The Pak Ou Caves are one of the most popular tourist attractions in the vicinity of Luang Prabang, and an opportunity to explore the area around Luang Prabang, which is largely inaccessible due to the dense forest and lack of roads. The Pak Ou Caves are open every day from 08:00 to 17:00 and admission costs 20,000 kip per person.
About the Pak Ou Caves
The name ‘Pak Ou’ is a reference to the location of the caves. The name ‘Pak’ means mouth in Lao, and the ‘Ou’ is a reference to the name of a river branching off the Mekong River. The Pak Ou Caves consists of two caves: Tham Ting and Tham Theung. Tham Ting is the lower cave and its a few steps up from the boat pier. Tham Theung is the upper caves and you need to climb up lots of steps to reach it. The climb to Tham Theung takes 15 to 20 minutes depending upon how fit you are. Tham Theung is the more impressive of the two caves, and also the lesser visited one because of the steps.
These two caves are believed to have been used as places of worship since the 16th Century. According to local legend the caves were discovered by King Setthathirath. King Setthathirath is an important Laotian hero on account of his stopping an invasion attempt by the Burmese army which had recently taken control of the Kingdom of Lanna (whose capital was Chiang Mai in Thailand).
The Pak Ou Caves feature thousands of statues of the Lord Buddha. Some of the statues date back to the 16th Century, but most were installed in the 18th and 19th Centuries, and some more recently. The wooden statues have not survived particularly well, but the stone and metal statues are in a much better condition. In April every year local people come to the caves to wash the statues which helps explain their excellent condition, and also why many of the wooden statues have partially rotted.
How to get to the Pak Ou Caves
There are two different ways to get to the Pak Ou Caves:
- Boat from Luang Prabang: Boats to the Pak Ou Caves depart from a pier near Saffron Coffee on the riverfront road in Luang Prabang. The riverfront road (called Khem Khong) is the road which goes past the famous Wat Xieng Thong. Shared boat services normally depart at 08:30 day and the return trip costs 75,000 kip. The journey takes 2 hours going and about 1 hour coming back, normally with a stop at Lao Lao Village, so named as the village makes Lao (rice whiskey).
- Tuk-tuk and local ferry: For a quicker journey take a tuk-tuk to Ban Pak Ou, which is a small village opposite the Pak Ou Caves. There is a pier here from which ferries across the river to the caves depart frequently. Expect to pay around 200,000 kip for the return journey in a tuk-tuk from Luang Prabang and 10,000 kip to cross the river.
Location of the Pak Ou Caves
The closest boat pier to the Pak Ou Caves is 28.7 km by road from Luang Prabang.