuaxang, about 4 km north of Anouvong Town. Trees shroud the mountain-base entrance, where the Nam Jang (Nam Ja) River flows.

Southern Laos Caves

Salavan: Salavan’s side of the Bolaven Plateau presents oddly named, interesting caves such as “Stone Casket” and “9 Holes”, and more are opening for tourists. Inspect the huge stone caskets (Long Sop Saen Kham), from an early civilization, in a cave on Phou Saen Kham Mountain. To get there from Tad Lo, go to Ban Senvang Noi, then follow the trail on the right of the road and walk for 5 km to the caskets.

Discover Laos: The Last Frontier