Tuesday, September 11, 2012

Tuk Tuk to Pak Ou Caves

Tuesday was another day of gorgeous weather. Autumn has arrived, so it's finally cooling down a bit, and  it is the tail end of the rainy season. I went for a walk, taking pictures as I went of everything in sight... here are just some of the photos...
Everything is so clean, with beautiful tropical gardens.

Food is put out in the sunshine to dry... lime peel and meat (pork or water buffalo??)

Delightful two storey timber guest houses are everywhere - spotless, each with it's own lush garden.

This is the Mekong River. The boats are lined up waiting for tourists - but it was pretty quiet today. Several boat operators offered to take me up river to various villages, so I took note to discuss with Gene later.

The local food markets are pretty much the same as in VN

How gorgeous is this sleeping baby!! ... an afternoon nap on his brother's shoulder ...

At these stalls you select your combination of fruit / vegies and they blend it with milk, yoghurt or ice to make a smoothie for about 80cents. Very refreshing!

I caught up with Gene for lunch and she had lined up a tuk tuk driver to take us to Pak Ou Caves, 25 km north of Luang Prabang.  It was a one hour drive

The good thing about travelling in a tuk tuk is that you can put your feet up. Apart from the dust, the biggest disadvantage is that you can't see out the sides without doubling over, so they're not the best for sight seeing!  Nevertheless, I did bend over to get some shots...

Occasional rice paddies, and glimpses of the Mekong River.

Eventually we arrived at Pak Ou village, tucked into the mountains on the side of the river. It was very clean and unpretensious.

I used this squat toilet, but was very conscious of the height difference between westerners and Laotians... they are mostly about 150cm tall!  It's not easy to manouver when you're all bent over!!!  But it was spotlessly clean, all the same.  When we walked down to the river our driver pointed to the boat and told us it would cost another 10,00 kip to cross the river and 20,000 kip to go into the caves. We had a bit of a stand-off then while I argued that he had agreed to do the trip including the caves for 200,000kip ($25) for two of us. ( That was a generous price compared to the going rate, anyway ). He finally capitulated with good grace and we clambered into a skinny boat to ferry across the river.

The cave entrance is 15m above the water-line and there is a long floating mooring platform for disembarking... just a little bit tricky...

Inside the caves are hundreds of Buddha statues of all sizes, shapes, and conditions. Most of them have been donated by locals, who consider the caves to be a very important spiritual site. At first, the caves were dedicated to the local river gods, but now they're buddhist shrines. Apparently up untill 1975 the king and queen of Laos used to make a pilgrimage here with new statues every year. What's really amazing is that locals of all classes have been coming to the site for over 500 years to worship and pray, which is pretty apparent when you notice that some of the statues are literally crumbling apart. There was no evidence that the site is still being used for worship. It appears to be a tourism cash cow now.
Needless to say, Gene and I didn't linger long. We climbed back down to the mooring platform but there was no sign of our guide!! We stood there for a minute, wondering where he was - our boat was moored down at the end, so we started to walk down there when he and the boat driver popped up off the floor of another boat... they had been taking a nap!

 This is looking back across the river towards the village of Pak Ou

 I bought a couple of silk scarves here, woven in the village. They were about a third of the asking price in the shops in Luang Prabang. 

This is known as a weaving village. There was a huge variety of woven goods on offer.

This very cheerful man demonstrated his musical instruments.

A couple of curiosities... an enormous wasp nest and some very large turkeys!!

This tuk tuk driver knows how to wait in comfort!

We could hear the elephants trumpeting earlier... but it was quite exciting to see them on the road!

Back in Luang Prabang the night markets were getting underway. Again I went out and found dinner for us (at the same place). 

I was talking to Katie on skype and she took this photo of me hooking in to barbq chicken... mmm-mmmm moist and very tasty!

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