on April 6, 2012
We met our guide at the landing stage in Luang Prabang and someone carried our bags down on to the boat. It was a long way down to the river as the river was very low but the plank across was wide enough and so we managed to get onto the boat without any nasty accidents.Once on the boat we had a choice of most of the seats as the only other people on board were our guide, the manager of the hotel and Lan, a lovely Vietnamese girl who was a fellow guest and of course the driver of the boat. The boat was open sided but had a roof so we were out of the sun but able to see everything going up around us. The seats were wooden benches and there were plenty of life jackets on all the seats. I can’t say it was greatly comfortable but we felt the wind blowing through the boat and we certainly saw an awful lot more than we did when we were last on the Mekong river in Vietnam and Cambodia.We were offered coffee or tea and our guide also pointed out that there was a toilet at the back of the boat. This was pretty basic but served the purpose!!The journey to the lodge was early in the morning and on the way we saw local villagers gathering the river weed that is flavoured with tomato and garlic and sesame seeds flattened and spread it on to bamboo trays to dry. Once dried the sheets were rolled and packed into plastic bags. The large sheets are then cut into smaller squares to deep fry quickly before being served with a pretty potent chilli relish and served as a delicacy with drinks. We also passed fishermen, buffalo grazing on the banks, women washing clothes, children swimming and all sorts of activity that entertained us for the journey.Just out of interest it is possible to go by the Mekong from Luang Prabang to Thailand. If you go by small speed boat it talks about 4 or 5 hours but you can go on a larger craft with cabins and this takes a couple of days but this is only possible when the river is the optimum depth. After two hours we arrived at the Pak Ou caves. These caves face the mouth of the river Ou and there are two main caves both of which require you to climb some fairly large, steep and uneven steps from the landing area. Depending on when you arrive you may also have to go through several other boats to get to the landing area.Both caves are full of thousands of Buddha statues. These statues have been placed in the caves over hundreds of years. The statues vary in size, condition and what they are made from. They are also in the many different poses of Buddha; some have flowers and gifts in front of them while others are so high up and on ledges that you can hardly see them. The caves are considered very spiritual to local people and they are a site of pilgrimage. During the Lao New Year which is in April there is a special ceremony when all the Buddha statues in every temple are ceremonially washed. There is a special washing pipe and bowl which is very ornamental and in most temples one can be found. There are two in these caves, these special highly decorated Buddha washing constructions are called Hang-Lin.After climbing the many steep steps up to the second cave which is very dark inside. So dark that even with our torches it was hard to see all the statues in the cave. Both caves are kept really clean and there are several small stalls with local people selling items you can put on the offering tables, insence sticks and other souvenirs and snacks. Nobody was forceful at all and we just smiled as said ‘sabai dee’ and they smiled back. The caves are quite unique with all their thousands of Buddha statues and for that reason alone they are worth the visit. There are a lot of very steep steps and those near the bottom cave are quite uneven and tricky so those with mobility problems would struggle.
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