Pak Ou Cave, Laos

Pak Ou Cave, Laos

While sailing down the snaking Mekong River in Northern Laos travellers pass by a seemingly innocuous cave with a few small boats moored outside. Most would naturally pay little attention thinking that the cave is perhaps a resting spot for fishermen but upon closer inspection they may notice that the entrance to the cave is decorated in a surprisingly elaborate manner. Pak Ou cave is actually an important Buddhist shrine and as such is home to a staggering collection of thousands of hand carved Buddha statues of varying sizes, most of which are made from wood, are often damaged and are located in the depths of the cave. It is unknown who first found the cave or placed the first statue but there can be no doubt that it is now not only of significant cultural value but is one of the most unlikely and rewarding experiences in all of Asia.

Pak Ou Cave

flickr image by Clay Gilliland

A two hour slow-boat ride from the UNESCO World Heritage town of Luang Prabang, Pak Ou has become a tourist attraction unlike any other. The cave is essentially split into two sections with an upper and lower entrance, although the two do not connect for visitors. The lower entrance is accessible by water and is where the majority of visitors congregate due to the strenuous climb to the upper cave. Both offer different experiences with a greater number of Buddha’s to be found in the upper cave and it is recommended to visit both to experience the truest sense of isolation and peace.

The smell of incense wafts through both caves and enhances an already powerful experience with the calming sight of worshipping Buddhist monks completing a wonderful and strange encounter. The monks visit daily to pray and pay their respects in this spiritual place, it is advised as in all of Laos to leave the monks to pray in silence. The main attraction for tourists, however, is the primal feeling of being inside such an isolated cave in one of the most undeveloped countries in the region if not the world; you are literally in the middle of a jungle that stretches for miles all around.

The beautiful Luang Prabang is one of the most romantic towns in all of South-East Asia and is the only place to stay if you are planning on visiting the caves due to the sparse number of towns in Northern Laos. People tend to visit for a few days but stay for longer due to the natural beauty and welcoming nature of the Laos natives. It is possible to visit from the north of Thailand, primarily the town of Chang Rai, in a journey that involves a remarkable two day sail down the Mekong until you reach Luang Prabang. It is a journey that cannot be recommended highly enough.

Bringing a torch is a good idea as the caves can get dark in sections. Although the areas that can safely be explored by visitors are relatively limited it is believed that there may be a tunnel system that stretches for many miles more. Who knows what other wonders they may soon discover.

Date posted: 14th January, 2015

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