Xe Bang Fai And Phouphasouk Caves In Central Lao.

Yuri Orlov

Nov 13, 2018

From the tiny Vilaburi town it is possible to ride North to Bualapha which is the junction to go east to the Xe Bang Fai cave and west to Mahaxai. Mahaxai is the gateway to Tha Khek. The road Vilaburi - Bualapha - Mahaxai is always dirt. It is a lovely peaceful ride with almost no traffic. You don't need to race with trucks or pickups for the privilege to be out of a dust cloud.

Characteristic Lao countryside bridges over streams. I am always quite anxious on this bridges. Sometimes the nails are dangerously exposed. I am not keen at all to spend an hour or more on the dusty roadside removing the weel to fix a flat tyre.

Every three-five kms there is a village or a hamlet. Houses are made from wood only. However, the poverty is not so fearsome like elsewhere in remote areas of Laos.

Despite the growing deforestation the vegetation is still lush.
While riding on Lao roads you often have to deal with cows, buffalos, goats, pigs, chicken, ducks, dogs...

This is a school in the village situated on a half way between Vilaburi and Bualapha.

At once for 10 kms or more there are no villages. Only jungle.

Approaching Bualapha

In Bualapha there is a market and one or few guesthouses. From Bualapha the tough 16 kms road leads to the mysterious Xe Bang Fai cave.

Two kms before the entrance to the cave there is a guesthouse. I arrived at noon so I decided only to visit but to stay at night in Tha Khek. However the same evening I realized that I should remain close to the cave to spend a night. It is a fantastically beautiful place. Ideal for camping. Toilet and shower are available. Bring the food and drinks with you as I didn't see some places to eat. Walking around for few hours could be nice. Perhaps I could find some enduro trails to ride also.
Entrance to the area of the Xe Bang Fai cave.

Totally I paid 93.000kip for the ticket, boatman with canoe and a motorbike parking fee.
During the walk for 600 or 700 meters to the cave mouth there are astonishing landscapes. This is a cave mouth. The river pass through.

The cave is 7 kms deep, but an easy trip on canoe is possible only during the first 2 km. Further the rapids are an obstacle, so there is a need to carry a boat several times. With no special gear it is quite difficult. However even for this 2 kms go and 2 kms back the boat trip is absolutely wonderful.




There is no light in the cave. You navigate in absolute darkness with a torch only. All you can hear is just a slight sound of bates and the paddle of the boatman. There are no motor canoes like in Kong Lor cave. Nobody else too. Boatman and me we were alone inside.

From a small bamboo pier maybe 500 meters after the mouth of the cave it is worth to do a 30 minutes of a very easy and comfortable stroll on the walking part of the cave. Beautiful stalagmites and stalactites formations presents fantasmagoric configurations. There is a view point also to the mouth of the cave.

I have no pictures from the deep part of the cave because my smartphone is enable to photograph in the darkness. Switch out the light and stay like this for a minute. Absolute darkness and no sound. Amazing and scary a bit.
Xe Bang Fai is by far more wild and adventurous cave than the famous Kong Lor cave.
There are few visitors. I have met only two local families in the mouth of the cave. I had a chance to navigate in darkness alone, with the boatman of course. All the trip inside of the Xe Bang Fai took about two hours.

Outside of the cave I have met a young French man who arrived there on bicycle. From France. For four!!! years he is traveling the world on his bicycle. After an hour of chat with this heroe I rode back to Bualapha.
From there after two or three hours of dirt I arrived to the intersection where the sealed road leads to Tha Khek.
The next day I crossed the friendship bridge and came back to Thailand.

This January for more than a week I rode the roads and trails in Central Lao.
Close to the Dansavan - Lao Bao border the Ho Chi Minh trail leads to Vietnam. It is a very bad and tough 25 or so kms long road with nothing special to see. Except this "magnificent" Salen waterfall

And these friendly ladies

I think the fords over the streams looks not much better than from the war period.

Riding in remote places of Xepon and Dong districts there are some beautiful views.

I rode a lot of trails that leads to nowhere and slowly desapears in the thick jungle with no way further. But it's still the Ho Chi Minh trails net.



Not so far away from Salavan town following the sealed road to Lalay border with Vietnam there is a detour to the Phouphasouk cave.

There are no villages on the way after this one

Small trails that begins on a roadside after 100 meters or little bit more always finishes in the thick green vegetation. So this time I had no enduro options and I followed the road.

Finally I reached the parking area of the Phouphasouk cave. There is a pond, parking and a small restaurant. The area is under construction. First tourist visitors came only two years ago. Some foreign cave explorers teams also visited this place.
Parking fee was 5.000 kip. The cave and waterfall still are free of charge.

I parked my bike, take off the gear, put on the walking shoes and went to the cave.
After a small waterfall the trail continues through the forest.
Actually Phouphasouk is a complicated network of caves. As you can see on the map there is a trail inside of the cave for 4 or 5 kms long. The cave trail is marked by thin red line.

Before the main cave there is a hermit cave. This is the way out.

The entrance to the Phouphasouk cave itself.

Hopefully the first kilometer is illuminated and maintained in excellent condition so it's a relatively easy walking.



After this stair under construction there is no more electric light.
I wondered only a little bit further. No more than two hundred meters. I was not sure about the quality of the Chinese torch that I bought in Salavan market. The walkway was hard also. Often there is a need to climb. I feeled dizzy also because of the lack of oxygen. So I came back.
After coming back I rode some lovely trails close to the cave.



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Staff member
Jan 16, 2003
Chiang Khong
Wow. Just catching up. This is an absolutely super report.
Nice photos & information.
You've certainly had a good run through Laos -= perfect conditions & great weather.

Many thanks for your fantastic contributions - very much appreciated.

Thank you.