Set in high limestone cliffs above the Mekong River, at the point where it meets the Nam Ou River from northern Laos, are two sacred caves filled with thousands of Buddha statues dating from the 16th century. The lower cave, Tham Thing, is accessible from the river by a stairway, and has enough daylight to allow you to find your way around. The stairway continues to the upper cave, Tham Phum, for which you need a flashlight. The admission charge of 20,000
kip includes a flashlight and a guide.
The town of Pak Ou, across the river from the caves and accessible by ferry, has several passable restaurants.
Luang Prabang, Laos
Apr 17, 2013
In late February 2013, my spouse and I booked a full-day tour to the Pak Ou Caves, including a boat ride on the Mekong River and a visit to Kuang Si Waterfall and Kuang Si Bear Sanctuary at a cost of $145 per person. We booked the tour through our hotel, the Hotel de la Paix, a few days before leaving home. Our guide and driver (Bee and Sit, respectively) picked us up at 9:00 am; we drove to the riverbank to board our longtail boat. The boat had comfortable
seats, and was mostly covered, so we did not need to sit in the direct sun. It was possible to walk around a bit, and move from one side of the boat to the other if we saw something interesting. There was a “head” (toilet) on the boat, but its design indicated that it should be used in emergency circumstances only. It was actually quite chilly on the boat ride, which we did not expect in late February. It was a 2-hour ride up the river to Pak Ou Caves, followed by a 1-hour ride back down the river to Luang Prabang. The boat trip was interesting, passing a few villages and many farms on the riverbanks. But three hours was more than enough time to see what we wanted to see. (We realize from this short trip that a more extensive overnight multi-day cruise on a river like the Mekong is NOT in our future plans; there is too much repetition and not enough action for us.) Pak Ou Caves are actually two caves: Tham Ting (lower cave) and Tham Theum (upper cave). (Pak Ou means “mouth of the river”.) The lower cave, while it involves climbing a lot of steps, can be done relatively easily from where your boat docks. Visiting the upper cave is more strenuous and involves climbing steps in the full sunlight. The upper cave is completely in darkness. Local woman outside the upper cave provide flashlights/torches for you to use. (There is a restroom along the way, but no one was selling drinks near the caves that we could see.) After visiting Pak Ou, we crossed the river in our boat to a floating restaurant called Namthip to eat lunch. There are two additional restaurants nearby on land, but they necessitate a short walk/climb across land to reach. The floating restaurant was clean, as were the restrooms. The food was good, but much too plentiful! We received soup, followed by a salad and various hot entrees, then fruit for dessert; it was much too food for just two people. Bottled water was included, but not any other drinks. It seemed like either the restaurant itself of the village of Pak Ou runs a sort of water taxi (in a tiny power boat) to cross between the two sides of the river. The Pak Ou Caves do not fall into the “not to be missed” category, in our opinion. If we had not taken this trip, we would have missed seeing a little of the life along the Mekong, but we did not need to make a whole day of it.