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  • The scenery of southern Laos. Photo credit: Cindy Fan

“Does anyone know the theme to Jurassic Park?” Baz, our Stray Asia guide asks from the front of the bus.

Silence. And then someone begins to hum. It takes a few moments for the tune to register and we burst out laughing.

“No, that’s the theme to E.T.!”

I understand why Baz was asking for the theme to Jurassic Park. The bus has just crested a hill and in a breathtaking moment, the landscape is revealed: we are in a lost world.

A great, verdant valley sprawls out before us. The Stray bus winds down the road past gothic limestone karst shrouded in mist, black prehistoric towers that rise from open, flat lands. We’re surrounded by wild tumbles of jungle and foreboding grey skies that I half expect to be swarming with pterodactyls.

Yet the theme to E.T. would be fitting as well. Is this really Laos? There is something otherworldly about this vista, like we have tripped into a wrinkle in time. And when we arrive at Kong Lor cave, our destination, it is as if we’ve entered the set of a science-fiction movie.

We hire long, wobbly boats—boats that resemble driftwood more than water-worthy vessels—and move up the Nam Hin Bun into the mouth of the cave, a small opening at the base of a formidable rock wall. We motor at full speed, plunging into the darkness, racing into the cavernous void. I feel a familiar thrill through my bones, the same feeling I used to get as a child riding rollercoasters that zipped through black tunnels.

A man crouched at the bow holds up a weak flashlight and somehow the boat navigates every twist and bend of this bleak tunnel. The air is cool and damp and from our echoes I can tell how big the interior is. And yes, as my eyes adjust, I see that the ceiling exalts like one of a grand cathedral.

Ten minutes into the cave we reach a sandy bank where we moor and walk along a path exploring the stalagmites and stalactites, nature’s eerie sculptures.

Incredibly, Kong Lor Cave is seven and a half kilometres long. If we continued up the Lethe waters, almost an hour later we would emerge from this underworld on the other side.

“Isn’t this amazing?” I gush to a fellow traveller. She shrugs her shoulders, looking bored.

“It’s not that great. Caves aren’t my thing.”

I want to push her into the water.

But that’s the nature of travel. As they say, one man’s junk is another man’s treasure. For me, Kong Lor cave was a highlight. I see a lost world while some will only see it as a hole in the rock.

The facts

Kong Lor Cave is a highlight of Stray Asia’s 7-day Phone Noy tour of southern Laos.

The nearest big town is Thakhek (also spelled Tha Khaek), approximately 5 hours away.

Kong Lor Cave is one of the destinations on the so-called “Thakek Loop,” a popular 3-4 day motorbike route. Independent travel in the region can be challenging during rainy season (July-October) when unpaved roads become extremely muddy.

It’s also possible to stay at Ban Kong Lor village, just a kilometre from the mouth of the cave. Several simple guesthouses have popped up in recent years.

Bring a good flashlight and water shoes/sandals as you may have to wade through water with rocks underfoot.

It costs approximately 110,000 kip to hire a boat with 2 crew. One boat can fit 3 passengers.

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