ຖ້ຳເຊບັ້ງໄຟ

Tham Xe Bang Fai - Tham Khoun Xe - Tham Bing - Tham Long


Useful Information

Location: Ban Nong Ping, Hin Nam No National Protected Area.
150km east-south-east of Thakhek. Route 12, 43 km to Mahaxay, turn right, 25 km to Panam junction, turn left, 68 km to Boualapha. In Boualapha, turn left after the District Administration Office, after 230 m take 1st turn right to Ban Nong Ping.
(17.373025, 105.838874)
Open: All year daily.
No boat tours during wet season.
{2021]
Fee: must be negitiated with the guides.
[2021]
Classification: SpeleologyKarst cave Speleologyriver cave.
Light: helmet with headlamp provided
Dimension: L=16 km [2016]. River passage: L=6.4 km.
Guided tours: Short Boat Trip: L=300 m, D=1 h.
Long Boat Trip: L=2,000 m, D=2 h.
Tham Bing: L=1,600 m, D=3 h.
Tham Long: L=200 m, D=1.5 h.
Photography: allowed
Accessibility: no
Bibliography: Terry Bolger (2017): Recent Explorations in the Xe Bang Fai Cave System, Laos, Proceedings of the 17th International Congress of Speleology, Sydney 2017, pp 282-284. pdf
Address: Tham Xe Bang Fai, Tel: +856-20-22-221-860.
As far as we know this information was accurate when it was published (see years in brackets), but may have changed since then.
Please check rates and details directly with the companies in question if you need more recent info.

History

1905 French expedition into the cave lead by Paul Macey.
1995 speleological exploration by French cavers.
2008 North American expedition and survey, which was published in National Geographic.
2015 exploration by international caver team in the Grotte de Nuages section.
2016 exploration by international caver team in the Tam Nguen.
2016 inscribed on the UNESCO World Heritage tentative list.

Description

ຖ້ຳເຊບັ້ງໄຟ (Xe Bangfai River Cave) is named after Xe Bangfai River. The cave is the resurgence of the river and located near the small village Ban Nong Ping. The villager actually called the cave Tham Khoun Xe, which means the cave at the source of the river. The thought the lake in front of the cave was the source of the river.

The cave is not developed, there are no trails and no electric light. It is quite famous in the caving community for containing the longest rimstone dam of the world. It is visited by boat from a jetty west of Ban Nong Ping at the end of a single lane dirt road. The boat ride starts at the river and follows it 500 m upstream, until a lake with a diameter of 200 m is reached. On the other side of the lake is the cave portal. The villagers manage the Hin Nam No National Protected Area and the cave tours as a community-based eco-tourism venture to create sustainable livelihoods. The cave is visited on two different boat tours, and there are two other cave tours by foot.

The river passage is quite spacious, in averages it is 76 m wide and 53 m in height. It has dimensions comparable to the largest caves of the world, actually Hang Soon Dong is located only 50 km to the east in Vietnam. And like this cave it became famous after a National Geographic expedition in 2008.

The Short Trip is only 300 m long, the visitors are paddled by a village boatman into the cave. The renunciation of motorised boats protects the environment and especially the bat population. In the cave the visitors leave the boat, climb up a side branch and view the cavern from Dragon’s Balcony. This climb on the natural cave floor requires appropriate shoes and sure-footedness, but is well worth the effort. We recommend gum boots or trecking shoes. The difficulty is described as moderate.

The Long Trip is a 2 km boat tour upriver to the rapids. The visitors then return by foot along the Dragon’s Balcony branch and the trip also ends at the Dragon’s Balcony. Here you see the final river bend before it exits the cave. However, except for taking twice as long the tour has the same difficulty and you need the same equipment.

A third trip called Tham Bing enters the cave from an entrance high on the cliff to the north of the river-cave mouth. This fossil level passage is much smaller than the river-cave. But it boasts enormous stalactites and stalagmites on a length of some 700 m. At the end the river passage is reached on a high balcony above a high cliff. There is no way down so the tour returns by backtracking. The trek to this cave entrance takes an hour, so the whole tour takes about three hours. This is definitely a cave trekking tour.

Another cave tour is Tham Long (Coffin Cave). Located only 300m from Nong Ping village, the cave was frequented by the locals. It has two chambers, one of them contained a number of ancient hardwood coffins prior to the war, hence the name. During the war, many villagers sheltered in this cave from air raids. North Vietnamese soldiers travelling the Ho Chi Minh Trail used the other side of the chamber for shelter. This cave is only 30 minutes walk from the village and very easy walking, the floor of the cave is level.

The river cave tours are not available between June and October due to heavy rains causing dangerous floods. The other tours are ar offered though. As road access is difficult during wet season on the dirt road, there is boat access from Ban Pakphanang. The tours all require helmet and headlamp which are provided by the local guides, nevertheless an own lamp as fallback is recommended. For the boat tours they also provide life jackets. Do not leave the marked trails, they are marked to protect the rest of the cave floor from destruction.

The cave is inhabited by a good spirit. One time a broken khaen, a musical instrument, was left at the entrance and was found restored to immaculate condition the next morning. The spirit was also known to lend the villagers beautiful clothes for various ceremonies. This stopped when one time a beneficiary returned a garment unwashed.
The spirit is still believed to be benevolent though. Villagers who have fallen while gathering swallows nests and bats within the chamber have never lost their lives from the event. And during the war no bombs were able to enter the cavity.

The cave river is actually flowing through the cave. It enters the cave passage 4.7 km to the east, as the crow flies. This means the cave has a meandering river passage of more than 5 km length. The river originates from the Annamite range at the border to Vietnam 80 km south-east.