Visiting the Pak Ou Caves in Laos

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The day finally came for us to explore outside of lovely Luang Prabang. We rented a motorbike at one of several shops scattered in and around the town center. Note that motorbike rentals in Luang Prabang are not cheap; we paid about 110,000 kip (about $14usd) per day which was the most expensive we paid during our 4 months traveling throughout South East Asia. But after asking around trying to bargain a price with a collective tuk-tuk, we decided the freedom and flexibility to do what we wanted was worth the price (we also went to the Kuang Si Waterfalls the same day).

And so we made our way to the Pak Ou Caves. Located about 32 km from Luang Prabang, the caves are a popular stop for many travelers – both foreigners and Lao. By motorbike it took us around 45 minutes with the last 10 or so kilometers on a rugged, dusty trail leading to a tiny village. We had to ask several people along the way where the caves were. Most didn’t know the English name (nor the Lao name for that matter) which made it very difficult to find the caves. We finally did come across a small sign indicating the direction of the caves but it could easily be missed so keep your eyes open if you decide to go by motorbike.

Once at the entrance of the village and still on our motorbike, we were abruptly stopped by a twisted cord rising swiftly from the dirt. At the end of the cord sat a young girl kindly requesting us to first pay for parking before going any further. We obliged handing over a few kip to keep the unassuming ‘guard’ happy and to insure our motorbike was safe (though I honestly don’t think anything would’ve happened to it – the village proudly announced it was crime-free!).

 

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From the makeshift parking lot, we walked through the sleepy village dotted with shops and humble houses. The villagers, with a few children in tow, were very welcoming greeting us with edentulous smiles and quizzical grins. With a trail of lingering laughter and a few echoing sabaidee behind us, down the sandy hill we went to the dock to embark on a small wooden motorized boat that would take us across the lazy Nam Ou river to the Pak Ou Caves. The price of the boat ride wasn’t included in the entrance fee (20,000 kip – about $3) to the caves but it was a fixed price of only a few dollars (I think it was also 20,000 kip).

 

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The caves are highly treasured as one of the most religious symbols in Luang Prabang. An impressive white-washed staircase leads the way up the limestone cliff to the lower cave named Tham Ting. The cave is filled with up to (and possibly more than) 4000 different images of Lord Buddha ranging in size from miniature statuettes to more imposing, more elaborate effigies in every material and position imaginable.

Up the rickety ladder we went to discover even more Buddha images scattered all around the dimly-lit cave. I was fascinated by the number of effigies and the devotion of the hundreds of Lao people who make the pilgrimage to the Pak Ou Caves to celebrate the Lao New Year every April.

 

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To reach the upper cave named Tham Theung, we climbed a number of steep steps (with a few breaks to catch my breath and wipe the sweat from my brow). This cave is more expansive than the lower cave with less effigies and no light streaming into the deeper area. Make sure to bring some sort of torch or head lamp if you want to properly view the hundreds of statues and get a good sense of walking through the cave.

 

 

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A visit to Pak Ou Caves shouldn’t take much more than two hours if you take your time (and depending on the number of people) but it’s definitely time well-spent. The views of the surrounding limestone cliffs are beautiful and the leisurely (albeit very short) boat ride is enjoyable. I had never seen anything like the Pak Ou caves and I was glad to have made the journey from Luang Prabang to visit the caves of 4000 Buddhas.

 

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  • Clare

    I visited this cave too but as part of a trip to the waterfalls as well. You can’t believe there are that many statues there!!

  • TalesOfABackpacker

    What a fascinating place! The journey itself sounds interesting enough but to see all those statues is something else. I sometimes find statues creepy but I guess as its Buddha he won’t hurt me 😀

  • Live Learn Venture

    This looks really amazing. I still have yet to see caves while on my travels. I also need to visit Laos!

  • Laura Nalin

    I love Laos so much! This post brought back a lot of happy memories – such a peaceful country! Loving your photos, by the way!

  • We are so jealous, we haven’t set foot yet in Lao. Really would love to pay it a visit soon!

  • Cori Carl

    What a beautiful place! I love visiting caves, so this is a must-see. Thanks for all the tips and info on exactly what to expect on the way there.

  • Frank Thomae

    Very impressive. In Chiang Dao, near Chiang Mai, there are caves with temples that are very similar and for a minute I thought it was the same place. Very impressive seeing all those buddhas in nature.

    Your photos make me want to revisit Luang Prabang. In hindsight, there are nearby attractions that we missed when there back in 2008.

    Frank (bbqboy)

  • Neha Verma

    Wow..the village does look very peaceful. And so many types of idols of buddha all at one place, I am seeing for the first time. I will visit here when I happen to tour Laos

  • Georgina

    Wow amazing! Id love to visit Laos

    http://www.georginadoes.co.uk

  • Wow, Laos looks AMAZING! So pretty! I need to visit soon! xo, sharon

    http://www.stylelullaby.com/fashion/holiday-shopping-shoprunner/

  • Laos is gorgeous, isn’t it? It took me so long to get anywhere because I just had to keep stopping and snap photos of those stunning limestone karsts! This post has me longing for Laos once again

    • Lydia@Lifeuntraveled.com

      Hi Emma! Laos is known for its natural beauty and it sure doesn’t disappoint!

  • I just virtually visited Laos! How interesting!

  • Janine Good

    This looks amazing! I have researched Laos quite a bit and know their natural caves and waterfalls are some of the best in the world. I hope to go at some stage to enjoy such beautiful sites!

    • Lydia@Lifeuntraveled.com

      Laos definitely has its fair share of caves and waterfalls – they’re found all over the country!

  • Susan McNulty

    What a stunning place to visit! I would love to have the opportunity to go and visit here, not only for the experience of the caves but also the surrounding areas. It looks gorgeous, and your description of the town and people sounds wonderful. A perfect way to spend a few hours!

  • I’m planning on visiting South Asia by the end of this year, so your post is very useful to me. Those caves are incredible, especially for the gorgeous views they offer. Definitely, on my bucket list!

  • Those caves are so cool! The view of the cliffs is stunning. Adding this to the list. I could see a James Bond movie being filmed here.

  • Neha Verma

    This is one unique place I am reading about. Wondering how come I had never heard of it before. Would definitely love to visit 🙂

  • Agnes Aasmaa

    I visited a similar looking cave in Thailand once. They are pretty cool reeking of history. The surrounding looks nice as well. I would love to visit the place 🙂

  • ok, i’m so intrigued now by the caves, I most definitely have to put this on my bucket list to see! Great photos, I love the staircase into the cave, there is something so, magical about it!

    • Lydia@Lifeuntraveled.com

      It was quite interesting! I was impressed by such pure devotion (and the views weren’t bad either) 😉

  • nomad nino

    I love caves! I have heard many good things about Laos. I may have to add this place to the bucket list. Great pics! Thanks for sharing.

    • Lydia@Lifeuntraveled.com

      Then you’ll love Laos – lots of caves to explore throughout the country!

  • snappedbygracie

    Beautiful photos, I was in Laos this summer, amazing place

  • Jes

    These caves are pretty impressive! I’ve been to many caves in my life, but none that are considered more than just caves. Looks like one of those “do not miss while in Laos” places to visit.

    I’ve also looked at your other posts. Lots of interesting places I’d love to is it one day 🙂

    • Lydia

      Hi Jes! These caves are definitely worth visiting when in Laos. Thanks for browsing my blog! 🙂

  • Ada

    That looks amazing !!! So much to discover in the world !

    • Lydia

      It was very interesting to see so many Buddha images! 🙂