Mekong River Trip to Pak Ou Caves with Banana Boat Laos

The Pak Ou Caves, filled with hundreds of Buddhas of various sizes, mostly small to tiny, is often listed as one of the top sights out of Luang Prabang, Laos. While a trip there makes for a pretty day on the Mekong River, which I highly recommend, the caves are underwhelming.

Arranging the Boat

Arriving in Luang Prabang by plane at 11 a.m. we called Banana Boat Laos to see if we could arrange an afternoon trip to Pak Ou Caves and a sunset return. They were able to arrange it quickly, calling a boat and captain down from the village. I didn’t realize at first that this was a private tour, $50 each including a Lao picnic lunch.

After checking in at the hotel we went down to the Banana Boat office to pay. We had a little extra time before our ride to the dock and walked through the nearby Wat Wisunarat. The small temple has great Buddhas in the back of the temple that have been stored here, rescued from other sites. The collection of Buddhas foreshadowed the caves, though I appreciated the scene in the temple more.

When we arrived back at the office at 12:40 a man who we thought was the boat captain was waiting to take us to the dock. He arranged a tuk tuk for us and drove his motorcycle to the dock where we waited for our boat to arrive from upstream.

Boat Trip

Once the guy had arranged our lunch on the boat and gotten us settled in he disappeared and we were left with the non-English speaking captain for the rest of the afternoon. No difficulties, just not what we were expecting.

The lunch was basic and plentiful with sausage, chicken, sticky rice, banana sticky rice balls, peanuts, spring rolls and fruit. There was also a container with a choice of cold drinks – water, beer and soda.

The river was quiet and lovely for the 2 hour journey up river – blue sky, puffy clouds and the lush green river banks.

Pak Ou Caves 

At the caves’ boat dock most of the boats were just leaving. If you have to see the caves, afternoon is a good time to do it.

Although an important religious site the caves are also popular with tourists. I’m not sure why. Esthetically this is a C sight – dirty caves of not much interest with a bunch of smallish Buddhas inside.

The upper cave is the less interesting of the two – longer climb, darker with fewer Buddhas.

The lower cave has a larger opening with more Buddas and a nice view of the river.

Village Stop

On the way back we stopped at what we thought was a whiskey village but was really a stop to buy the local alcohol with lots of textiles for sale as well. We tasted the “whiskey,” both the amber and clear. The clear one was much stronger with better flavor, tasting something like grappa.

The boat arrived back in Luang Prabang at 5 which is too early for sunset. We’ll have to try that on another evening.

Frankly, the best part of the day was the time spent on the river. Go for the boat trip but don’t expect much from the caves.

October 28, 2018

For links to all the posts in this series see the Laos/Cambodia page.