Insiders perspective – caves and villages in Luang Prabang
We had a great time in Luang Prabang… doesn’t quiet cut it. It was more like wonderfully marvellous. Me, not at all the nature lover backpacker, truly took joy in the dense vegetation of the elongated peninsula and village character of Luang Prabang – a somewhat magically enchanted city.
The drumming and chanting of the monks, the temples, the romantic facets of by-gone French architecture, the small streets without traffic, the occasional bike and orange robed monks… as if the trend-formula of ‘slow’ life had originated right here.
I recall to seriously enjoy a slow boat ride and the following exploration of caves. Pak Ou are not just empty caves, they are enigmatically filled with countless Buddha statues.
The other sight was the livelihood of Lao village people, on our way to Pak Ou – which opened my eyes to the country’s darker issues.
Let’s just dive straight into the ride, taking a stop to visit some ‘problematic’ villages, then I will show you mysterious Pak Ou and reveal Tomek’s secret identity!
Boarding the slow boat.
Our driver for the next 25 km going upstream.
Just in case you are more into fashion than boat riding, you might like to take a detour through the Lao Night Market and shop for the outfit I am wearing.
The boat ride was fantastic because the scenery was absolutely beautiful and totally unobstructed.
With 4000 km the Mekong is the 12th largest river in the world.
Sometimes we would come by the occasional fishing boat or kids training for traditional Lao boat races. We actually saw one in Luang Prabang (but more on that in another post)!
Most of Lao is rural and farmers have learned to cultivate part of the hills. Slash and burn farming is a problem. Agriculture (rice farming) is the main pillar of economy. But the Mekong is the pulse of life.
The Mekong serves as irrigation, fisheries and the transportation of industrial and domestic supplies. But most of all it is used as an electricity generator to the country and its neighbours.
Fishing net production. Nets and fish traps at the river banks indicate fishing villages which supply fish to the market in Luang Prabang. The villagers grow rice in the paddy fields behind the villages.
The first stop was at Whisky Village. The entrance way is slightly adventurous.
But why the umbrella since it is soo sunny? That is exactly why!
At whisky village, we could walk around, peek into village life, which was living off tourism, prepared to get the most out of visitors. You could also see the whisky production.
Apart from making traditional Laolao alcohol, the bottles were enhanced with a tourist magnet.
Putting snakes, spiders, scorpions, lizards and caterpillars into the jars is not really a traditional Lao thing, but sells well, which is why these poor critters are killed. And soon to be found extinct.
I think the worst sight were these jars with BEAR paws and parts. Bears are tragically ‘farmed’ in Luang Prabang, they are kept in tiny cages and bile is taken from their bodies alive, causing incredible suffering, just to supply a growing demand for this kind of ‘medicine’ – most buyers are from China. Not many people know about this and the fact that you can take a picture and report finds like this to the local police, as well as tourist office in Luang Prabang. Officially these practices are prohibited by law.
People in rural Laos are poor and have to make a living but it is us, the tourists and consumers, who decide what is appreciated and ultimately sold.
You can buy traditional Laolao Whisky without dead animals.
Or weaving products.
Or nik-nak from the store.
Like soy milk.
If you fancy other villages, Ban Chan in Chomphet district is famous for traditional pottery-making (15 minutes by boat from LP) or Ban Xang Khong, specialising in weaving and natural dyeing of materials, as well as silkworm breeding and silk handicrafts (few km outside LP by car).
Here are some more glimpses of Lao village life. This one was on the way to Kuang Si Waterfalls, inhabited by the Hmong minority.
I have a mixed feeling when visiting local villages, completely focused and dependent on tourism. On the one hand I like to buy things to support the villagers, on the other there is something unsavoury about it all.
The walk through the adjacent temple was therefore a pleasant break but truthfully there are more spectacular Buddhist attractions in Laos.
After a further relaxing cruise on the Mekong, we arrived at the spectacular entrance to the Pak Ou caves.
Entering the caves through a steep stairs and shaky wooden bridge. Admission: 20.000 kip.
I did used this gentleman’s hand here and there.
Once you have entered, thousands of Buddhist statues and icons are to be found.
The Pak Ou caves are separated over two levels, respectively called the Tham Ting and Tham Teun caves.
The caves have been a location of pilgrimage and worshipping for the past 500 years but exact dates and whereabouts are unknown.
The entrance to the upper cave was enclosed by a carved wooden frieze which once supported two massive wooden doors.
Inside, the cave extends for some 54 meters and is pitch dark at the rear. We had to use flashlights to find our way.
It was very moist inside and we had to look out for it was dripping in some places.
First drawing of the cave. It is said that the cave once featured a large seated Buddha.
The carved wooden water channel is used for ceremonial washings of the Buddha sculptures, decorated by Lao motives. A figure of a swan head is at the end.
And then, at the end of out tour, the shadows of Pak Ou revealed the secret identity of my hubby. A dog lover and reporter, well reporting traveler…
Stay tuned for more adventures of
Tintin Tomek. And me. Sometimes there are dogs involved.