If you’re going to Luang Prabang, you might as well tick Pak Ou Caves onto your list of must-sees. Not only is the place unique, mystifying and spiritual, it is historical as well. There’s a connection between the site and the area, and you will find out that Pak Ou Caves’ past runs much deeper than Buddhism’s place in the country.
Pak Ou Caves, if translated means Caves at the Mouth of the Ou River. However, there is an even older name, one more familiar to the locals. It is called Tam Ting Caves, meaning Caves of a thousand Buddhas. And it couldn’t be more true. There are literally thousands of Buddha images and statues here, ranging in size to about the palm of your hand to human length. In fact, the latest count have about 4000 in here separated in two caves, 1500 in the upper one called Tam Pum and 2500 in the lower cave and main cave called Tam Ting. Most of these statues are carved from wood, covered with red or black lacquer, and finally covered with gold leaf, rounding out their final appearance. There are also a few made from animal horn, bronze or ceramic.
As mentioned before, the site existed well before the arrival of Buddhism. Animism reigned in Laos and the cave was considered holy and was associated with the river spirit. Even with the spread of Buddhism, the caves’ animist past continued, but evolved to incorporate the current religion. So, people paid respect to the site by placing their old Buddha statues there. This has been going on for more than 600 years now!
You may agree, the trip to Pak Ou caves is already a memorable journey in itself. The stretch of water is filled with beautiful scenes of nature and laid back rural life. As you approach the cave entrance from the river, you’ll get a view of the high cliffs and swirling water of the Nam Ou River as it joins the Mekong. As you approach the caves, you can even see the statues, as if they are all personally awaiting your arrival.
Most, if not all compliment their trip to Pak Ou with a visit to Kuang Si Falls, located nearby. These cascades are a marvel of a site. If you’re looking to cool off from the heat, then jump in the pools. If a light adventure and some exploration is something you’d like to do, then go on ahead and walk the surrounding area. Picnic lunch is also a great idea. So is just sitting down and relaxing.
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