Dave in Thailand Laos
Luang Prabang March 20-24 2006 (part 3: Day on the Mekong: Pak Ou Caves)

Well, Luang Prabang is quite a small town, and there are not really a lot of things to do or see, outside of the temples and markets and the river and mountains (which, of course, is fine for at least some of us coming here, who like to contemplate such things a bit). It was a bit off-putting to see the number of small storefront restaurants and guesthouses springing up along the main street geared specifically for western tourists, with "western breakfasts" - just like Penang and Angkor and many other places. But I suppose they serve a purpose, and since I've been wandering around just like every other tourist here I suppose I should complain less.

- So - we had arranged to meet our boat driver at 8:30 am, and here we are arriving in the tuk tuk - behind us is the entrance to the Wat Xiang Tong, the most famous wat here, which we will come back to later -

arriving at the Mekong dock in the tuk tuk

- and here at the top of the Wat Xiang Tong stairs as they lead down to the Mekong. Note the boats 50 feet or so below us, and the sandy banks of the river behind - these would be well under water during the rainy season, we were informed by various people.

top of the Xiang Tong stairs

And here comes our ride for the day, Mr Vanhsy, with his boat 004

Mr Vanhsy arrives with his boat

- getting ready for the trip (note the boat over Ann's shoulder, the Louis restaurant we ate at yesterday was on the shore right above that, you can sort of see it in the pic) -

ann in Mr Vanhsy's boat dave in the boat

It was a beautiful morning for a ride, it took about two hours to get to where we were going. There wasn't really anything much of great special interest along the way, the river was low, but still quite fast.

- there were many places where the famous water buffalo were cooling off along the river on the sandy shores -

water buffalo along the mekong

woman and boy in canoe - and this woman and her son, there were many people fishing or just going from place to place, most smiled and waved in a friendly way -

- we saw quite a lot of smoke as well, flames in some places - I had read about this, there is a lot of slash and burn clearing going on everywhere in the world, including here, as poor people try to find some land. The book said that often during the later part of the hot season there is a smoky sort of haze all over Luang Prabang from this, although we didn't really notice it while we were there -

slash and burn along the Mekong

And then finally after about two hours we arrived at our destination for the morning, a somewhat old and famous place called the Pak Ou Caves (Pak Ou just means "mouth of the Ou" (river). There are two caves here, actually, the lower one, which you see from the river as here, is called Tham Ting (the Ting Cave) ...

approaching the Tham Ting cave

- and on our way up to the first level -

on the stairs to the Tham Ting cave

- and a couple of pics from inside the cave - the place is famous because the story is that for hundreds of years when there is an old Buddha image that needs to be disposed of, well, you can't just throw sacred things away, so they bring them here -

in the Tham Ting cave in the Tham Ting cave

ann in the Tham Ting cave

- well, it's not really a big cave, doesn't take long to see - but not done yet - there's another cave - way at the top of the mountain, up them stairs ... or we could go down to the boat ... (the people on the lower landing are the money collectors- almost everywhere you went somebody was collecting a US dollar or two (or 10,000 or 20,000 kip, the Laos money, 1 US$=10,000 kip)

the stairs to the second cave

part way up the stairs to the second cave - puff puff -

- well, all things end eventually, even long stairs, and here we are at the top, at the entrance to the Tham Phum cave...

arriving at the Tham Phum cave

girl with flashlights - and one of the locals, apparently having some odd thoughts about the small parade of crazy people climbing to the cave every day in the hot weather, but supervising the flashlight rental, as it's not a very deep cave, but there are no lights inside and you need a flashlight to see to the back (we read the book and brought our own, poor kid) ...

...and one from inside the cave, and another of the rather stouter-than-usual Buddha watching over the entrance -

Dave in the cave stout Buddha outside cave

...and another picture looking out from the cave, at the top of the stairs waiting for the descent -

Dave and Ann outside the cave, at the top of the stairs
- and what goes up must come down ...

Ann coming down the stairs

Dave coming down the stairs - it's down that way somewhere ...

- these kids were good kids, they had some kind of local food they were selling, said they needed the money to buy pencils for school - but we both thought the little bit of initiative was so much better than what we've seen in many places, just the hands out begging ...

kids on the stairs

- and finally back to the dock and Mr Vanhsy again -

Mr Vanhsy and 004 with Dave and Ann

Well, it had been a long morning with lots of exercise, but just rather fortunately there was a little village across the river with a couple of handy restaurants looking over the river - you can sort of see a river to the left here, which is the Ou River which the caves are named after, and you can also see how low the river is at this time of year

the small village with restaurants across from the Pak Ou caves

- the food was actually quite tasty - Laos food is generally alright, but not really as good as Thai food, less variety, less taste overall - they don't make their food as spicy as they do in Thailand, although one wouldn't complain about that alone, as there is a lot of food in Thailand that is beyond eating for some of us, because of the chiles..

Ann getting her rice

- well, one doesn't usually have beer for (or with haha) lunch, but it is my birthday on this day after all, and we've been up since sunrise, so what the hell - cheers eh? It's not altogether a bad way to spend the first day of my 57th year....

Dave's birthday lunch 2006

...and here is one last view of the Pak Ou caves, from the restaurant - yep, climbed all the way to the top of that sucker

the Pak Ou caves

On the way back to Luang Prabang there are a number of villages that the day-tripper can stop in for a visit - this one specializes in making the popular local rice wine, and have managed to turn it into a small tourist business - here the boy is filling the barrel with river water to get the rice fermenting...

boy making rice wine

- and this lady had a lot of her own weaving for sale, which Ann was naturally quite interested in.... lady with weaving and baby
- I wonder about the kids, when I look into these bright and very intelligent looking eyes - she may grow up to be a weaver like her mother, which is certainly a fine thing to be in some situations - but maybe in another life she could be a doctor or an astronaut - maybe her ancestors were important people in an older kingdom - I just think that somehow all of us should have the opportunity to grow up free and with the opportunity to try to be what we want to be - in some ways these kids are blessed, living free along the Mekong, in some ways, well, they might be missing out on some opportunities - much like Canadian kids, in some ways blessed, in some ways strapped into a box a lot of them might not choose, given some truth and better options (do you really believe that 9-5 on some assembly line for 40 years is a great life???? - or has someone been filling your head since your were knee high to a grasshopper with an endless stream of self-serving propaganda??? (yours and several million others time on the assembly line is certainly a blessing for those few who own the assembly lines....) ....

Ann at village looking at weaving weaver's baby

... and back to our trusty host and the little boat we are getting quite attached to - actually, Mr Vanhsy told us the boat cost about 70,000 baht - about $2,000 Cdn - that's right, not a misprint, two thousand bucks Canadian - probably quite a bit more to these people than to a Canadian, but still very cheap, it seems to me. I want one. Again this pic is interesting, because in a few months, if Ann was standing where she is standing, she would be under water (I expect she wouldn't be standing long as the current would be very quick...)

Mr Vanhsy waiting at the rice wine village

- and that was about it, really - a somewhat quicker trip back to Luang Prabang, going with the current instead of against it, very relaxing and pleasant .... looking at the big steps from the river, you have to think this place must have been pretty impressive when it was the capital of the old Lan Xang (Million Elephants) Empire a few hundred years ago ... maybe I'll ruminate on that a bit a bit later ...
looking up the Wat Xiang Tong stairs from the Mekong at Luang Prabang

- and here is Ann, ready for some rest -

Ann resting

dave having a beer at day's end on his b'day, overlooking the Mekong - and me, well we know how I like to spend the end of my days, a beer overlooking the river, pondering on it all -

sunset overlooking the Mekong

And we had one full day left in Luang Prabang - we spent part of it looking at some Luang Prabang wats.

Other Dave in Thailand stuff:

Wien Tien
PSU AG Fair 2004
Loy Gratong at PSU 2004
Kuching 2004
Luang Prabang page 1, page 2, page 3, page 4

this site is mostly sort of a photo album for some friends and family, but if you have stumbled across it somehow on the net and want to contact me, you can write to siamdave at yahoo dot ca