Thursday, December 8, 2011

Visit to the Buddha Caves

This afternoon my new Laotian acquaintance, Juck, and I ventured 25 kilometres north of Luang Prabang on his motorbike. Motorbikes are as numerous in Laos as cars are back in North America. Our destination was the Buddha caves (Tham Ting and Tham Theung, lower and upper caves, respectively) near Ban Pak Ou, a village located near the Mekong River and catering to tourists. But before leaving Luang Prabang, Juck took me to a local market where I purchased a helmet, which I needed to wear so that we didn't get fined by the police. The helmet cost 80,000 KIP or $10 US.

As we drove up to Ban Pak Ou, it was simply wonderful to feel the freedom of riding in the fresh and open country air. The Laos countryside with its majestic mountains and lush vegetation was absolutely breathtaking. An hour or so later, we arrived at our destination, where we parked the motorbike and paid the parking attendant 5,000 KIP ($0.63 US). Then we strolled into the village and wandered around for a bit before heading to the riverside. While I was in the village, I purchased a small bottle of locally made Lao Lao (or rice whiskey).

Ban Pak Ou vendor
Shops in Pak Ou
At the riverside, we hired a boat, similar to the ones pictured below, to take us across the river to the Buddha caves themselves. The roundtrip cost 10,000 KIP ($1.25 US).

Once we reached the other side of the river, we disembarked and walked along a dock constructed from bamboo. At the end of the dock, there was a small ticket booth where we paid 20,000 KIP ($2.50 US) for admission. From there, we walked along a short plank and then ascended a steep set of stairs to Tham Ting (the lower cave), which contained the greatest number of Buddha statues.

Bamboo dock
Stairway to Tham Ting (lower cave)
The collection of Buddha statues, numbering some 4,000 in this natural cavernous cathedral, in Tham Ting (the lower cave) was simply staggering. Each statue is different in some way. In the photo below is just a sample of what I mean.

Tham Ting (the lower cave)
After spending some time there, I visited Tham Theung (the upper cave) alone. Unlike Tham Ting, Tham Theung extended deeper into the rock face. By the time I reached the back of the cave, it was almost pitch black and soon discovered that there were only a handful of statues.

Tham Theung (upper cave) entrance
On our way back to Ban Pak Ou, the boat driver had some issues trying to start the motor. As he attempted to restart it, the boat began to drift through the water. After a couple of failed attempts, the driver sounded like he was getting frustrated. Eventually, the motor sprang to life and driver, now in good spirits, took us back to Ban Pak Ou, where Juck and I had some lunch with Beer Lao.

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