Tham Pak Ou

Pak Ou Caves - Tham Ting - Tham Phum

Useful Information

Tham Pak Ou. Public Domain.
Location: 32 km north of Luang Prabang, Mekong River west bank. Two hour boat trip upstream from Luang Prabang.
Fee: Adults KIP 500. [1997]
Classification: SpeleologyKarst cave
Light: electric.
Dimension: Tham Phum: L=54m.
Guided tours:  
As far as we know this information was accurate when it was published (see years in brackets), but may have changed since then.
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14th century converted to Buddhism.
17th century start of pilgrimages by the Kings of Lane Xang every year at the Lao new year day.
1975 end of royal pilgrimages.
1992 a joint Lao-Australian project started conservation of the cave and its contents.
1998 conservation project finished.
2001 and 2002 theft of gold and silver images and statues of Buddha.


Tham Pak Ou. Public Domain.

Tham Pak Ou are two temple caves, located at the foot of a 300m high vertical limestone cliff, at the riverbank of Mekong River west bank. The easiest access to the caves is by boat, which land right in front of the caves. Stairs lead up into the cave temple which houses more than 4,000 gold-plated sculptures of Buddha. Most of the statues are wooden, some copper and stone.

This cave was a sacred site for local animist tribes for centuries, until the country converted to Buddhism during the 14th century. The cave became famous in the 17th century, when the Kings of Lane Xang started to make pilgrimages here. At this time the cave already contained thousands of Buddha statues. Legends talk about some 37,000 Buddhas statues. Most of the sculptures date from the 18th and 19th century.

Tham Ting is the lower cave, 60m above the river, and easily visible from the landing boats. A statue of a hermit, associated with forest medicine, is located at the lower entry platform. There is an altar for offerings of flowers, incense and candles inside the cave. At the highest platform stands a large stupa-like structure. The 2,500 Buddha statues are standing at an platform, facing the open mouth of the cave, which echoes with the sounds of swallows that live inside the cave.

The upper cave, called Tham Phum or Tham Prakachay, is reached by a long flight of stairs. It is located 60m above the river. Smaller in size it is less impressive, but has a surreal touch. It is entered through a teak gate, a carved wooden frieze, made to support two massive wooden doors. The statue of a Buddha disciple sits at the door, and to the left is a carved wooden water channel and a miniature house for ceremonial washings of the Buddha sculptures. This cave houses 1,500 Buddha sculptures, between 10cm and 1.50m high.