Tag Archives: caves

Kruisin’ Through Kong Lo


Described by Lonely Planet as something out of “Star Trek,” the Kong Lo Cave is by far the coolest cave I have ever seen, and quite possibly, the coolest thing I saw in Laos.

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.

Kong Lo Cave Village

Village outside of the Kong Lo Cave

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.

River Outside Kong Lo Cave

River Outside Kong Lo 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.

Michigan Stalagmite

"I'm from here"

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 ;).

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Scenes from Luang Prabang


Framed by both the Mekong and Nam Khan rivers, Luang Prabang is full of picturesque river views, in addition to its quaint streets and beautiful Buddhist temples. In my five days there I thoroughly enjoyed myself, rising early to watch the monks collecting food alms at 6 a.m. or climbing up 100 meters to the Phu Si temple to catch the sunrise. Just renting a bicycle and cycling around the town was relaxing, while stumbling upon a charming bamboo bridge and discovering the quiet Laos village across the river was one of the highlights of my trip.

Luang Prabang also has some great day sights outside the city, including the cascading, mint-green Tat Kuang Si waterfalls or the Pak Ou caves, where breathtaking limestone cliffs surround a cave full of Buddha statues.

I think Luang Prabang, however, is best described in pictures :).

The temple outside the Royal Palace Museum, a representation of traditional Laos temple architecture

Monks Collecting Alms

Monks collecting alms early in the morning

Tat Kuang Si Waterfalls

A section of the Tat Kuang Si cascading waterfalls

North end of Luang Prabang

View of the north end of Luang Prabang from across the river

Phu Si Sunrise

Sunrise from the Phu Si Temple

Pak Ou Boats

Boats near the Pak Ou caves

Laos Village

Street scene from a small village outside Luang Prabang

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I know I am getting very behind in my blogs here, but there are so many things I want to write about, and with all my recent travels, I have hardly had any time to catch up!

That being said, there was one holiday in January I got to experience that I would really like to share here: Thaipusam. Since my first visit to the Batu Caves in August, I have been looking forward to this event to witness first-hand the more than one million Tamil Hindu devotees who flock to the caves to pay homage to the deity Lord Murugan, to whom the cave’s shrine is dedicated.

What makes the event interesting is that the pilgrims show their devotion by carrying burdens called “kavadi” on their bodies, which generally include carrying large, heavy decorations on their shoulders and/or attaching small fruits and flowers to their bodies with hooks as they climb the 272 steps to the top of the cave. Others, especially women, carry jugs of milk. Each devotee has an entourage who accompanies him or her on the journey, and those who are especially hard core get a small band who help them get into and stay in a trance.

I gotta say, the whole experience was AWESOME! But I must admit, Thaipusam, for both the devotee and the gawking tourist, is not easy. First, it is hot! Since I work in air conditioning all day long, sometimes I forget how hot Malaysia really is (last time I checked the temperature it was 95°F, “feels like 106°F”), but being out in the open sun in a crowd (plus a sunburn) is a quick reminder that I am only 3° above the equator.

Second, it is crowded! More than a million people came out to the Batu Caves that day and within an hour, I had lost everyone in my 30-person group. At one point, the police were fighting to keep the non-participant crowds from going up the stairs into the caves, and I found myself constantly squished up next tons of sweaty, stinky strangers.

Usually, I hate crowds but for some reason, I actually didn’t mind them during Thaipusam. There was a really exciting energy in the crowds, and though I obviously wasn’t participating, I definitely felt like I was right in the event. At one point, exhausted, sweaty and dehydrated, I decided to head home, but then I found out they had opened up the stairs to the caves to the non-participants. Though part of me wanted to crash, my curiosity got the best of me and I managed to haul my butt up the steps to see what I could find.

All around, people were removing their kavadi and many of the devotees were passed out or lying down with their attendants rushing to cool them down and take care of them. Though all I saw was the actual carrying of the kavadi, these people undergo weeks of purification rituals to prepare, including fasting, where they eat only one simple meal a day. Though I know the act is gruelling, I was still surprised to see how strong of a physical toll it took on some of these people. Many perform it as a form of thanksgiving or penance to Lord Murugan to receive blessings from him, especially if there is an impending crisis like a severely ill family member.  I suppose people can do anything with the right motivation!

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