LAOS 2024: KHAMMOUANE UPDATE – PART 5

WHAT’S HAPPENING AT XEBANGFAI CAVE

World’s biggest river cave: On the western edge of HIN NAM NO National Park sits the largest cave in Laos. The XE BANGFAI is currently considered to be the world’s largest river cave. The good news for anyone who’s keen to take a look at this fantastic attraction is the 12 km of road between BUALAPHA and NONG PING VILLAGE, is now sealed all the way to the ticket office. What was once a one hour plus drive, on one of the worst stretches of road in Laos, can now be completed in 15 minutes.

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What’s happening at Xe Bangfai Cave

The downstream entrance to Xe Bangfai Cave.

Travel from Thakhek: However, getting to Bualapha, from Thakhek, is still an arduous drive. Long stretches of the dirt roads from Hwy # 12 are filled with potholes and ruts. In years past, the road from over near the Vietnam Border (NONGCHAN), was the better route. Unfortunately, that’s no longer the case as heavy trucks, filled with rubble, traverse the road, day and night, from an iron ore mine south of Bualapha. The better option is to take the road which branches off at MAHAXAY, and drive through XAYBUATHONG.  Further good news is there’s now 30 km of tarmac on the road from Xaybuathong to Bualapha.

What’s happening at Xe Bangfai Cave

The road from Thakhkek to Bualapha, via Xaybuathong.

THE EXTENDED THAKHEK LOOP

Heading to the Vietnam Border: This is an extra leg of the standard Thakhek loop for those wishing to visit Xe Bangfai Cave. For anyone coming back down Hwy # 1E, from Thalang, this is a doable option as you join Hwy # 12, not too far from Mahaxay. The road from Nongchan (near the Vietnam border) has the shorter dirt section, but it’s also more hazardous due to the iron ore trucks. Additionally, accommodation options at Nongchan are limited. The only guesthouse of note is the SAYPHOULOUNG RESORT.

Bomb clearing: An interesting historical aspect of this area is the Ho Chi Minh Trail ran right through it and, as such, it was heavily bombed during the war years. The Mines Advisory Group (MAG) has an office in Nongchan and is busy clearing UXO from the farmlands in the area.

What’s happening at Xe Bangfai Cave

A display of diffused bombs outside the MAG office at Nongchan.

The Pakpanang Crossing: This is a crossing at the Xe Bangfai River, on the road from Nongchan to Bualapha. A few years ago a concrete bridge was being constructed but was ultimately wiped out by monsoonal floods. Apparently it should have been an additional five meters higher. To get across the river the locals run a ferry service, for cars and motorbikes, on a large wooden raft, with an outboard motor. When crossing the river, the remnants of the bridge can still be seen downstream. The pillars are still intact but the concrete beams lay scattered across the riverbed. Note: For anyone with the time and budget to do the three day tour to Xe Bangfai Cave with GREEN DISCOVERY LAOS, a motorized boat will take you from this crossing up to the cave entrance. It’s a fantastic two hour trip along the Xe Bangfai River.

What’s happening at Xe Bangfai Cave

The river ferry at the Pakpanang Crossing, on the back road to Xe Bangfai Cave.

Bualapha: This is the final stop before the 12 km run to Xe Bangfai Cave. It’s a typical non-descript Lao rural town. If you’re travelling solo, it’s a good place to buy some dry goods, such as biscuits and potato chips, before you head off to the cave. Particularly if you’re planning on spending a couple of nights at Xe Bangfai. There’s not really much to see or do in Bualapha. If you arrive in the morning, there’s a LOCAL MARKET which will often have raw meat (including the animals heads) on display. Apparently, in years past, wild game was often available at the market, but rarely now. Once you get stocked up, it’s only a 15 minute ride to the camping area at Xe Bangfai.

What’s happening at Xe Bangfai Cave

Mid morning on the main street through Bualapha Township.

AT XEBANGFAI CAVE

Xe Bangfai Camping Ground: This is a significant upgrade from years gone by. A German organisation, called GIZ, has financed the development of the camping and accommodation area to modicum of comfort. There’s now five wooden bungalows (fan only) and a number of covered platforms for tents. There’s also a restaurant, run by three local girls, and a shower and toilet block. The food at the restaurant is basic, but nourishing with lots of rice, noodles, vegetables, pork, and chicken on offer. There’s also a refrigerator stocked with a good supply of Beer Lao.

What’s happening at Xe Bangfai Cave

The camping ground near Xe Bangfai Cave has a restaurant and bungalow accommodation.

Doing the cave tour: The ticket office for doing a cave tour is at the boom gate (entry point) to the camping ground. Current prices are as follows: National Park entry fee = 30,000 LAK; short canoe tour = 80,000 LAK; long canoe tour = 130,000 LAK. What’s the difference between the short tour and the long tour? The short tour only goes to the developed route in the cave, the DRAGON PASSAGE, which is approximately 600 meters into the cave. The long tour goes all the way to the first set of rapids, well into the dark zone, which is 1.6 km into the cave. The canoes are locally made wooden boats with a safe capacity of two passengers. To get to the cave entrance, there’s a 700 meter walk along the river’s edge, from the camping ground. The cave tour will take approximately 2 – 3 hours, depending on which one you pay for.

What’s happening at Xe Bangfai Cave

The start point, and local canoes, for the tour through Xe Bangfai Cave.

The Dragon Passage: As mentioned, this is the only part of the cave which has been developed for a safe sightseeing experience. Note: There is no internal lighting so you will need to bring your own, or rent a headlamp at the ticket office. There is a boat landing at river level, where passengers can safely disembark, and then a stairway up to the start of the route. The route has a developed trail to follow and wire barriers to prevent sightseers from damaging to the formations. The formations along the trail are large and impressive. The 300 meter long trail eventually leads to the Dragons Balcony, which gives a fantastic view back across the entrance area of the cave and river.

What’s happening at Xe Bangfai Cave

One of the impressive formations along the Dragons Passage.

XE BANGFAI CAVE VIDEO

Safe travels,

Mega.

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