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Why Pak Ou Caves is special ?
Packed with over 4,000 Buddha icons, the caves, a shrine to the river spirit and Lord Buddha, are set in a dramatic limestone cliff at the point where the Mekong joins the Nam Ou River.
Pak Ou translates to ‘mouth of the Ou river’ with the first cave entrance of Tham Ting being very visible from the water; the higher cave is accessed by stairs. The Buddha images in the Pak Ou Caves assume a variety of positions, from meditation to peace and nirvana (the reclining Buddha). Both caves are shrines to Buddha, offering places of worship with the largest image in Tham Ting being a popular place to burn incense and offer prayers. The smaller cave is the more peaceful, with glimpses of the Mekong providing a breathtaking backdrop.
The caves are a very popular pilgrim site for locals and get very busy during April when the Lao New Year is in full swing with locals washing and attending to the images. The caves are not far from Ban Xang Hai village, famous for its wine production and for the making of Lao wine earthen jars; it is a great side trip where you will get the chance to try locally produced whisky and wine.
What to explore at Pak Ou Caves?
There are two caves to visit, the lower cave called Tham Ting and the upper cave Tham Theung, both boasting miniature Buddhist figures that are mostly made from wood.
Positioned about 50 feet above the river, Tham Ting filters in some light but a torch is required for the absolutely pitch black Tham Theung. The upper cave is home to the majority of the Buddha statues and you will need to find your way in darkness to the thousands of hidden icons. The statues are believed to have been left in the caves by local people for hundreds of years.
How to get to Pak Ou Caves?
Luang Prabang's longboat office sells return boat tickets to Pak Ou (per person/boat 60,000/400,000K return) taking two hours upstream, 1¼ hours back and allowing around an hour at the caves plus 20 minutes at Ban Xang Hay. Departures are most numerous around 8.30am but generally continue all morning. Travel agencies and guesthouses sell the same tickets for a little more, often including a tuk-tuk transfer.
An alternative is to go by road to Ban Pak Ou (30km, around 150,000K return for a tuk-tuk) then take a motor-canoe across the river (20,000K return). Ban Pak Ou is 10km down a decent unpaved road that turns off Rte 13 near Km 405. Joining a group costs 65,000 kip per person with the ticket available from the ticket booth at the dock (departing at 08:30, including a stop at Whiskey Village)
You can charter a tuk tuk for 200,000 kip (up to five people) or a boat with driver for 300,000 kip, after a little bargaining. Price does not include any admission/tours to the cave â€“ it is simply a transport-only tour.
- “Pleasant morning boat ride on the Mekong River”
- “Nice trip if you have the time”
Tips for you
It is a lovely quiet boat ride to the caves which took nearly two hours. There was not much activity on the river, but the scenery is lovely. Our captain steered towards one bank of the river so you could get a good view of life along the river. When we arrived at the caves we had lunch at a floating restaurant on the opposite bank. The location and food was very nice. After lunch we went across the river to the caves. The guide planned it this way as the caves get quite busy late morning, but there were not many boats when we arrived. The caves are not very big, but are filled with hundreds of little Buddha figures left by locals. For us the boat journey was more enjoyable than the caves. On the way back we stopped at a village to see paper making and silk weaving.