*** No food in this one.... just drink. If you're interested in the Pak Ou caves, and more waterfalls, read on......
Every guidebook on Luang Prabang mentions, and recommends a visit to the Pak Ou Caves. Located about 25 kilometers from Luang Prabang, the caves are said to have been originally used for worship of the river spirit. When Buddhism was accepted, the use of the caves changed. And over time, the Pak Ou Grottoes have become a repository of approximately 4,000 or so Buddhas. Wow, caves, grottoes, the Mekong...... I'm sold.
The Missus and I, desiring more freedom, decided that instead of taking the usual boat trip up and down the Mekong, we'd hire our own Jumbo, and take the overland route. The relatively new highway made the going pretty quick.
Until we turned off the main road and headed to Ban Pak Ou, the village across the Mekong from the caves. This last 10 kilometers took almost an hour.
It had rained pretty darn hard that morning (subject of a future post), and our trip turned into a mire-fest. Along with the spine smashing dips in the road, our faithful driver "Fong" dealt with some pretty nasty hydoplaning, and there were a few times where I thought we were going to get stuck in the mud. But Fong got us to our destination, and the Missus and I kinda enjoyed the ride. At least I enjoyed it after I managed to straighten out my spine.
In Ban Pak Ou, we hired a boat, which took us across the Mekong. This is the route that the pilgrims take to the caves during Lao New Year. I can only imagine what an ordeal this must've been before the highway. When the entire trip was taken on the dirt road.
The view of the caves while crossing the Mekong is breathtaking.
What did I think? Well, if you are Buddhist, or love Buddhas, you'll love the Pak Ou Caves, there are figures everywhere.
As for me, I found the view out of Tham Ting to be the most photogenic, and enjoyable.
We had a little surprise on the boat ride back across the Mekong.
Looks like we've got a boat "pilot in training". For some reason, the Missus and I were touched seeing the family trade being passed from Father to Son. Though the son may need a bit more training, as he overshot the bamboo landing and Dad, putting his slipper over his hands had to paddle us back to the landing. Fong, the Missus, and I couldn't help but crack up!
After landing, I made sure to shake the young man's hand, and told him "kopchai lai-lai" (thank you very much), which he found quite humorous.
The road had dried up quite a bit on our return trip. And before we hit the little village of Ban Xang Hai, something happened which I think we'll always remember.
As Fong was driving up the dirt road, we noticed a bike approaching going in the opposite direction. Peddling was an older man with a young girls packed on the back. As the bike passed us, Fong picked up on something and said, "aahh, look, look!" At which time the man on the bike whistled, and an elephant came running out of the brush! An honest to goodness elephant. The Missus and I let out yelps of startled joy, and I totally forgot to take a photo. The Missus finally collected Her wits and managed this shot.
Man that elephant was hauling, I'm guessing they were heading home for lunch? They don't call Luang Prabang the "Kingdom of a Million Elephants" for nothin'. This was one of those, "remember the time........" moments for us.
Soon enough it was time for the "tourist" break.
All over the well touristed areas of Luang Prabang you'll see signs like the one to the right. And it is true, a bottle of Lao Lao (Lao whiskey - moonshine, if you will) is cheaper than bottled water. If I recall, a bottle of water ran you 10,000 Kip, Lao-Lao 8,000 Kip.
And the village of Ban Xang Hai is well known for it's Lao-Lao. Actually, the name of the village of under 100 people is "Jar-maker Village", but I guess now they are more in the business of filling those jars instead of making them.
Lao-Lao is big business here, and everything has been set-up for purchase by thirsty tourists.
Plus, when we returned back home, and watched a rerun of No Reservations, this is where that snarky, cranky, loveable lush, Tony Bourdain and his crew had Lao-Lao. If it's good enough for Bourdain......
As the sign says, in goes sticky rice and water, and out comes Lao-Lao. I received a taste of the stuff as it came out of the bamboo tube, nice and hot. It tasted almost like hot sake. Since it is made from rice, I guess that makes perfect sense. And of course, I had to buy a bottle, of which I don't remember the price, probably since I finished the bottle that very evening.
And it tasted nothing like sake....I remember that much.
We returned to Luang Prabang, and Fong drove thru the city and about 15 kilometers South to the village of Ban Aen. Catching a boat at Ban Aen we headed upriver for about 5 minutes to Tat Sae, another popular waterfall.
The scenery was wonderful, but I remember being distracted by the fact that the young man steering the boat had to constantly bail water out of the craft as we headed to the falls.
What really caught the Missus's attention when we arrived were the Elephants.
We bought two stalks of bananas which the elephants went through in less than five minutes.
When you look an elephant in the eye, you can't help but realize that there's some real intelligence there.
The whole experience was ruined when the Missus noticed that the elephants were heavily chained, and we watched one getting whacked with a baseball bat sized piece of wood......
The falls at Tat Sae are not very high, but are beautiful in their own right. There are several levels of limestone falls, which pass around and through the trees and the forest.
There are several large pool areas were folks can swim, and the water is clean, if a bit milky looking from the limestone.
You can walk over, and around the falls on a system of bridges, some of which are a bit precarious, but kinda makes you feel like you're a kid again....
We had done a bit, and the day wasn't over, but we needed to head back to Luang Prabang.
Our driver for the trip was Fong. He had driven the Missus around on the previous day while I had been taking my cooking class. And I think he felt pretty comfortable with us. On the trip up to the Pak Ou Caves he asked if it was all right to pick up his family, who needed to go to the rice fields for harvesting. He really didn't need to ask. And so we met Fong's wife, daughter, son, brother (who's a University student), and Mother, all packed into the back of the Jumbo, it's a great way to get to know folks. And of course there was the inevitable question; "ok, you are American. But what are you really?" If we're ever back in Luang Prabang, we'll make sure to find Fong....
As always, half the fun is getting there (and back)..........