Villages, Laos

Luang Prabang is surrounded by villages along the shores of the Mekong and Nam Ou rivers. The best way to experience them is on a wooden slow boat. Reserve time for visiting Kuang Si Falls, a masterpiece of nature.

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1 Main Cascade of Kuang Si Falls near Luang Prabang, Laos

About 18 miles from Luang Prabang is one of the most beautiful waterfalls I have ever seen. It is called the Kuang Si Falls. This main cascade tumbles 200 feet across multiple tiers before landing in a pool of cold, turquoise water. It then flows downstream into a series of additional falls. This masterpiece of nature should not be missed.

Kuang Si Waterfall, Luang Prabang, Laos
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2 Downstream Falls and Pools at Kuang Si Falls near Luang Prabang, Laos

The initial 200 foot drop of the Kuang Si Falls is spectacular. However, the subsequent falls and pools that form downstream are very unique and beautiful. The tan, rust and cream colored ledges are limestone deposits called travertine. The aqua blue pools are cold yet an ideal swimming hole for a hot afternoon in Laos.

Kuang Si Waterfall, Luang Prabang, Laos
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3 Slow Boats at Pak Ou Caves Entrance in Ban Pak Ou, Laos

You can tell how popular the Pak Ou Caves are judging from how many slow boats are tethered together at its entrance. The locals call this holy place Tam Ting, which means “cave of the thousands of Buddhas.” This is exactly what you will see inside after walking up the long, narrow and sometimes challenging staircase.

Pak Ou Caves, Pak Ou, Laos
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4 Tham Ting Opening of Pak Ou Caves in Ban Pak Ou, Laos

Nature carved the Pak Ou Caves inside a limestone cliff called Pha Hen at the water’s edge of two rivers: the Mekong and the Nam Ou. This is the opening of the lower cave called Tham Ting. Inside its dark crevices are thousands of Buddha statues that have been donated by local villagers. If you are adventurous, you can also walk up the steep staircase to the second cave called Tham Theung. However, it is a tough climb and very dark once you arrive.

Pak Ou Caves, Pak Ou, Laos
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5 Silhouettes of Buddhist Statues at Pak Ou Caves in Ban Pak Ou, Laos

Inside the Pak Ou Caves in Laos are three thousand Buddha statues in every conceivable size, shape and condition. There are so many that it is difficult to focus on them. And it is so dark that it is also difficult to focus your camera. But I was excited to see these statues silhouetted against the caves’ opening that looks out over the Mekong River.

Pak Ou Caves, Pak Ou, Laos
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6 Pha Aan Limestone Formation in Ban Pak Ou, Laos

This gorgeous, double peaked limestone formation called Pha Aan stands majestically at the confluence of the Nam Ou and Mekong Rivers. Below it is the village of Ban Pak Ou. If you look closely, you will see a herd of Asian elephants walking along the beach.

Wat Pak Ou, Pak Ou, Laos
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7 Man Leading Female Asian Elephant in Ban Pak Ou, Laos

In the village of Ban Pak Ou is the Nam Ou Elephant Farm. Their mission includes the conservation, welfare and rehabilitation of Asian elephants. They currently manage a herd of 11 females and two babies. As you can see, they also offer tourists a fun and exciting one hour ride.

Wat Pak Ou, Pak Ou, Laos
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8 Thatched Canoe on Mekong River Shore in Ban Pak Ou, Laos

When you take a short boat cruise along the Mekong River in Laos, you will notice the absence of docks. That’s because the water level rises and falls so dramatically that docks are not practical. Instead, boats are pulled onto shore or tethered against other watercraft. You will also see the extensive use of thatched canopies for canoes and roofs on homes.

Wat Pak Ou, Pak Ou, Laos
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9 Rice Whiskey Distillery in Ban Xang Hai in Laos

Ban Xang Hai would just be another dusty village along the Mekong River if it were not famous for distilling Laotian whiskey called Lao Lao. Notice the wicker basket on top of the tank. It contains dried sticky rice. Water is poured into it and boiled for two hours by the roaring fire in the pit below. The laow (alcohol) then drains down the pipe and is filtered through a cloth before entering the clay pot. From there it is bottled and sold in a stand a few feet away.

Ban Xang Hai, Laos
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10 Snake in Rice Whiskey Bottle in Ban Xang Hai in Laos

If you watch the whiskey distilling process used by the villagers at Ban Xang Hai in Laos, you immediately question their sanitation standards. But when you look closely at the bottles of rice whiskey called Lao Lao, they often contain a dead centipede, cockroach, scorpion or snake. The dead wildlife is supposed to improve the taste and a man’s virility. I passed on the opportunity to take a sip.

Ban Xang Hai, Laos
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11 Colorful Woven Textiles on Display in Ban Xang Hai in Laos

Laotians are gifted at weaving silk scarfs, shawls, tablecloths, table runners, throws and blankets that are incredibly soft, intricate and colorful. They are then rightfully proud when they display these gorgeous textiles to passing tourists in night markets or in small villages such as Ban Xang Hai. Some of the fabrics are also imported from Vietnam and China.

Ban Xang Hai, Laos
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12 Old TV Inside Villager’s House in Ban Xang Hai in Laos

Laos is one of the poorest countries in Southeast Asia with a per capita income of less than $3,000 a year. So they live a very simple life with few processions as evidenced by this very old television inside a villager’s house in Ban Xang Hai. Yet they are also very happy, gracious and generous people that are extremely family-oriented. It just proves that the quality of life is not defined by the stuff that you have.

Ban Xang Hai, Laos
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13 Colorful Lao Buddhism Temple in Ban Xang Hai in Laos

Tourists cruising on the Mekong River are often dropped off at Ban Xang Hai in Laos because it is the Whiskey Village. But it only takes 15 minutes to see the distilleries and walk by a few merchants on a dusty path while marveling at their simple lives. And then, shining brightly in the center of this impoverished community is this elegant and colorful Lao Buddhism temple. It speaks volumes about the villagers’ priorities and how they are devoted to the Theravada tradition of Buddhism.

Ban Xang Hai, Laos
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14 Profile of Very Old Monk in Ban Xang Hai in Laos

When I gestured to this elder monk whether I could take his photo, he stood there calmly without a word or emotion. I was mesmerized by his inner peace and the wisdom etched on his face. He clearly had reached the Fourth Path of a Buddhist monk called Arhat which, among many other things, is characterized by a constant feeling of good will for all beings.

Ban Xang Hai, Laos
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15 Water Buffalo On Dirt Road in Ban Pak Ou, Laos

If a rural Laos village is lucky enough to have a road, it is often covered by dirt and riddled with potholes. You also need to be careful of potential traffic jams with domestic water buffalo. This herd was walking themselves back from the Mekong River towards their farm. The livestock are used for ploughing rice fields, for dairy and meat, and their dung is an excellent fertilizer.

Wat Pak Ou, Pak Ou, Laos
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16 Initial Drop of Kuang Si Falls near Luang Prabang, Laos

When you arrive at Kuang Si Park, which is about a 45 minute drive from Luang Prabang, you walk along a path through a dense tropical forest before arriving at this spectacular sight. A foot bridge provides a closer look at this first tier of the Kuang Si Falls. But this initial drop is only the start. Follow the path as the water cascades across two more tiers and into a series of beautiful pools.

Kuang Si Waterfall, Luang Prabang, Laos
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