Since the late 19th century, the geological wonders of Laos have captured the interest of foreign explorers, not only for its striking mountain ranges, fertile Mekong River floodplains and waterfalls but also for what lies beneath.
Countless caves have been revealed within the towering karst massifs and limestone mountains that dominate much of Laos’ picturesque landscape.
For fast-developing Laos, whose major economic contributors are mining and tourism, the caves represent an opportunity to unlock swathes of the landlocked country to the world.
As the sport of spelunking gains traction, isolated villages are looking to cash in on this rise in visitors. However experts say great care needs to be taken to balance the complex needs of locals with the conservation of caves’ delicate ecosystems. One wrong step can cause irreversible damage.
“Cave tourism can have a highly positive impact on local employment and development, and a very large positive impact on the reputation of Laos, but not all caves are suitable for tourism,” said Claude Mouret, a French geologist …