A popular half-day trip that's easy to do on your own takes in Tham Sang plus three other caves within a short walk. Begin this caving odyssey by riding a motorcycle or taking a jumbo 13km north along Rte 13, turning left a few hundred metres beyond the barely readable Km 169 stone. A rough road leads to the river, where you cross a toll bridge (5000K), or during the wet season, a boatman will ferry you across to Ban Tham Sang (20,000K return). Tham Sang itself is right here, as is a small restaurant.
Tham Sang , meaning 'Elephant Cave', is a small cavern containing a few Buddha images and a Buddha 'footprint', plus the (vaguely) elephant-shaped stalactite that gives the cave its name. It's best visited in the morning when light enters the cave.
From Tham Sang a path takes you about 1km northwest through rice fields to the entrances of Tham Hoi and Tham Loup . The path isn't entirely clear, but the local kids are happy to show you the way for a small fee. The entrance to Tham Hoi is guarded by a large Buddha figure; reportedly the cave continues about 3km into the limestone and an underground lake. Tham Loup is a large and delightfully untouched cavern with some impressive stalactites.
About 400m south of Tham Hoi, along a well-used path, is the highlight of this trip, Tham Nam . The cave is about 500m long, and a tributary of the Nam Song flows out of its low entrance. In the dry season you can wade into the cave, but when the water is higher you need to take a tube from the friendly woman near the entrance; the tube and headlamp are included in the entrance fee. Dragging yourself through the tunnel on the fixed rope is fun.
If you've still got the energy, a path leads about 2km south from Tham Nam along a stream to Tham Pha Thao , a cave said to be a couple of kilometres long with a pool in the middle. Otherwise, it's an easy 1km walk back to Ban Tham Sang. This loop is usually included in the kayaking/trekking/tubing combo trip run by most Vang Vieng tour operators.