When traveling to Laos, there are many places and sights to see. But one of the most unique and interesting destinations has to be the Pak Ou caves. These caves are one of the most sacred sights in the country. They are still being used as a place of worship. Every New Year, people from Luang Prabang make a pilgrimage to the caves containing over 4000 Buddha images and statues. These underground sanctuaries have been venerated for centuries where thousands of Buddha statues are housed. The caves can be reached either by a short trip on the Mekong River or by road to Ban Shang Hai Village.
Today ---- let me take you to the PAK OU CAVES. These caves are found 25 kms. outside the city of Luang Prabang. We decided to go by tuk tuk rather than taking a boat on the Mekong river... The roads to the caves were not paved.. so it was a bit dusty on our way to there. Half way to the caves--- we asked the tuk tuk driver to stop for a while so we could take some photos of the Mekong River.
When we reached our destination---- we still had to hike some 350 meters to the boat landing where we would be taking a small boat to bring us to the caves.
It was nearly lunch so Oskie and I decided to have our lunch at the restaurant near the boat landing. The name of the restaurant was MANIVANH. Here is what we had for lunch...
Deep fried srping rolls..
Fried Fish ( caught in the Mekong River ) with pineapples...
Stir fried ginger with chicken....
After lunch, we met a boatman by the river bank and we haggled with him on the price he was going to charge us just to take us across the river. He charged us 20,000 Kip ( which was roughly $ 3.00 ) to take us across... It was a good price, so we agreed. The boatman helped me get in the boat... the chairs were like the kind you would find in a little girl's tea set ---- small , wooden and very uncomfortable. Then the boatman pushed his oar off the dock and we slowly slipped into the current. The rattle of the motor drowned the sounds of life along the Mekong .... but we had a beautiful view.
The Pak Ou caves hosts thousands of interesting small and bigger Buddha images, mostly donated by the local people. There are 2 caves.... the upper and the lower cave. The lower cave is clearly visible from the river and is accessible by boat, while the higher level can be reached by climbing some stairs.... ( I counted almost 120 steps going up ).
Even from the water, the Pak Ou Caves are spectacular. A jagged hole on the cliff face reveals a cave filled with hundreds of statues of Buddha. The boatman guided his long boat up to a dock of tied bamboo stalks. Oskie and I climbed out and onto the dock, then climbed up the carved stone steps to the cave's entrance. Oskie and I decided to go to the upper cave first since most of the tourists ahead of us were lined up in the lower cave entrance.... I guess that was my mistake... We had to hike up a long, grueling and awkward brick staircase that was flanked on both sides with trees. Some of the steps were a bit steep and it took me a lot of effort to climb the stairs. At one point... I was about to give up --- all I could see was more steps leading to nowhere. The upper cave is known as the Tham Phum caves.
As we reached the top of the stairs you will be greeted by a fat, almost pregnant-looking Buddha which acts as the guard of the caves entrance. Before you enter the cave--- there is a Lao lady renting small flashlights for you to use when you enter the cave.. It was very dark and it was impossible for me to take any photos inside this cave. Near the entrance of the Tham Phum cave-- you can see all the different styles of Buddhist statues --- heavy, thin, standing, lying down. This caves are only lit a few rows of candles and the dim beams of the tourist's flashlights. I did not stay long inside this cave.... I told myself--- it was a waste of time for me to climb all those steps and not see the beauty of the cave.
I was very worried that I would miss a step while walking around the cave and break my camera... much less... hurt my foot once more. I decided to wait outside for Oskie to take all his shots of the cave and come out once more. I was a bit disappointed since I asked before coming to the caves if we needed to bring along a flashlight.... and our tuk tuk driver said... there were enough lights for us to take some photos..He told me I could take photos inside the cave. I guess this tuk tuk driver did not go up to the Tham Phum caves afterall. After gaining enough strength from my hiking up to the caves... I slowly walked down with Oskie following me. The walk down was a lot easier than going up to the caves.
As we entered the lower cave ( or the Tham Ting cave )--- you can see that the cave is packed with Buddhist icons.
Some statues stand up with their palms out. The seated statues with one hand pointed down means to " bear witness ". Hundreds of statues line the stairway, some statues rest on nooks in the cave walls and on stone shelves. This is the kind of mystical place that graces most tour book covers and brochures......Buddhas of different sizes sitting quietly and sacred, tucked away in the belly of a cliff.
So, if you plan to explore the upper cave, do bring along a flashlight. Use proper shoes -- preferably rubber shoes when you visit the caves. You might also want to have some insect repellent on stand by and pack some snacks or food as there are no shops or restaurants at the caves.
SOK DEE DER !!