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Indochina Day Ten


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Villa Chitdara at breakfast time

Today we said goodbye to the Villa Chitdara and to Luang Prabang, for now at least (we will be back for one more night on Friday). Lee and our driver, Mr Ha, picked us up after breakfast and we drove north out of the city, following the Mekong River.

Pak Ou Caves

After about 40 minutes driving we arrived at Pak Ou, where we stopped to visit the caves. Lee led us down to the river, past stalls selling the by-now familiar range of rather beautiful fabrics. We boarded a rather rickety small boat from a wobbly pontoon and made the short crossing to the caves on the far side, where we disembarked on an even more rickety bamboo floating jetty!

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Departure jetty

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Crossing the river

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Arrival jetty
~ ours was the boat at the far end!


There were some steep stone steps to climb in order to reach the first or lower cave, known as Tham Ting. Inside it is lined with Buddha statues of all sizes, from tiny to huge, and in a variety of materials - stone, wood, golden and silver metals. Some are gleaming new, but many are old, some very old. Most are damaged in some way – missing a hand perhaps, or with a chip on the face. At least one was completely headless. Many are grouped near the opening of the cave but as my eyes became accustomed to the low light levels I saw more and more, some tucked into crevices way above us in spots I would have thought to be inaccessible.

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In Pak Ou Caves


Lee told us that people used to hide temple Buddhas here for safekeeping during times of conflict, and the custom of placing statues here still continues today even though the threat has passed. But I have also read that the caves are used as a sort of depository for worn or damaged statues when new ones are bought to replace them, rather than throw them out which would be disrespectful. Maybe it started from necessity to preserve the images, as Lee described, but in more peaceful times has evolved more towards the latter practice?

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Looking out from the cave


After we had taken our photos Lee mentioned that we could if we wished climb further, to the upper cave, Tham Theung. But on the basis of his description (fewer statues, dark) we decided not to tackle the 200 or so steps, and instead returned to our boat and back across the Mekong - watched, as we had been throughout, by a young girl, the daughter of the lady who had sold us our tickets on arrival, I believe.

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Ticket seller's daughter

Following the Nam Ou

We continued our drive, now following the Nam Ou (nam means river). We passed a huge dam newly constructed by the Chinese. As with the high-speed railway we had passed on the way to MandaLao yesterday, this has not been popular locally, displacing people from their homes and causing water levels downstream to drop, making fishing harder. Meanwhile upstream of the dam a lot of former farming land is now under water and we even saw the roofs of a temple sticking out of the widened river.

The road was climbing steadily and at a high point we stopped to enjoy the view of the river below us. A striking tree caught my eye; Lee said it was a fig tree and the fruit did look like a fig, but the leaves were very different from fig trees back in Europe.

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Views of the Nam Ou

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Fig (?) tree leaves

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Soon after leaving the viewpoint we passed a motorbike with an unusual passenger - a whole pig, apparently alive!

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On the road near Pak Mong

Pak Mong

We stopped a third time for a short walk to stretch our legs in the small town of Pak Mong. There was river weed laid out to dry on the pavement, and Lee pointed out some of the delicacies for sale in a nearby restaurant - civet cat stew, mole stew (we could see their tiny feet!), frogs ... We decided to wait and have lunch at the end of our journey!

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River weed drying

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The market

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Mushrooms for sale

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In the market

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Bus in Pak Mong

A motorbike parked nearby had another unusual passenger, a live rooster in a wicker basket. Lee explained that the locals use them to hunt. They take them into the forest where their call attracts wild chickens which the rooster's owner can then shoot for dinner.

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Rooster-carrier

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Nong Khiaw

From here it was less than an hour to Nong Khiaw, where we were to spend the night at the Riverside Resort ('resort' being rather a grand word for a relatively simple hotel). We checked in and were shown to our room, the last in a row of 15 no-frills bungalows on stilts overlooking the Nam Ou. Although more basic than the other hotels we had stayed in so far on this trip it was more than adequate, with a large bed draped with a mosquito net and a deck from which to enjoy the view.

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Our bungalow

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View from our deck


But we didn't linger, just dropping off our things before going in search of lunch. Opposite the entrance to the Riverside we found a casual restaurant with similar good views of the river. We had some good sandwiches here and a cold drink.

Our intention was to explore the village after lunch. It straddles the river, its two halves linked by a bridge with the larger half on the far side to where we were. We started with a stroll up the road on 'our' side, passing (but not going into) a temple and taking a few photos as we went.

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Main street, Nong Khiaw

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In Nong Khiaw

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Temple roof with Dok So Fa

We investigated a side turning which claimed to lead to a viewpoint, but when we found that this involved paying a small fee and climbing a large hill we turned back, as we were both feeling the afternoon heat by now.

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Local houses

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Mountains above Nong Khiaw

So we decided to skip exploring the far side of the river and instead have a lazy afternoon back at our bungalow, enjoying the view and catching up on messages, photo sorting and in my case blogging.

Later we watched the sun set over the hills opposite.

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Sunset from our deck

In the evening we had dinner in the resort's restaurant. The service was friendly but rather slow, as only one guy spoke enough English to take orders. The food when it came was tasty (we both tried the Lao classic, Laap) but not served very hot, and we would have enjoyed it more had we not been distracted all evening by the antics of a toddler, clearly the son of one of the kitchen staff, who was allowed to run around the dining room, banging saucepan lids together like cymbals and throwing a tantrum on the rare occasions when someone tried to take them from him! But we couldn't fault the price of our dinner – around £15 for both mains, rice, and four beers.

Posted by ToonSarah 06:24 Archived in Laos Tagged mountains boats food sunset views hotel market village caves river buddhism restaurants roads laos Comments (16)

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