Just 4 km north of Vang Vieng, and easily accessed from Route 13, you can inspect Tham Lom (Wind Cave). You’ll have to climb over boulders and up a steep path to reach the entrance. Then, turn on your torch to explore the 1-km cave that’s about 5 metres wide, and coated with crystal-embedded rock formations.
The Ban Pha Thao Group presents three main caves a further 7 km north on Route 13 and across the Nam Song River. Check out Tham Pha Thao (Thao Cliff Cave), which once served as the home for locals. You can still see the one-time underground residences amidst silver and golden-colour rock walls and formations. Nearby, inspect the legendary Tham Pha Thao for good luck, and Tham Keo (Glass Cave), named after young Miss Keo, who looked like “sparkling glass” and once lived there.
Another 3 km on the main road leads to a cluster of four caves at the Ban Tham Xang Group. Start at Tham Xang (Elephant Cave), and then continue on a path north to Tham Hoy (Shell Cave), which has no known end. Next, head south along a canal to Tham Nam (Water Cave) which was once the source of an intricate wooden irrigation system.
Across the Nam Song west of town, you’ll find four caves and clusters within easy reach. Tham Khan (Silver Bow Cave) comes first, just 3 km from the Nam Song Bridge. After admiring the 1.9-metre-high Buddha at the entrance, you can easily examine the 3-metre-wide, 200-metre-long cavern with a secret exit. Archaeologists have turned up prehistoric knives, axes and silver bow, for which the cave was named.
Just a short drive away, the Bee Cliff Cave Complex in Pha Khongkao Mountain begins at the popular Tham Pha Pheung (Bee Cliff Cave). Its deceptively small entrance opens into a 5-m2 room with a 4-metre-high ceiling. A 70-metre-long tunnel leads to a water basin. Other caverns in the cluster include Tiger Cave, Diamond Cave, and the Gold Mine Cave.
Next up comes a rough hike to the top of Pha Ngeun Mountain and Pha Ngeun (Silver Cliff), one of Vang Vieng’s top geological wonders. The 2-km-wide sheer silver rock platform stands 250 metres over a valley with rice fields and villages and looks across to Pha Boua Mountain.
The western grouping ends just past Ban Nathong Neua at Tham Pou Kham (Golden Crab Cave). After passing through the small entry hole, the widening cave drops 100 metres to a reclining Buddha statue. Tham Pou Kham displays wet rock formations including a pair of “Golden Crabs”.
South of town and across the Nam Song, you’ll find Tham Chang. A step set of stairs leads to the cavern with a very cold water basin inside. Villagers from nearby Muang Song Village once hid there from a civil war battle in Vang Vieng, and watched the fighting from their high, hidden perch.
North of Vang Vieng on the road to Luang Prabang, Kasi Town starts the 17-km road to the Khoun Lang Cave Nature Park. The narrow cave entrance is just a short walk from the car park, and opens into a 250-metre-long passage that leads to four levels. Along the way, you’ll pass an array of limestone shapes formed by stalactites, stalagmites, and flowstone and dripping with moisture.
While in the 1,080-hectare Khoun Lang Cave Nature Park, take the trails that lead to a few falls set in a steep, rocky, jungle ravine. Hike on paths along Houay San stream and its branches, which drop over rock shelves in the steep Saphai Gorge. You’ll find waterfalls up to 12 metres high including Tad Houay Saphai 1 & 2, and a larger multi-tiered waterfall.
Back in Vang Vieng, take a spin on the Kaeng Nyui Waterfall Loop and marvel at cascades that have been plunging over limestone karsts for millions of years. From the parking area, stroll 400 metres to Kenlon Waterfall’s five-metre tumble into a pleasant swimming pool. A further 400 metres along the stream ends at Kaeng Nyui’s 34-metre drop into a fine mist. However, the area’s Kaeng Nyeang remains inaccessible.
Heading north from the capital city on Route 10, you can visit Tad Sang Waterfalls in Phou Khao Khouay National Protected Area’s western region. A dirt road at Ban Napheng takes you on a 5-km drive to the entrance, and a steep, rocky road to the falls.
Buddhist & Historical Sites
A tour of Vang Vieng Town by foot or bicycle reveals four temples. In the town’s north, Vat Mahathat, or simply Vat That, was built in 1880, and first named Vat Siviengxong. The original three-room temple had a small stupa inside, and was constructed with 18 stone pillars. The temple was moved to its present location and renamed Vat Mahathat. It has suffered damage over the years, but was restored in the 1990s.
In the southern end of town, stop at Vat Kang. Constructed in 1900, the temple houses four monks, 21 novices, and three nuns. Further south, Vat Sisoumang was built in 1944, by a local named Chanthao. Upon his death, the temple was named Vat Thao Sao before it was changed to Sisouman.
In the town’s southernmost village, Ban Meuang Xong, you’ll find Vat Meuang Xong (Vat Mixay). The temple was built in 1889, and originally named Vat Khoua Phane. However, when the French colonialists left, villagers changed the name to Vat Meuang Xong.
The districts around Nam Ngum Lake hide a few ancient sites, all of which are dedicated to Buddha. In Phon Hong, the Vang Xang archaeological site dates to the 8th and 11th centuries, when the area was occupied by the Mon-Khmer. Inspect the five ancient Buddha statues at its forested riverside location, which some say was once an elephant cemetery.
Nearby in Nathong Village, you’ll find the 500-year-old Donekeo Stupa. Locals hold an annual festival at the stupa in mid-February, as well as the rocket festival in late April or May.
Closer to Vientiane in Thoulakhom District, you’ll find a pair of ancient religious sites. The 300-year-old Phra Thongshamsy Buddha (Three-colour Buddha) is now kept at Vat Pa Temple in Lingxanh Village.
In Ban Nakhong on the Nam Ngum River, stop and inspect the That Malar Stupa, built around the same time as That Luang in the 16th century. According to some historians, materials for the stupa were originally intended for building That Luang in Vientiane City, but their transport was delayed due to the distance and terrain. Word was later received that That Luang had been completed, so the locals built That Malar, which means “come late”.