Situated near Phu Hin Bun NPA in Central Laos, the 7.5-meter-long underground cave is accessible only by the motorized boats that travel beneath it, leaving you with a magical, albeit creepy, adventure through the dark.
To start, the journey to reach the cave is breathtaking in itself. Long bus rides drop you off in the middle of nowhere, where the only traveler support you have is a small row of guest houses situated in a tiny rural village less than a mile away from the cave entrance (i.e. no Internet, no ATMs). All around, endless green tobacco plants fill the fields, guarded by gigantic limestone cliffs (“karsts”), with only a handful of houses and bicycle-riding children breaking up a sense of overwhelming serenity.
The walk to the cave leads you through a small forest before reaching a sea-green river surrounded by more trees and karsts, which, aside from providing stunning scenery, holds the mouth of the cave.
At the edge of the forest, men playing a curling-type game and women selling snacks are eager to help you hire a boat. For about 50,000 kip ($6.30) a person, a boatman will lead you and up to two other people on a three-hour journey to explore the cave.
I took the tour with my new friend Ritesh, a man from Bangalore, India I met on the seven-hour long bus journey from Vientiane. And let me say, the cave was quite an adventure.
Entering into the mouth of the cave, things immediately get nearly pitch black, with the only light you have coming from your flashlight or headlight. As you cruise underground, sometimes stopping to carry the boat over shallow rocks, crazy-looking stalagmites and stalactites come into view, breaking up seemingly smooth cave walls all around. While I’m not “Trekkie” enough to vouch for the Star Trek reference, I will say half the time I was expecting Gollum to pop out from around the corner, or maybe a cursed locket…
At one point, the boatman stopped so we could explore some of the cave on foot, and that’s when the really beautiful formations came into view. Icicle-looking stalactites dripped from the ceiling, while mini-sky scrapers came up from the ground, some connecting to all the way through from the top. At one point, I even found a “Michigan”-looking stalagmite, though in reverse.
After about an hour or so, we saw a beacon of light ahead, “at the end of the tunnel,” if you will. Soon we found ourselves at the exit of the cave, floating along between more limestone karsts, green trees and water buffalo, where we had a quick rest, before plunging back into the dark.
While the ride back seemed quicker than the first ride, there’s something about cruising underground in a boat through the dark that is just exhilarating. For some reason, all I could think of was that I wished I had brought my iPod so I could play the Phantom of the Opera soundtrack.
I think next time I will ;).