Luang Prabang Caves
Pak Ou Caves: Board a Mekong Riverboat and ship off to the sacred Pak Ou Caves, home to thousands of Buddha images. The riverside cliffs across from the mouth of the Pak Ou River, presents a pair of centuries-old cave temples also known as Tam Ting.
The lower cave, more like a fissure in the cliff face, attracts the most visitors and cameras. For centuries, locals have been bringing Buddha statues and placing them inside on the cave to make merit. This massive collection covers the rock shelf inside, and candle lights flicker off the mostly small images. The atmosphere remains one of solitude in spite of the crowds.
The steep 50-metre staircase starting at the base of the lower cave leads you through the forest to the upper cave. To enter the darker, more temple-like cave, you cross the threshold of a carved wooden doorway decorated with ornate metalwork. The cave runs much deeper and houses fewer Buddhas, but locals, and royalty during a bygone era, gather there for Lao New Year, during which they pour water over a sacred Buddha statue.
To visit Pak Ou Caves, you can book your own trip on a public boat at the city pier (08:00) or sign up at a travel agent for the 1.5-hour upstream cruise and view of Mekong River life. Most cruises stop at Ban Xang Hai (Whisky Village) that sells medicinal liquor. It’s also possible to travel most of this distance by road and make a short boat crossing at Pak Ou Village.
The Temple of Sackaline Cave: The countryside around Luang Prabang hides a gem built in 1902 at “Eagle Cave”. Prince Kham Souck Sackaline commissioned the temple at the crevice with an eagle-shaped stone formation inside. During Lao New Year, locals come and build sand stupas at the cave-temple.
Tham Xang: As you approach Tham Xang on the trail from Ban Pell, a rocky outcrop shaped like an elephant (Xang) appears. Stepping inside allows you to examine its “organs”. You can swim in the clear pond and shine your torch on the limestone formations to make them sparkle.
Tham Nang Eanh: Visit this cave known for its beauty and legend of the lovely young woman, Nang Eanh. According to local lore, Nang Eanh was in love with a young man named Thao Kiew. However, Nang Eanh’s father axed their romance, and arranged a marriage to another man. On the wedding day, Nang Eanh locked herself in the cave and refused to come out, and eventually died inside. The cave is located in the Nong Khiaw and Muang Ngoi area, where you can also explore caverns, which served as shelters and administrative headquarters during the Indochina War.
Tham Nok Eng: Enter the deepest cave in Laos, according to the sign at Tham Nok Eng’s entrance, and you can be among the few, who have taken the dive. A steep and slippery 20-minute hike reaches the large entrance, which offers lighting for the cave. Inside, you’ll see stalagmites and stalactites as well as hundreds of swallows. To find the cave, head to Ban Thaly and follow the road until you see a large blue factory on the left. Turn right onto the dirt road, which turns into a bog during the Green Season rains. Halfway there, you’ll see a few small huts and a pond. From here, you can walk to the cave year round in about 20 minutes. Ask for a guide at the huts.