The Pak Ou Caves are one the main attractions for travelers who visit the sleepy region of Luang Prabang, Laos. Located approximately two hours upstream, the caves are famous for housing thousands of miniature Buddhist sculptures and statues. We asked Somnuek ‘Nuek’ Souliphone, one of our local Travel Specialists in Laos, to explain the significance of the unique caves and what to expect when visiting.
The fascinating Pak Ou Caves can be reached after a tranquil and relaxing cruise upstream on the majestic Mekong, which alone almost makes the trip worthwhile. Along the two-hour cruise you can observe fishermen on their long tail boats and see the pretty gardens of local villagers which decorate the riverbank.
Seemingly, the caves suddenly appear from nowhere. Carved into the impressive limestone mountain, the caves mark the confluence of the Nam Ou and Mekong River, a strong spiritual pole by Animist and Buddhist beliefs.
The local lifestyle of families living on and along the two rivers is strongly interlinked with the Pak Ou caves; traditionally, religiously and historically. You can see the Laotian travelers going up and down the river carrying floral offerings and burning incense sticks before praying in front of the countless Buddha statues which decorate the caves.
Many believe that the sacred caves were discovered by King Setthathirat in the 16th century. The collection of statues was added to each year over centuries as the royal family of Luang Prabang commissioned artists to create new statues for the caves – a practice that only ended in 1975 – which means that each of the statues is completely unique.
I always advise visitors to remember that although they are very welcome to see the religious location, it’s important to respect the fact it is a spiritual place. Travelers should wear suitable attire (as one would when visiting a temple), and as there are steep steps at the caves it would be best to wear shoes or sneakers rather than flip-flops. Anyone is welcome to make offerings here, but touching the statues is not permitted.
The sacred caves are always a spectacular discovery, a beautiful place for a memorable, charming experience. On the way back to Luang Prabang, our local Backyard Travel guides always try to ensure you arrive just in time to catch the sunset on the river, giving the chance to take breathtaking photographs!
Many of Backyard Travel’s Laos tours offer trips to the fabulous Pak Ou Caves, such as our History and Arts of Luang Prabang tour. Or, feel free to design your own tailor-made trip with either Nuek or Hom who will arrange every detail of your holiday in Laos precisely to your personal specifications.