The mighty Mekong River - the «Mother's River» as it is called by Thai and Lao. The river has different names with different meanings. The Chinese call it «Lancang Jiang» meaning «turbulant river». The Vietnamese call it «Cuu Long» meaning «new dragons. The river provides life and prosperity to the people living along its shores. It is an important waterway to landlocked Laos. Many small villages including larger cities as Luang Prabang and Vientiene are situated on the banks of this mighty waterway. It is actually the 12th. longest river in the world, flowing 2.703 miles from the Tibetan Plateau to the Mekong Delta and into the South China Sea. When I was in Laos I did a day trip on the river. My purpose was to visit the famous Pak Ou Cave.
My boat tour startet around 8 o'clock from Luang Prabang on a «slow boat» that was to take us up Mekong to the cave. It was indeed a slow ride, but it gave us plenty of time to just sit back and watch the river and local life along the river banks. The locals were already in their boats, fishing or walking along the river bank.
This was not a guided trip, but a local boat,that made a stop in a village along the way to let people off and wait for someone to get on board. This half an hour gave us just enough time to leave the boat and take a short stroll through the village. I think this was one of the villages on the tourist route. Many "shops" selling pottery and silk did look as if the were designed for tourists. But we were almost alone here. No tourist busses or boats were here at the same time as us. No one tried to sell us anything. They were just being friendly. Smiling and talking to us. Two small children wanted to make conversation with us. They actually knew some english words.
Arriving Pak Ou Cave. Two famous caves cut into the limestone cliff. The mouth of the lower cave is a prominant landmark visible from the Mekong River. The caves are stuffed with as many as 4000 Buddha statues! The upper cave is located about 60 meters above the river. To reach it, we had to climb for 5-6 minutes. It became a sweaty climb! At the enterance there is an alter where offerings are made. Local women sell enterance tickets, flowers and incense. While sitting relaxing I noticed one of these women who collected flowers people had already bought and brought up to the upper cave. She collected them and brought them down to the entrance again. I noticed that she did that so that they could sell them again. Hard to tell how old she was, but this woman had the largest leg muscles I have ever seen! Walking up and down those stairs many times every day for (maybe) years, gave her muscles that would have made Arnold Schwarzenegger envious!
The first use of the caves for religious purposes was at the time when locals worshipped Phi, the spirit of nature. By the 16th century Buddhism had been adopted by the Royal families and the caves received patronage from that time until 1975. Every King would visit as a part of New Year religious celebration. The caves are famous and quite a sight when you enter and see all the Buddhaes in various styles and sizes.
A day on the Mekong River has come to an end. At the time of returning by boat, I did wish I could continue downstream all the way to the Mekong Delta in Vietnam. I do not know how many days that would take, but it is possible to start in northern Thailand and go by boat all the way, except for making stops along the way. I have to check that out and add such a trip to my bucket list.
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