Xe Bangfai Cave header

Way Off The Beaten Track

This beautiful expedition takes us to the heart of the Khammouane Province in Laos, where limestone mountains are covered with untouched jungle. In the middle of this fantastic landscapes, the giant Xe Bang Fai Cave (sometimes called Khoun Xe Cave) has been “rediscovered” and exposed to the world by a National Geographic expedition in 2008. But visitors are still rare.

And now… it’s my turn to go and bring back what probably are the first panoramas of Xe Bang Fai in the world! I wanna say thank you to my 2 guides Ice and Tik and my adventurous mom who were a great company for this cave trip.

I wanted to show here the whole expedition, from the village of Pakphanung to the exploration of the cave itself. I divided this journey into 4 parts that you can see below.

Quick Info

GPS (cave’s entrance): 17°22’20.27″N, 105°50’22.94″E

How to go: Book a tour with Green Discovery, they have their office in the Inthira Hotel in Thakhek. It is also possible to go to Nong Ping by yourself and find a guide in the village.

Tour price: At the time of my visit (October 2015), 396 USD per person for two persons. Note that I am not sponsored or affiliated with them in any way, but they did provide excellent service.

Duration of the tour: 3 days. This article is actually the third day of this tour.

Best season: October to May (dry season).

Link: Green Discovery’s Tour Page

Xe Bang Fai Cave Exploration Itinerary

Day 1 – Step 1  •  Thakhek → Pakphanung

Car | 135 km (84 mi) ⁝ 3 hours

Where It All Started – The Remote Village of Pakphanung

Xe Bangfai Pakphanung

Hours away from the city of Thakhek on a difficult road, Pakphanung is a village with dirt roads and wooden houses. This is where the expedition actually starts, as the village is located on the bank of the Xe Bang Fai River.

Thakhek is on the Mekong River, with Thailand on the other side. Phakphanung is totally on the other side of Laos, the border with Vietnam being only 26 km away in straight line!

VIRTUAL TOUR – Pakphanung

Visit the remote village of Pakphanung and have a first look at the Xe Bangfai River (4 panoramas).

Click Here to View The Virtual Tour

The virtual tour opens in a lightbox. Use your mouse to move around the 360° panoramas.

Day 1 – Step 2  •  Pakphanung → Xe Bangfai

Boat | 19.5 km (12 mi) ⁝ 1:15 hour

Journey On The Xe Bang Fai River

Xe Bangfai River

Once you get on the boat and leave Pakphanung, there are almost no more signs of civilization. On both sides of the river, can be observed the typical karstic landcape of this part of the world, with limestone mountains and the forest partly covering them.

From Pakphanung, it’s a 20 km journey on the meandering river before finally reaching the Xe Bang Fai Cave. After passing the village of Ban Nongping, we really enter the vast wilderness of the Hin Namno National Protected Area.

In front of the cave’s lower entrance, a large sandbar is where we will camp. I had plenty of time to explore every corner of this sandbar, enjoying the wonderful pristine environment… and shooting panos.

VIRTUAL TOUR – Journey on The Xe Bangfai River

Start your exploration of the region and the large sandbar in front of the Xe Bangfai Cave (8 panoramas).

Click Here to View The Virtual Tour

The virtual tour opens in a lightbox. Use your mouse to move around the 360° panoramas.

Xe Bangfai Camp

A Night On The Sandbar In Front Of The Cave

Xe Bangfai by night

It is actually a total of 2 nights that we spent on this sandbar – the night before exploring the cave and the night after. The first night, I must admit that I didn’t sleep much – too excited!

An almost full moon ruined my hopes of shooting great pics of stars. But when the moon finally disappeared below the horizon at around 3:30 am, I was out with my tripod and camera! How can you just sleep when you have this rare opportunity to see this remote place under a sky full of stars?

VIRTUAL TOUR – Xe Bangfai by Night

See how it’s like to camp and spend the night on a sandbar on the Xe Bangfai River, with the moon light and a starry sky (3 panoramas).

Click Here to View The Virtual Tour

The virtual tour opens in a lightbox. Use your mouse to move around the 360° panoramas.

Day 2  •  Exploring The Xe Bang Fai Cave

Kayak | 7 km (4 mi) ⁝ 10 hours

Xe Bangfai Cave Morning

Finally, the D-day has come! For someone who usually is allergic to waking up early, I can tell you that on that particular morning I was quick to get up! No matter how much sleep debt I had accumulated from the previous night spent taking photos of the stars.

In a straight line, from an entrance to another, the Xe Bang Fai river cave is a little less than 5 km long, but underground it meanders for a little longer, about 7 km. Some sources say it’s even longer than that.

VIRTUAL TOUR – Xe Bangfai Cave

Explore the gigantic Xe Bangfai cave, from an entrance to another (5 panoramas).

Click Here to View The Virtual Tour

The virtual tour opens in a lightbox. Use your mouse to move around the 360° panoramas.

I am not particularly experienced in cave exploration, but it is easy to tell that the Xe Bang Fai Cave is exceptional. It is the largest cave in Laos, even larger than the more famous Kong Lor Cave. It is actually said to be the largest river cave in the whole world.

I really didn’t know what to expect inside the cave. Its size, the height of its ceiling, are astonishing. At some points, we had to get off the kayaks and carry them among huge slippery boulders in order to pass some rapids.

It happened 3 times at the time of my visit, but the number of rapids depends on the level of the water.

Most of the time however, it is just kayaking on calm water, at times struggling a little against the current. But at all times, you are just in awe discovering what your tiny headlamp reveals from the darkness.

This darkness, I hadn’t really thought of it before going in. The fact of staying alive… depends on the little batteries inside your headlamp. Of course I was not alone in the cave and we all had a headlamp plus some extra ones, but if they happened to run out of batteries… we are probably doomed to death.

There isn’t a single speck of light inside. The darkness is total and spatial landmarks are all gone. So without light, I really don’t see how anyone could get out of the cave and brave the violent rapids.

Inside Xe bangfai Cave

Shooting in The Cave

Shooting pictures and panoramas inside the cave was a real challenge… as there is zero light.

When I left for my trip around South-East Asia, I was not sure I would be able to go to Xe Bang Fai. As a result, I didn’t bring any good source of light with me, and the only available light inside the cave was the one coming out of our headlamps. And it’s really not great.

So I did what I could with what I had. The panoramas at the two mouths of the caves were of course not a problem as plenty of daylight was penetrating the cave. But inside the cave, I had to use all the available headlamps and place them around, in order to light the whole scene up.


At the end of our visit we took the time to climb an incredibly slippery muddy slope to visit the most beautiful chamber inside the Xe Bang Fai cave, with a nice collection of stalagmites and stalactites. But we were running out of time and couldn’t shoot any panorama there. Here are some pictures taken with a small point-and-shoot camera:

There is so much more inside the cave that I would have liked to shoot and show on this website. But my lack of light equipment and lack of time prevented me from doing more. When we came out of the cave it was already night – we had spent 10 hours underground!

This tour is clearly on the expensive side and it was a real financial sacrifice for me. But I felt that it would be something amazing and gave it a go. It turned out to be one of the more extraordinary places I have visited in my whole life. An experience I will remember forever!

My wish now? Get another opportunity to explore this cave, with more time and proper light equipment to create a complete virtual tour all along! – and make a cool travel video.

TRAVEL MAP – Xe Bangfai Cave

Visualize on the map the precise locations of panoramas ofn the 4 virtual tours and places of interest to help you prepare your trip to Xe Bangfai. You can open the menu on the left side to see the list of panoramas and where they are on the map.

Click Here to View The Map

The map opens in a lightbox. Zoom in to explore!

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Xe Bangfai Cave Laos

  1. julz 4 years ago

    What a fabulous post! I love that cave 🙂 All the formations are so beautiful! And the pictures are really nice.

    • Author
      Julien 4 years ago

      Thank you! Glad you enjoyed it 🙂

  2. Alison 4 years ago

    Love the interactive tours, really helps show off how stunning the area is, and how amazing that cave is on the inside. I’d love to visit somewhere like this.

    • Author
      Julien 4 years ago

      Thank you Alison, this cave is really amazing, I wish you to visit it one day!

  3. Kareemah Ashiru 4 years ago

    This has got to be the most interactive and engaging blog post I’ve seen. I liked the 3D panoramic images. I can see why you broke your daily tradition of sleeping in later to see this gorgeous place. I probably wouldn’t have felt claustrophobic to go into the cave.

    • Author
      Julien 4 years ago

      Thanks for your comment Kareemah, it’s true that the cave is so huge that you can’t get claustrophobic!

  4. Sapphire Kharyzma 4 years ago

    I met a truly awesome young woman, who comes from Laos. Her stories had me wanting to visit. This feature has me wanting to visit even more! Thanks for sharing.

    • Author
      Julien 4 years ago

      Laos is a really beautiful country with great people, so many things to discover there. You can’t be disappointed.

  5. Rachelle 4 years ago

    I always love how beautiful your pictures and presentations are! They always take me to the location. I love discovering caves and would love to visit one day!

    • Author
      Julien 4 years ago

      Hey Rachelle thanks for your comment! If you like cave then this one is like THE cave to see! I had never seen a cave like this in my life.

  6. Solmaz 4 years ago

    Wow this is amazing — the virtual tour had me there with you! I’ve always wanted to visit Laos . Sounds incredible.

    • Author
      Julien 4 years ago

      Thanks Solmaz, glad you liked it!

  7. Marissa 4 years ago

    Wow, these pictures are beautiful! I love small villages like Pakphanung, but I can imagine not many people lived there.

    • Author
      Julien 4 years ago

      Thanks Marissa, I also love visiting these remote villages and enjoy their peaceful lifestyle.

  8. Aleney 4 years ago

    What an adventure! I ‘m besotted with Laos and would love to camp in that remote spot. It looks superb. The river cave formations look pretty spectacular too but no matter how big the cave looks, I think I’d have to sit that bit out due to claustrophobia.

    • Author
      Julien 4 years ago

      Hey Aleney, thanks for your comment! The place is indeed superb but really the cave is SO big that I don’t think you would feel claustrophobic.

  9. Kate 4 years ago

    My internet struggled a bit with the virtual tours, but what I could see was absolutely spectacular. The Xe Bang Fai river looks so gorgeous and like a truly serene off-the-beaten-path journey. Did you encounter many other people along the way? I would love to go to Laos one day and this seems like an amazing experience in the country.

    • Author
      Julien 4 years ago

      Hey Kate, sorry about the technical struggle! I did not see any other foreign visitor as it is totally off classic itineraries, just people in the villages I crossed.

  10. Siddhartha Joshi 4 years ago

    It must be pretty remarkable to explore such stunning limestone mountains with such few visitors! I loved your picture of the night sky…you did great on a full moon night too 🙂

    Also spending 10 hours underground is quite something! Kudos for that 🙂

    • Author
      Julien 4 years ago

      Thanks Siddharta! Glad you enjoyed the pictures. It was indeed a very memorable experience!

  11. Sandy N Vyjay 4 years ago

    This is as offbeat as it can get. The Xe Bang Fai caves are definitely hidden gems and the landscapes so stunning. The interiors of the caves themselves are the most intriguing and must make for an incredible experience. The 360 degree panoramas brought this incredible place alive on my screen.

    • Author
      Julien 4 years ago

      Thank you Sandy! I’m glad you enjoyed the panoramas. It’s a stunning cave indeed!

  12. Lauren 4 years ago

    Taking photos inside caves certainly is tricky, But you did a great job and captured it really well. I’m a little bit obsessed with visiting caves. And how cool, a virtual tour? It’s as close as I can get for now…but I really need to go and see it with my own eyes 🙂

    • Author
      Julien 4 years ago

      Thank you Lauren! I’m happy you enjoyed the virtual tour. If you love caves, I can tell you that this one will blow your mind!

  13. Jennifer Melroy 4 years ago

    I would love to kayak down the Xe Bang Fai River and then imagine that I would be an early explorer. Did you get to see any amazing wildlife on the trip down the river.

    • Author
      Julien 4 years ago

      Hey Jennifer, I did not get to see wildlife along the river except pretty butterflies, it’s really mostly about the very spectacular landscape and cave. And as you say, the feeling of being among the first ones to explore it.

  14. Debra Schroeder 4 years ago

    Loved your photos. They make me want to visit Xe Bang Fai. Camping next to the river sounds so serene. You mentioned the tour was expensive. Did I miss where you say how much it cost?

    • Author
      Julien 4 years ago

      Hey Debra, thanks for the comment! I mention the cost in the “Quick Info” at the top of the page, almost 400USD per person for a 3-day tour. But if you feel comfortable renting a motorbike and driving on a VERY bad road, you can actually reach the closest village (Ban Nong Ping) by yourself and find a a guide there. It would cost a fraction of that price and I think I will try doing that next time I go to Laos.

  15. Ami Bhat 4 years ago

    Caving is just so much fun. It’s adventurous to crawl through those dark spaces and encounter the artistic stalgmites and other formations. Even in the low light, you have done a good job of capturing it all. Cheers

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