Hidden in the mountains of central Laos, the vast chambers, twisted rock formations, and glowing emerald pools of Kong Lor Cave are a geological wonder accessible only on a wet-and-wild sampan ride through the darkness.
Imagine sitting in a wooden, three-seater sampan, racing along a winding river as you take corners at speed, with alien-looking rock formations zipping past you on either side. Now imagine it’s happening in near-total darkness, with nothing but the bright spots of headlamps to light the way, bouncing off the cavern walls and making the water below you glow emerald green.
Welcome to Kong Lor: one of the longest navigable caves in the world. To look at the idyllic landscape of limestone karsts and rice paddies above, you’d never even know it was here – but the locals have been using this underground passageway as a convenient mountain cut-through for decades. Follow the Hin Boun River into the cave mouth and you’ll find that it flows along in the darkness for 7.5 kilometres, emerging on the other side of the mountains in the village of Ban Natan.
It's a journey that can take up to an hour by sampan, and it can be a white-knuckle ride in places – rushing you along through caverns up to 90 metres wide and 100 tall. There’s always the chance you’ll have to get out and push the boat through the shallower sections – and even if you don’t, you will get wet. Mid-trip, you’ll stop for a break to explore a dry section of the cave and get a close-up look at the rock formations. Frozen waterfalls of dripping stalactites, stalagmites piled up like Gaudi-esque castles, and a glowing green pool considered sacred by the locals – this is a true geological wonder.