DRONE: Airdrop @ Pha Kuang Cave, Laos


Pha Kuang Cave, 1km west of Nong Khiaw, has a mammoth entrance opening into a equally impressive cathedral. On the right-hand side of the entrance there are several circular blasts marks from when the cave was bombed for several days in 1971 by the Americans during the Secret War in Laos. It is unknown how many were killed or injured in the attack.

The dry cave has played a number of roles during the war as it was a makeshift hospital, bomb shelter for locals and Vietnamese and a place to store ammunition. A small collection of broken medicinal viles and rounds of ammunition can be seen near the entrance. Further in, those looking closely at where they are stepping can easily find more such artifacts from the war.

At the back of the main chamber, with a cathedral ceiling more than twenty meters above, in a jumble of broken Buddha images where the original Buddhist place of worship was before it was destroyed by the bomb blast. A new, modest, shrine has been established a few meters away.

The cave itself is easy to navigate as it is very linear with side-branches not stretching out more than a several meters away from the main path. Past the first cathedral, the smooth walls and well-packed cave floor leads you deep into the cave.

The OB Squeeze, named after Thom's son, is the first and perhaps only tricky part of the cave general explorers will cross. Bulkier guests might not be able to make the squeeze, which requires you pull and wiggle your body on a diagonal to get through. Once through, it's possible to move along at a comfortable crouch, before a about 20 meters of army crawling in a wide, but low passage. On the other side, the cave opens back up, eventually letting out into another larger chamber.

Taking your time to peer into nooks and crannies reveals small clay Buddha images, many thought to be 100 to 200 or more years old. Remember to respect Laos culture and refrain from touching the religious objects. They are not discarded or lost, but have been placed here.

Two wooden signs mark the end of the road for most cavers, as technical caving skills and special equipment is required to push further into the cave system, which is thought to be extensive.

Deeper in there is the unfortunate marks of careless tourists who have scratched dates, names and silly phrases into the ancient, historic rock.

For 10,000 kip, which includes renting a torch (headlamp), it's worth the 45min visit. Afterward, stop off across the street at Kuang Kham Restaurant, where you pay for the entrance fee, for a few beers, local Laos food served by Thom's wife and a few games of Petqueong. There is also a single bungalow with airconditioning available for rent for 70,000 kip a night. (Music by Remain)

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