Five minutes outside of Luang Prabang the city gave way to rainforest and rural communities. Small farm plots and rice fields were surrounded by mountains and trees and wilderness.
Kuang Si Waterfall
According to one local legend, Kuang Si Falls were formed when a wise old man revealed the waters of the Nam Si by digging deep into the earth. After the waters came to Kuang Si, a beautiful golden deer made its home under a big rock that protruded from the falls. The sound of the water falling on this rock created a enchanting echo that drew people to the waterfall from as far away as China.
Sadly, the rock fell during an earthquake, but the falls drew us here all the way from the USA. The source waters of these falls traverse limestone and bring with it calcium carbonat, causing the waters to be turquoise blue. The lower parts of the falls allow swimming but the upper parts are off limits.
Pak Ou Caves
Driving North of Luang Prabang we passed through several small communities and elephant farms. In these parts elephants are still beasts of burden, just like working horses or buffalo.
The first use of the caves for religious purposes was at the time when the local population worshiped Phi, or the spirits of nature. It is said that the caves are associated with a river spirit. It is believed that the Lao people first entered the river valley in the middle of the eighth century after moving southward from South China. It was not until considerably later that Buddhism first spread into the area from the West. By the 16th century Buddhism had been adopted by the royal families of Laos and the caves received patronage from that time until 1975. Every year the King and the people of Luang Prabang made a pilgrimage to the caves as part of the New Year religious observances.
There were two caves, a lower and an upper. Both are jam backed with Buddha statues large and small. Small children and moms with children line the pathways selling their wares. They also hope to sell captured birds. Releasing these birds supposedly brings good luck. However, we opted not to reinforce the capturing of birds and fuel the demand.
The caves were interesting, but not spectacular. We got there mid day, so it was crowded with visitors. Moving around on the narrow paths proved difficult with so many people.