Caves are among the many interesting tourist attractions in Laos with thousands of underground chambers scattered across the country, and some even have legendary tales to add to their fascination.
My preference is to visit caves when they are relatively empty of tourists so I can enjoy the tranquillity, but their growing popularity means I don’t experience them as much as I would like.
A month ago, I joined Luang Namtha tourism officials to promote the province’s tourist sites, so I had a chance to visit a cave there as well.
They took me to Kao Rao Cave near Ban Nam Eng, 12km from Vieng Phoukha town, and thankfully for me, this very long cave was largely devoid of tourists.
In hindsight, it would have been better to have done some prior homework but we needn’t have worried as our local guide explained the cave’s associated folktale.
According to legend, the cave was discovered when two brothers disappeared for a week. Their parents asked everyone around the village, but no one knew where they were. So they asked for a prophet’s help, and then they found them in the cave.
The facilities inside are still rudimentary and, because there are no lights, lamps are needed to show the way, but the cave is safe.
While walking deep into the cave, water drips from above, and we often stop to admire the amazing geological formations which resemble animals and other objects.
It’s cool inside, but the dank conditions are stuffy for some as there is no breeze to speak of.
Kao Rao is also known as “Discovery” or Nam Eng Cave and is located 48km to the southwest of Luang Namtha provincial capital on Road R3A.
According to local tourism authorities, the cave is one of the most important heritage sites in Luang Namtha, and has existed for millions of years. But until now, not many have ventured into the cave as it’s so long.
In prehistoric times, the cave might have been inhabited by ancient humans, but today it primarily supports nesting swifts and thousands of roosting bats from over a dozen species.
Inside the cave there are two long tunnels, the first is called Namlod or Nam Eng. The second tunnel is Kao Rao, a long cave surrounded by complex mountainous, deep jungle, beautiful cliffs and an abundance of biodiversity.
In 2003, a team of German geophysicists conducted a field survey but the data they obtained was inaccurate. In 2005, the same team returned using GPS technology to collect data and create a map which revealed that Kao Rao is about 1,020m deep (bottom cave) and Nam Eng Cave is 3,640m in length.
Inside the two caves, limestone karst formations have evolved into many interesting shapes with flowstone, stalagmites, and stalactites fashioned by centuries of weathering that has gradually carved huge caverns out of the porous limestone.
Since 2008, an access trail, toilets, shops, and parking lot have been established at the site with support from the government and international organisations such as the Asian Development Bank.
I am sure many people would like to see this cave, and the site would benefit from additional investment to improve visitor convenience. – Vientiane Times/Asia News Network