LAOS – Day trip to Pak Ou Caves near Luang Prabang by private boat

The Pak Ou Caves are one of the top destinations for a day trip from Luang Prabang or even in all of Laos. You can go on a group tour, buy a ticket for a boat when it gets full, or go with a private boat. I don’t like to wait so when I arrived by tuk tuk to the “harbor” of Luang Prabang I paid 30 USD for a private transfer up and down the Mekong River to the Pak Ou Caves. Much more flexible and efficient I would say! On the way – of course – a short stop was included at the handicraft village but as I was private I could have skipped it but I did want to buy Lao Lao. Why the Pak Ou Caves are a must do day trip from Luang Prabang I show you now!

How to get to the Pak Ou Caves

The Pak Ou Caves are located about 25 kilometers upstream from Luang Prabang on the shores of the Mekong River. You could take a tuk tuk to the opposite of the river and cross it but much more fun is to go upstream by boat. I did take a tuk tuk from the Luang Say Residence to the “harbor” of Luang Prabang which is simply the shore of the Mekong River. The boats with groups leave early morning and I don’t like early morning so I asked around to get a private boat. It didn’t take long before someone offered me a boat ride which in the end set me back only 30 USD; not bad I think even for Laos standards.

LAOS - Day trip to Pak Ou Caves near Luang Prabang by private boat

The boat ride to the Pak Ou Caves takes about 2 hours and is very scenic as you can watch people fishing, swimming, doing their laundry and much more. As I had a private boat I had the opportunity to ask to slowdown or to go closer to the shore which made it much more pleasant. The boat ride itself is an attraction on its own and should be your way of transport rather than a tuk tuk.

LAOS - Day trip to Pak Ou Caves near Luang Prabang by private boat
LAOS - Day trip to Pak Ou Caves near Luang Prabang by private boat

Pak Ou Caves

The Pak Ou Caves weren’t always dedicated to Buddhism. In the 8th century locals worshipped Phi, which is a river spirit and protector of those who travel the waters. It was centuries later when the royal family of Laos adapted Buddhism. In the 16th century the caves were transformed into a Buddhist pilgrimage site. At the start of the new year many locals will make pilgrimage to the Pak Ou Caves to celebrate the new year and leave a Buddha statue behind. These pilgrimages contributed to the fact that now over 4000 statues are spread over the two caves.  

LAOS - Day trip to Pak Ou Caves near Luang Prabang by private boat

Lower cave

The lower cave, about 15 meter above the river, is called Tham Ting and contains about 2500 Buddha statues. At 60 meters above the river, a 10-minute walk, you can enter the much darker upper cave called Tham Theung.

Upper cave

The upper cave is 54 meters deep and you’ll need a flashlight to see something at the deepest point. The Buddha statues are made of wood, resin or sometimes from earthenware or animal bones.  They are then painted in mainly red and black and covered with gold.

LAOS - Day trip to Pak Ou Caves near Luang Prabang by private boat

The Pak Ou Caves are a very interesting place to visit. It’s a place with centuries of history but, honestly, also a bit of a tourist trap. Not the history or the statues but the entrance fee is quite steep, but for Western standard still low of course. I was told the money goes to the reconstruction of a temple on the opposite of the river. I’ll trust that’s the case. I spend about 90 minutes in total visiting both caves after which I went back to my private boat. The good thing was, that most groups left as I arrived around lunch time!

LAOS - Day trip to Pak Ou Caves near Luang Prabang by private boat

Ban Xang Hai – Wiskey Village

Ban Xang Hai or also called the Whiskey Village is not a destination on its own; at least I would not advise to go there only for the village. Most items, except the liquor, are made in China or Vietnam and not locally produced. It’s however a nice stop if you are on your way to the Pak Ou Caves to stretch your legs and buy some Lao Lao.

Buy Lao Lao

Lao means alcohol and is also the name of the country hence the name Lao Lao. Lao Lao is made from rice on open fire and distilled in earthen jars. It contains about 40% alcohol with sometimes snakes, scorpions or other animals added to the bottle as this is said to be good for health. I walked around the village for a while to see the locals; not to buy China made textiles. At the end, I picked up a bottle of Lao Lao and I continued my journey to the Pak Ou Caves.

LAOS - Day trip to Pak Ou Caves near Luang Prabang by private boat

If you visit Luang Prabang in Laos I highly recommend to make a day trip to the Pak Ou Caves. It doesn’t take up the full day especially if you take the 08:30AM boats with groups. It will leave afternoon time to spend at your hotel pool in Luang Prabang; I recommend to stay at the Luang Say Residence. I advise to take a private boat to be more flexible and see a bit more of the Mekong River life too. The handicraft village is a nice detour but just know you’re not buying local products. I had lots of fun this last day of my Laos trip.

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Did you visit Pak Ou Caves too or do you have questions? Please leave a comment at the bottom of the page. Love to hear from you!

Gallery Pak Ou Caves

Click an image for a full screen gallery of more photos taken during this trip. If you like to use any photo for commercial, private or editorial use please contact first for permission and/or pricing.

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