I’ve always wanted to be spelunker! Mostly because it’s such a ridiculous word, but also because exploring caves seems absolutely thrilling.
Luckily for me, Vang Vieng offered more caves than I could dream of exploring and many were within a short motorbike ride from the town center. I visited four during my two day stay.
Lusi Cave was an easy but long 8km walk from the town. We scrambled up a bunch of rocks and ladders after a local guide (not English speaking), and then followed him into the cave. It was pitch black, wide and satisfyingly deep, making it both a good introduction to caves in the area, and also a worthwhile visit if you won’t be able to see other ones. 10,000 Kips. Worth it.
Tham Phu Kham (?) was even better than Lusi Cave, though I didn’t think that was possible. I was in a group, but we were without a guide, and it was as I expected: absolutely thrilling.
We couldn’t tell which way to go. The mountain cutout we walked into looked like a dead end until someone cast a light on a slit in the wall inside. It opened into a narrow tunnel that led down a bamboo ladder.
Someone behind me said they couldn’t see anything and that’s when I realized that the only reason I could was because my headlamp was turned on: we were barely two meters into the hole and it was pitch black already!
Tham Nam was further away, but similar, and promised a natural swimming pool, like they all do. We had to crawl through tight crevasses, narrow tunnels, climb through tiny holes, and up and down precariously built bamboo ladders that all led to deceptively transparent pools of not-so-swimmable water that all somehow happened to have a lone tube eerily floating inside them. (Deceptive because I almost climbed a ladder right into one!) Both 10,000 Kips. The former, worth it. Tham Nam, lasting only 30 seconds of exploring, not so much.
Flashlights are an absolute necessity and many caves have extras to loan you, but you’re best off with a head lamp so that you’re hands free to climb and scramble (and you will have to climb and scramble). Not for the claustrophobic.
Oh, and the last cave was Tham Chang. Up a hundred or so stairs, this was the big one, the one designed for tourists equipped with guides, mood lighting and carved out tunnels, though for adventurists the main appeal will be the view from the top. 15,000 Kips gets you up and inside the cave, but first you’ll need to pay 2,000 Kips (+ more for motorcycle, etc.) to cross into the Vang Vieng Resort where the cave happens to be. Worth it.
The caves were all damp, and hot, and yes, there were a few (*ahem*) larger spiders, but honestly, the whole thing was amazing.
To be able to visit these caves the way they were meant to be explored was absolutely thrilling. I came out a bit filthy but with a huge grin on my face. They may have been baby caves but I felt like I was alive.
So if you ever wanted to be an explorer, go spelunking! You can do it in Vang Vieng!