Deep in the heart of Central Laos, a valley of unparalleled beauty waits to be discovered. This region, the Natane Valley, was shaped by the Hinboun River, surrounded by breathtaking limestone landscapes, and hidden within are some of the hidden wonders of Khammouane Province. Guarded by Konglor Cave on one end and the Nakai Reservoir on the other, travel through this captivating and remote land relies heavily on community-based tourism, which empowers local communities.
For many years, Tétraktys has worked diligently with the communities, authorities, and various organizations, such as the Agence Française de Développement and Chauvet Cave, in this area to enhance this unique sightseeing opportunity. Their goal is to develop an effective community ecotourism association that will manage the natural treasures of the region while simultaneously alleviating poverty, promoting local empowerment, boosting gender equality, and curbing outward migration to cities in Laos and Thailand.
To promote tourism in this region, Tétraktys organized a three-day familiarization trip from Nakai to Konglor to allow participants the opportunity to experience this unique and unseen route several months ago.
From Nakai to Meuang Luang
As the sun began to sink in the afternoon sky, representatives from various tourism organizations gathered in Nakai at the Tourism Office. Excitement filled the air as they embarked on the first leg of their adventure. A short two-hour drive took them to Meuang Luang, a village nestled in the heart of the valley, where they were warmly welcomed by local villagers.
At Meuang Luang, guests were debriefed on the objectives of this trip, their itinerary, and the myriad of unique experiences that awaited them. The day concluded with a delightful dinner, during which the participants engaged in lively conversations with the villagers, setting the tone for the days ahead.
From Meuang Luang to Natane
The following morning, after a hearty breakfast at their hosts’ homes, the group set out to explore Meuang Luang. They marveled at the Chao Anouvong Pagoda, built in honor of the former King of Laos who is alleged to have found refuge here, and took a leisurely walk along the ancient track to Gnommalath, which is only passable in some seasons when road conditions allow.
The journey continued to Ban Kouan Sam, where they relished a delicious lunch prepared by the locals. The group then ventured to Phagna Meuangvanh Cave, named for a local chieftain, and another cave sheltering a Buddhist stupa, which is highly revered by the people here.
The group passed through nature’s bounty in Ban Nathone and Ban Nabone, where there are charming homestays available and even a fascinating day trek to Tat Sao E. Folktales say this waterfall is a popular place to bring your lover for a romantic escape away from the prying eyes of neighbors.
The day concluded with their arrival in Ban Natane. They explored the village on bikes, appreciating the beauty of the karst landscape and the warmth of the locals. The night was spent in cozy homestays, immersing themselves in the authentic culture and traditions of the region.
Natane to Konglor and back to Vientiane
As the morning sun bathed the valley in golden hues, the group relished in a delightful breakfast with their hosts in Ban Natane. Next, a short tractor ride to the boat pier, where they embarked on an unforgettable cruise through the legendary Konglor Cave on one of the new electric boats in use. These boats help preserve the cave ecosystem, as diesel-powered boats emit fumes that harm the cave’s natural development. The guide shared fascinating tales and legends as the boats glided through the enchanting cave formation room, marveling at the delicate stalagmites, flowstones, and stalactites. Travelers learned about the ongoing improvements in the cave and even ventured into a newly upgraded room of intriguing cave formations, with a new pathway and lighting.
The journey back to Vientiane began, but not before a coffee break at The Rock Viewpoint at Phou Pha Marn, where they savored the panoramic beauty of the rocky peaks in the Phou Hin Boun National Park.
As they bid farewell to the valley, they carried with them cherished memories and a commitment to promote responsible tourism and support the preservation of this remarkable natural legacy. The journey was an eye-opening experience, revealing that the heart of Laos had much more to offer than just passing through on Road 13. It was an invitation to share this hidden gem with the world, to raise awareness of its unique natural heritage, and to empower the local communities through sustainable tourism.
The Natane Valley can be accessed by car from Vientiane or Savannakhet. Lao Airlines has flights to both of these cities.
For more information on Konglor Cave and the Natane Valley, visit fb.com/Konglor.Natane.Cave
Text BY Jason Rolan
PHOTOGRAPHS BY Phoonsab Thevongsa