The thousands of miniature wooden Buddhist figures that line the ragged shelves of the Pak Ou Caves are what make this unique destination a highlight for travelers in Luang Prabang. Located at the confluence of the Mekong and Nam Ou rivers, the caves are cut into a limestone cliff and are only accessible by riverboats that wind along the scenic Mekong River and add to the experience.
The caves serve as an influential religious site for Laotians; before it became a popular spot among visitors to Laos, natives went to the caves during Lao New Year in April to ceremonially wash the Buddha statues. This is still done, and many Laotians still come to place their own intricate figurines, often old, chipped or simply replaced in their Luang Prabang home by a newer piece. The statues represent Buddha in various shapes, sizes and positions, including meditation, peace and nirvana, and the collection in the caves has been growing for centuries.
Overlooks from the easy-to-reach lower cave (Tham Ting) and the slightly more challenging upper cave (Tham Theung) provide breathtaking views of both countryside and river that are perfect for snapping photos. Voyaging to the caves is especially suited for the early morning, when the river is calm and the sun is just peeking up.
The caves are located 17 north of Luang Prabang. Slow boats take travelers on a two-hour journey to the caves, where they can enter for a nominal fee (about 20,000 kip). The upper cave can be difficult to access for less mobile travelers, as it is unlit and stationed at the top of dozens of steep stairs.