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Pak Ou Caves
Wikipedia | Google | Google Images | FlickrOn the Nam Ou River, a tributary into the Mekong River, lies the area of Pak Ou, which means “river mouth”. The Pak Ou Caves houses hundreds of Buddha statues and are held as a holy site that is very important to the local religious beliefs and thus, is often visited by monks wrapped in bright orange robes, the color of saffron. Overlooking the river below, the caves provide one of the main cultural excursions from Luang Prabang, the capital city of Luang Prabang Province. The Pak Ou Caves are formed from the limestone karsts jutting into the sky from the flat surrounding fields. They have provided a place for worship in this area for many centuries. The views along with the cultural importance of the shrines in the caves offer a truly unique Laotian experience.
VisitingVisitation to the Pak Ou Caves is not a guided tour but there are plaques to tell the general story of the caves and the mostly wooden Buddha statues within. The steps leading from the river bank are lined with white painted, concrete walls that are striking against the natural scene of the mountain on the banks of the river. There are two caves, but only the lower one is seen from the water. The lower cave, Tham Ting, is more like a grotto and houses hundreds of weathered Buddha statues while the upper cave, Tham Theung*, is deeper into the mountain and has Buddha statues that are placed farther back into the cave. The view and the Buddha statues provide a fantastic photo opportunity with the beautiful river and countryside backdrop. Try getting a silhouette shot of the statues with the expansive Mekong delta stretching into the distance of background.
FolkloreThe caves are sacred to the locals and the locals are the ones who are believed to have placed the Buddha statues here many hundreds of years ago. Monks come regularly to pray and reflect on the Buddha’s teachings. These shrines to Buddha are holy places and the varieties of Buddha icons represent the generations that have followed the Buddhist religion in this region. Today, the caves are a tourist site but they are still used as a holy shrine. When you visit, there will surely be incense burning in the lower cave and there will, almost certainly, be locals present. There can also be many pilgrims here during the holidays like Lao New Year in April.
GeologyThe limestone karsts were formed over millions of years of erosion. Rainwater running through the large rocks has created large overhangs and caves in the mountainsides that make up this region of Southeast Asia.
Getting ThereThe caves are about 16 miles north of Luang Prabang so it takes around two hours to travel by boat up the river and takes a little over an hour to return. The cruise to and from the Pak Ou Caves might stop and visit the locals that live on the river banks. Along the river are small villages that are well-known in the region for their whiskey, wine, and crafts. Thirty minutes to an hour at the caves is more than enough to explore both caves, enjoy the view, and snap a few photos. Entrance to the caves cost $ 2.00 USD and a seat on the boat will cost $ 4.00 USD . To hire an entire boat for yourself will cost $ 15 USD . There are some larger cruise boats that are much nicer than the river longboats and they also charge more for that comfort. The entire round-trip journey will take around four hours and most tours will pick you up and drop you off at your hotel. Alternatively, there have recently been kayaking tours that will go to the caves, and if you choose the travel with the tour, you will still have to cross the river when you reach the caves.
PracticalsA long boat ride in the Laos sun can be very draining so do not forget to bring sunscreen, plenty of fluids, and a snack. There are often small showers even during the dry season so be prepared by bringing a poncho. The small villages that the boats stop at along the way will only take cash for their wares so do not forget to bring some pocket money for souvenirs.
Where to StayLuang Prabang is the closest large town and provides the most options for lodgings. The caves are the main attraction to see while in Luang Prabang so nearly all of the hotels in the area offer various tours to the caves. Luang Prabang has a full range of accommodations to fit any type of vacation. There are also some homestay options in the area that can offer an insight into how the locals live and how their culture has survived.
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Author: 30literbackpack. Last updated: Sep 19, 2014