Slow Boat to Pak Ou Caves & Waterfalls - Night Market in Luang Prabang - Bike Ride Around Town
11.08.2011 - 18.08.2011 94 °F
Aug. 15-17 Helpful Travel Notes:
Take a slow boat to Pak Ou Caves & the waterfalls: any travel or tour booking agent on Th Sisavangvong will be able to coordinate and book this tour for you (see details).
Slow Boat to Pak Ou Caves & Waterfalls – Night Market in Luang Prabang – Bike Ride Around Town
Pom is a friend from Thailand whom we met in town at Icon Klub. He has such a positive outlook and great energy! He picks up Essie and me at Bellevue Bungalows, and we stroll to the backside of town along the Mekong River to arrange for a slow boat to take us upstream to Pak Ou Caves, the waterfalls and some local villages. Because Pom speaks Thai, which is linguistically similar to Lao, we are able to negotiate this private tour. If you don’t speak Lao, simply go to any travel/tour agent on Th Sisavangvong. Any travel agent will be able to book a similar tour for you (see details).
We hike down the steep cliff toward the Mekong River, where our tour guide’s long boat is docked. We negotiate a shoddy bamboo raft to board the narrow, shallow boat. In we step, and we feel the entire boat sway with our weight. Good thing I’ve been on boats since childhood, or may have been slightly intimidated!
The guide starts up the engine, and off we go down the Mighty Mekong River – our pace is languid, yet quick enough to generate a cooling breeze. Ahhh….this is The Life! We cruise, snapping photos of the scenery along the Mekong. Essie & Pom enjoy sticking their hands and feet into the cool water while we putter down the River. The mountains in the distance stand in sharp contrast to the low valley. Their calming, warm presence embraces us and welcomes us to delve deeper into the hidden treasures Laos has to offer in its serene countryside.
After about an hour of river cruising, we dock at a village. Pom affectionately calls this village a “Whiskey Village” because the locals have stalls arranged to sell snake wine and local moonshine. There are also textiles, Hill Tribe silver pieces and jewelry, and handicrafts for sale as we meander down the path in the village. As we set to leave, we hear thundering, melodic music pouring out of the Buddhist wat we passed on the way into the village. We pass the spirit naga at the entrance, ascend the staircase, and see several children dancing and playing on the wat’s large patio. We are eager to find the source of the harmonious music. As we look up into the drum/gong section of the temple (forgive me…I forget the name of this), we see several saffron-clad monks practicing their musical cmnbnbraft. It is divine! I wish I could have chronicled the event via video, but my battery had run dry. I’m happy to say the harmony the monks played is indelibly etched on my memory.
After a good listen, we make our way carefully back down the stairs to our slow boat and pursue the path to Pak Ou Caves, a UNESCO World Heritage site. When we arrive at the entrance to Pak Ou Caves, we gingerly step from a floating dock up to the stone foyer. We glance up into the cave temple to see 1,000s of Buddha statues in every imaginable size, colour and embodiment dotting the makeshift stone “shelves” of the cave. It takes my breath away. The description of Ban Pak Ou Caves says,
“On the eastern bank of the Mekong River opposite the caves of Tam Ting is
Ban Pak Ou. In the past the village wat received royal patronage in exchange for caretaking [of] the caves. The wat is a picturesque example of a village[-]style religious complex which has a temple, dormitory and bell tower. Restoration
of the wat is being undertaken with the assistance of Thai friends.”
The steps and ladders built to navigate the temple are terribly steep! After climbing around to explore and take snaps of the tiny nooks and common areas, Pom & I agree we must see the Upper Caves as well. We carefully navigate our exeunt and begin following the path around the edge of the Lower Caves to the entrance of the Upper Caves and Rest Area of the temple.
Fair Warning: The ascent to the Upper Caves of Pak Ou Caves is grueling, steep and certainly not meant for everyone! There are not fewer than 500 steep, tall steps leading up to the Rest Area and Upper Cave temple. At one point about halfway up, I comment over my shoulder to Pom, “Ha-Ha! Now we know why they needed to build a ‘Rest Area’ for visitors who would come here for relaxation!” The views down into the valley from both the staircase hike and from the top are spectacular, however. They make the arduous hike worthwhile. The sights in the Inner Caves, though, not-so-much. The Lower Caves were of greater interest.
After gathering our breaths and our thoughts (one must take a moment to meditate and contemplate the enormity of this place if she hikes this far up to see it!), we begin our descent back down to the water. We pause to take several snaps of the vistas. Of particular interest and enjoyment is gently touching the hindquarters of vibrant green grasshoppers we encounter along the way. There are all types of colourful, busy insects that grace our descent.
I’ll say this: it’s amazing how much the villagers do to maintain and restore this precious temple. It resides in the thick of the rainforest jungle.
We board our slow boat, and decide to cash in our chips. Between the heat and humidity of the day and the ridiculous hike up to the Upper Caves, we’re pooped. The cruise back to our point of entry takes 1/3 the time of our ride here. Nevertheless, we enjoy a languid, easy-breezy cruise back to Luang Prabang town. Today has been a day of discovery coupled with relaxation. We smile sleepily the whole way home.
Despite our exhaustion, Pom urges me to take a detour through the Night Market en route to Bellevue Bungalows. Of course I oblige – shopping at Night Markets is one of my most favourite features of SE Asia! Stall after stall after stall sells handmade books, clothing, jewelry, silver, wood carvings, handbags, handicrafts, toys, lights, and artwork. We decide to buy a Laotian-style print halter dress and animal-themed cloth book for Essie. I buy a print picturing Siddhartha for my “foreign artwork” collection. For those unaware, in my worldwide travels, I strive to purchase 2 things from every city I visit – locally-produced artwork and a piece or two of jewelry.
Before leaving Luang Prabang, I must do two more things: buy my “locally made” jewelry and book the next leg of our journey. Es and I enjoy a leisurely stroll down Th Sisavangvong, peeking into the shops selling jewelry. One shop catches my eye, so we ease in, hoping to avoid engaging any salespeople. What I enjoy most about this store is the salespersons’ lack of pushiness coupled with their knowledge of each piece’s production/history when asked. I buy two silver rings – one large life-like dragonfly ring with wings that span my third, fourth and pinky fingers, and one small, thumb-ring with a tiny dragonfly. The artisan who cast the rings is there to tell me about how he made them, which adds intrigue and interest for me. I sincerely wish I would have written down the address and contact information for this store because I want to recommend them! The one distinguishing characteristic about it is the store has mostly silver, with many necklaces, and an “eclectic/ethereal” vibe. The displays are artfully done and spaced evenly, so not overwhelming as in other stores. I know, too, the store was on the right-hand side of Th Sisavangvong (facing the Night Market/Post Office), about 1/3-1/2 way down the street.
I highly recommend the tour company, All Lao Service Agency | 13/7 Th Sisavangvong | Luang Prabang, Laos (see details). They booked our flight from Luang Prabang to Chiang Mai. They are professional, courteous, and book all activities, tours, flights, etc. in and around Luang Prabang.
Aug. 15-17 Places/Things to Do:
Take a slow boat to Pak Ou Caves & the waterfalls – any travel or tour booking agent on Th Sisavangvong will be able to coordinate and book this tour for you.
• $10 USD/80,000 kip - Slow boat trip
• $5 USD/40,000 kip – 20,000 kip Entrance fee & donations to restoration projects at [i]Pak Ou Caves
Night Market - At the far West end of the main street, Th Sisavangvong, there is a thriving Night Market where locals peddle their wares every evening. Even if you don’t buy anything, take a stroll through the Market - the experience is not to be missed!
Buy a Handmade Custom Name or Image Stamp - Walk down the main street –[i] Th Sisavangvong – you’ll see the storefronts. The gentleman who carves the stamps owns two storefronts in town. His family sells the stamps out front – they are all kind, hard-working, customer-oriented people. What a unique, cool souvenir from Laos!
• $10 USD/80,000 kip – haggle if you’re not Laotian.
Tour/Travel Agent in Luang Prabang – All Lao Service Agency | 13/7 Th Sisavangvong | Luang Prabang, Laos | email: firstname.lastname@example.org | phone: 071 253522-3 or 020 55 571572