Another of the more popular day excursions out of Luang Prabang is a river cruise to the Pak Ou Cave of 1,000 Buddha’s. This trip typically includes lunch at a river front restaurant near the Cave and stops at several crafts villages on the way back to town.
While only 15 miles, the trip to the Cave is upstream against the current in the Mekong River and takes more than an hour on the boat. Coming back with the current and with the trip broken up by visits to the villages, the return doesn’t seem to take as long.
Typically travelers begin the trip with a walk down the steps to the pier in the Old Town area of the river front and board a boat (larger than the long-tail boats). Any travel agent or hotel can arrange this trip for you but you can also go on your own by just walking down to the boats and booking passage there. With 5 of us going together and sharing the expense, we were able to go with our guide for not too much more money than it would have taken to go on our own without a guide and enjoy the benefit of his knowledge.
By this point in the trip, we had spent enough time around our guide for him to be very open with us as shown in this video. Before he was a guide, he had worked in the kitchen of the Tamarind Restaurant in Luang Prabang and in this video, he is explaining the use of a secret ingredient in the preparation of water buffalo larb.
Once we arrived at the Cave, we climbed steps into the main room. As we anticipated, there are hundreds and perhaps even the 1,000 images of Buddha as advertised left by pilgrims visiting the site in virtually every nook, cranny and rock shelf available. It is possible to climb even further up into the caves where more images have been left.
Once we completed our visit to the caves, we returned to our boat and crossed to the other side of the river where we joined other groups of travelers at a large open air restaurant for lunch. The food was decent but about of the quality you might expect at a tourist attraction. However the view from high atop a hill overlooking the Mekong was worth the climb up.
After lunch we returned to the boat and headed back in the direction of Luang Prabang making our next stop at the village of Ban Xang Hai, where local villagers distill rice into Lao-Lao, the local white liquor. While some of it is bottled in its pure form, many of the bottles on display for sale also included snake, scorpion or some other creature. Each additive is supposed to provide some medicinal values for different ailments. Most are promoted as providing some form of additional “strength” for men. We did sample a little of a bottle with no added creatures and found it something akin to what we imagine is as close to drinking kerosene as we ever want to be. We actually did buy a small bottle but to this day, haven’t had the conviction to open it.
As we left the whisky making area, we walked through the village and eventually came to a area where many of the houses have small weaving workshops and store fronts selling the silk weavings that are made there. In a few, we watched young women weaving at a loom. This village is the type of places where many of the ladies you will see selling textiles in the Luang Prabang Night Market live and work during the day.
From there we were back to the boat for a short ride to Ban Phanom, another crafts village famous not only for weaving but also for making the thick paper from mulberry trees fibers. We noticed one shop in particular where the silk was being woven in the traditional Ikat pattern. While this pattern is very old, it actually has a very modern appearance.
Once we reached Ban Phanom, we were only about 2 km from Luang Prabang so we grabbed a couple tuk-tuks for our return to the hotel.
Click here to see a video that includes much of what is described on this page.