One of the most popular tourist attractions around Luang Prabang, Laos, are the Pak Ou Caves – and for a good reason: You embark on a leisurely boat trip along the meandering Mekong river, visit caves that are hundreds of years old and filled with thousands of buddha statues and enjoy lunch with great river views. It combines what I love about Laos: beautiful nature and interesting sights presented by friendly people!
A tall limestone cliff towers over the Mekong river where it is met by the Ou river. Hundreds of years ago two caves were carved into the limestone and buddha statues were placed there. The lower cave is just a few steps from the river and fairly shallow, with buddha statues of all sizes and materials in different positions lining the walls. The second cave is higher up in the cliff and much larger. You reach it via a steep set of stairs leading up the hill and through a large wooden portal. This cave is more than 50 meters deep and has more buddha statues, including some very large ones set on shelves throughout the cave.
A (big) part of the charm of this day tour is the 2 hour boat ride along the river. Soon after you leave Luang Prabang, the houses fade from view and you see mostly mountains and forrest along the river, with the occasional house, temple or fishermen along the shore. It’s a very peaceful rural scenery and makes for a very relaxing trip. Most tours, private or group, allow for a lunch in the village across from the caves with beautiful views from a handful of restaurants on the banks of the Mekong.
There are plenty of options to visit the caves. I’d avoid the mini-van tour because you are missing out on the boat trip, which contributes to the charm! The cheapest way to go is to go to the wharf or one of the tourist offices and buy a ticket for an early morning departure (8:30am) of one of the bigger boats for as little as 60,000 Kip ($7.50). If you prefer an independent trip, you can charter a boat on your own from any of the boat drivers hanging out around the pier for 250,000-500,000Kip ($30-60) and set your time and itinerary as you please. The price will depend on your boat – the size as well as comfort, from basic wooden benches to old bus seats – as well as on demand and your negotiations. If you want to go first class, you can buy tickets for the Nava Mekong tour for $25/person. It’s a beautiful boat with comfortable seats, including lie-down benches. lunch and friendly service (10:30am, tickets anywhere in town). At the cave you’ll have to pay the entrance fee of 20,000 Kip ($2.50) which is typically not included in the price of the boat ride. Many of the organized tours stop at a village along the way to see weaving or the making of the very strong local schnaps Lao Lao. While latter does not make you blind, it is strong enough to make your head spin, so try at your own risk!