The famous Pak Ou Caves near Luang Prabang are a must see!
There are two caves, Tham Ting and the Tham Theung both of them are natural caves, they can be reached by a steep path which winds up the solid rock.
The photogenic caves are noted for their miniature Buddha sculptures. Thousands of very small (1-2 meters) and mostly damaged wooden Buddhist figures are laid out over the wall shelves. But also emerald, resin and stone Buddha images can be found in the caves. They take many different positions, including meditation, teaching, peace, rain, and reclining (nirvana). The Buddha images have a really great religious importance and are coated with red or black lacquer and sometimes even gold leaf.
Originally the temples were dedicated to the spirits of the river. In the 15th century they were converted into Buddhist temples.
The king of Luang Prabang would visit and perform the washing ceremony at Laos New Year; the Buddha’s were washed in a long, highly decorated wooden vessel in the shape of a dragon (‘naga’). In the upper chamber this can be seen. The last king of Luang Prabang was deposed in 1975, after the communist revolution.
Nowadays, the head of the monks visits the caves at Laos New Year and then people are allowed to add more Buddha images to the caves. This means that the amount of Buddha images increases each year! On the other hand, termites eat a fair share of Buddha images as well every year.
They are not only Lao Buddha, but does also have Thai and Chinese Buddha images.
Before, nobody protected the caves, so it happened that tourists stole some Buddha’s image. Now, the locals protect the caves. Obviously it’s forbidden to take anything out of the caves or to disrespect Buddha in any other way.
Things to do and don’t
Please respect the cave and Buddhism practice by:
Covering your body (long pant and shirt for example)
Not touching or stealing the Buddha’s images
Not writing on the caves walls
Not smoking in the cave
Not being too noisy