Laos’ natural beauty shines through in its caves, rivers

Welcoming Visit Laos Year 2018, Vientiane Times is publishing a series of feature articles and images inviting you to experience the authentic nature, culture, history and hospitality of Laos, Jewel of the Mekong.
For a long time, Laos numerous natural wonders have lain unexplored and unappreciated but a surge of tourists means the country’s hidden gems are slowly being uncovered.

The rocky outcrop that houses Thambadan cave in Khammuan province.

According to the Ministry of Information, Culture and Tourism, Laos’ provinces are littered with places of natural beauty that many people don’t know about - mostly because they are hidden in the form of underground caves.
The main tourist attractions are Laos’ waterfalls which are enjoyed by tourists throughout the year especially in the summer.
But many of the caves remain secret because they’re not easily accessible and don’t have tourism infrastructure set up around them.
Ministry official Mr Litthisack Voralath said there are many beautiful places that people do not know about.
Firstly, there is a large water cave that was recently discovered near Xebangfay River in Khammuan province.
Located near Laos’ border with Vietnam in Bualapha district, it was discovered by French tourists. Unfortunately, a path to the cave from the main road has not yet been made.
Another place of beauty is the the Nong Fa (Sky Lake) in Attapeu province which many people know about but don’t go to because of a lack of access, bad roads and the absence of stores selling supplies or food.
However, there are plans to develop the area and draw in tourists.
The lake is located high on a hilltop and has very clear water that reflects the blue sky. It is believed the lake was formed after a meteor crashed at the site hundreds of years ago.
This area is home to the Brao ethnic group, one of 11 distinct groups in Attapeu province. They typically build their houses on hilltops and wear elaborate bracelets on their arms and legs. They also cut their front teeth, pierce their ears and use animal tusks as earrings.
Another under-visited place of beauty is Nang Aen cave in Khammuan province. For many years visitors passed through completely unaware that there was a cave hidden inside a huge rocky outcrop. Local people called it Thambadan cave.
This year, during Visit Laos Year 2018, the Ministry of Information, Culture and Tourism aims to attract around 5 million tourists to the country.
In 2016, tourist arrivals dipped to just over 4.2 million. During the first nine months of 2017, tourist arrivals numbered 2.8 million.
The Phonphet Phanthavong Tourism Company in Vientiane says most foreign visitors who use this travel agency want to go to the northern provinces of Luang Prabang, Oudomxay, Luang Namtha and Xieng Khuang and to Champassak province in the south.
It’s possible that they choose these places because they are the only areas they know about. People are attracted to Champassak province because of popular Don Det island, which is situated in an idyllic spot on the Mekong River as part of the Four Thousand Islands (Siphandone) area.
This small island is indeed a rural retreat, giving travellers a break from the rigours of the road and enabling them to find solace in a laidback lifestyle amid bucolic surroundings. It is the river that has shaped this island, giving the locals an abundance of fish, coconut palms and fertile land, and sustaining a small population of freshwater dolphins.
It was also the river that encouraged the French to consider creating a trade and supply route during the time that they colonised Laos, and visitors are always fascinated by the dilapidated vestiges of this ill-fated venture. An iron locomotive lies rusting in a leafy glade, the remains of a wharf are evident on the riverbank, and the old narrow railway bridge that links Don Det to Don Khone is a magnet for those wanting to immerse themselves in a bit of history while also exploring the peaceful riverine environs.

By Khonesavanh Lathsaphao
(Latest UpdateJanuary 25, 2018)

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