One of the things that makes Vang Vieng a destination for so many travelers (besides tubing — more on that later) is the landscape that surrounds it. In nearly every direction, huge limestone karsts, or cliffs, soar upwards in sheer masses. And as it that weren’t enough on its own, the karsts are full of caves and clear, cool springs. We had to get up close, so we rented a motorbike in Vang Vieng and headed west on a bumpy gravel road that stretched towards the karsts through the rural countryside.
The cave that we chose to visit is called Tham Phu Kham, or Blue Lagoon for the benefit of us english speaking falangs. We parked the bike next to a small swimming area, where several people were already enjoying a cold swim in the heat of the day. The water was the same translucent blue colour that we’d seen in Tat Kuang Si, outside of Luang Prabang. It was a beautiful setting — the karst ahead of us rose sharply upwards, and a small, dark opening about halfway up beckoned us towards it up steep steps. We headed for it.
We stepped into the cave and dug out our headlamps. Daylight streamed in to the first chambers and illuminated the limestone formations everywhere. We ventured deeper, and quickly realized two things. First, the cave was huge. Ginormous. It wasn’t long before we’d left daylight behind and were plunged into total, complete darkness. Second, it turns out that my headlamp is absolutely terrible for spelunking. I have one of those little LED headlamps that casts a soft white light — pleasant to read by, but useless in the darkness of this cave. Luckily I had the iPhone with me, so I used the Flashlight application, and it was about ten times better. Yet another argument for traveling with that handy Apple gadget.
The cave just kept going and going. We must have gone at least 400 meters deep. In parts the chambers would be so huge that our lights would fail to reach the ceiling above. The silence was absolute. It was the type of setting that automatically breeds panic in your mind. When we reached the deepest point, which was a gaping chasm in the floor, we stopped for a minute and considered how utterly terrifying it would be to be lost in a cave like this, without a light. After thinking this for a very brief moment, we quickly turned around and headed a little anxiously back towards the exit. I would be lying if I said I wasn’t relieved to see daylight again.
We left the cave and went for a swim in the cool waters below. I think that the Tham Phu Kham cave was one of the most stunning natural wonders that we’ve yet seen on our travels. Natural beauty on this scale overshadows even the most beautiful temples and cities. We carried our awe with us for the rest of the day.