Set where the Ou River (Nam Ou) meets the Mekong, about 19 miles (30 kilometers) from Luang Prabang, the Pak Ou Caves are one of the most popular sights accessible from the city. A place of worship for over 1,000 years, they are home to thousands of Buddhas left by grateful pilgrims. The lower cave has both more light and more visitors than the upper cave.
There’s a reasonable fee to enter the Pak Ou Caves. While there are cheaper ways to reach the caves, the Mekong River cruise from Luang Prabang is a big part of the attraction of visiting, and that’s how most guests arrive.
Pak Ou Caves tours typically lead with this Mekong River cruise, and some stop at artisan villages, including the whiskey village Ban Xang Hai. A few tours combine the Pak Ou Caves with an Ou River (Nam Ou) cruise, while others pair it with beautiful Kuang Si Falls, on the other side of Luang Prabang. Most Pak Ou Caves tours depart from Luang Prabang, but the destination also features on some multi-day Laos tours.
Things to Know Before You Go
- A must for lovers of history, culture, and river cruising, the Pak Ou Caves are a Luang Prabang favorite for good reason.
- There are simple bathrooms at the caves, usable for a small fee.
- The Pak Ou Caves are a religious site and on the chilly side. Long pants and covered shoulders will improve the experience all around.
- Both upper and lower caves are accessed by steps, which can get slippery during the rainy season.
- If visiting the upper cave, you’ll need a flashlight—bring one (or install an app).
How to Get There
Set where the Mekong River and the Ou River (Nam Ou) meet north of Luang Prabang, the Pak Ou Caves require a boat to access. You can charter a tuk-tuk to Ban Pak Ou (it’s about an hour’s drive) then pay the small fee for a motorized canoe across the river. Alternatively, sign up for the colorful 2-hour river cruise from Luang Prabang: boats leave from a pier near Saffron Café on the peninsula.
When to Get There
The Pak Ou Caves are open to visitors year-round, and the river is navigable both during the rainy season and during the dry season. During the dry season peak, between November and January, the caves can get unpleasantly crowded: chartering a private longtail boat for your group and leaving early may help to beat the crowds.
Artisan Villages of the Mekong
The Mekong River cruise is a major part of the appeal of a Pak Ou Caves tour and, whether you’re chartering a longtail or joining a slightly larger boat, stops at artisan villages can add charm. Popular destinations include Ban Xang Hai, a whiskey-making village, and Ban Xang Khong, where locals make mulberry leaf paper and weave silk.