THAM XANG CAVE (ALSO CALLED THAM PHA BAN THAM CAVE, THAM NYAI, OR THAM PHOSE)
This cave used to be feared by local people due to a limestone formation inside the cave that was shaped like an evil monster's head. It was even taboo to drink from the waters that flowed from the cave. In 1956 when poor health engulfed the village, the villagers decided to destroy the "evil head" forever, and henceforth exploded it with dynamite. Soon after this, an elephant head miraculously formed in a different site in the cave, and the health of the villagers improved. Since then, the elephant head has been revered and the cave has become an important Buddhist shrine.
Pilgrims visit the site every year, typically around the Lao New Year, to sprinkle water on the elephant head and perform prayers for good health. The elephant head can be found along a small passage (flashlight needed) in the top right hand corner of the cave behind the large golden Buddha. Village elders believe that it is also taboo to hit the head of the elephant, hunt for bats, or consume alcohol in this cave.
From the steep stairs to the cave there are fine views of the plain stretching to the Mekong River. There are also interesting Buddhist decorations in the cave, including several Buddhist statues and a small black box containing Buddhist literature. Of other interesting note, Japanese soldiers used the bat droppings from this cave to make gun powder during World War II, and in the 1960-1970's the cave was used for shelter and protection during the Indochina War.
How to get there: This is the closest cave to Thakhaek, and can be seen from a considerable distance as you approach Ban Tham village (actually meaning cave village). The cave is located 9km northeast of Thakhaek. Follow Route 12 (road to Mahaxay) until it splits at km7, then keep to the right and you should be able to see the cave entrance in the distant cliff directly ahead. Cross a mall river by foot and pass vegetable patches as you approach the cave. Visiting the cave during the wet season is difficult due to flooding of the river. Alternatively one can continue along Route 12 to the bridge then turn right following the dirt road that also passes by the cave. There are some tuk-tuk in Ban Tham village to send you home as well.