It’s always exciting visiting somewhere that’s not yet on tourist itineraries, particularly somewhere that hasn’t even made it into a Lonely Planet guidebook!
In late 2008, the Northern Lao – European Cave Project explored a new cave near the village of Chom Ong, Laos, about 45km from the town of Udomxai. Of course to the local villagers the cave system had been known for years, but to outsiders it was very definitely pioneering territory.
It’s a couple of hours drive to the village of Chom Ong, the last five kilometres along a road steep and rough enough to make 4WD a necessity. Local village guides lead us on a 45-minute walk, with several river crossings, to reach the cave mouth.
The main passage of the cave is simply stunning, a vast chamber soaring 35m high and running off into the mountain like a gigantic natural subway tunnel. We follow this huge cave for 850m before reaching a T-junction.
Here the main cave heads off to the right while we follow a smaller cave to the left. There’s much more climbing over or clambering under obstructions along this route, but after another 400m the cave floor simply dead-ends at a balcony overlooking a river 15m below. From that spectacular conclusion we U-turn and make our way back to the entrance. We’d been underground for over five hours.
Our visit was just a taster; the cave exploration group mapped over 10km of caves in the system. It’s hoped that the Chom Ong Caves will soon be open to regular visitors. The Chom Ong village has already set up a simple guest room at the village. Check with the Udomxai tourist office for more details.
Tony Wheeler travelled to Laos on assignment for Lonely Planet. You can follow his adventures on Lonely Planet: Roads Less Travelled, screening internationally on National Geographic.