The Pak Ou Caves are tucked into an imposing limestone cliff 25km away from central Luang Prabang. Best accessed by boat, along the Mekong River, they are an astonishing sight.
Be prepared for a steep, if short, climb to Tham Ting, the lower cave open to the riverbank. A sacred place even before the advent of Buddhism in Laos, villagers would come to worship and appease the river spirit. Today, however, the mouth of the cave is lined with Buddha statues. The scattered incense, candles and areas for kneeling create the atmosphere of a shrine. Interestingly, many of the Buddha statues were brought here by the villagers when they broke or got damaged, rather than discard them.
Further up the cliff, hidden from view, is Tham Phum. This deep, dark cave is home to around 4,000 Buddha statues and images. The multitude of styles and mannerisms is fascinating. In some Buddha is standing, while in others he lies on his side. He might have his palms facing outward or upward, each gesture redolent with meaning for worshipers.
During the Laotian New Year celebrations, hundreds of Luang Prabang residents make the trip up the Mekong to ceremoniously wash all the statues.
On the way back from your visit to the caves, stop off at the village of Ban Xang Hai and wander into the distillery to try the local rice wine and rice liqueur.
Just a short ride away, you’ll also find the village of weavers. Ban Phanom is well-known for the production of silk. Visitors can see the entire process, from breeding the silkworms right through to weaving the fabric.