Friday, November 24, 2017

362 Steps

Sign on the street for our boat company

Near Pak Ou Caves at the mouth of the Ou river on the Mekong, there are 2 religious caves containing many Buddha’s. The Tham Ting (lower cave) and the Tham Thung (upper cave) overlook the Mekong River. They are a group of two caves on the west side of the river, about two hours in a slow boat upstream from the centre of Luang Prabang.
Boats moored together

The caves are noted for their miniature Buddha sculptures. Thousand of very small and mostly damaged wooden Buddhists figures are laid out over the wall shelves. They take many different positions, including meditation, teaching, peace, rain, and reclining (nirvana).

Mekong Cows
Another early day to catch a long boat up the river. This time we have paid for a tour boat which is much, much cheaper. We have been told that there will only be 5 -7 people on the boat.

Fishing Boats
Once on the boat we meet Zack and Casper, 2 young men from Australia, who have just graduated from college. They are on an adventure before beginning their "real" lives. Zack has a job already, Casper is going on to Medical school. There is also Malcolm from Belgium, who is our age and traveling alone, as his wife still has to work. In addition there are 2 people of the oriental persuasion, who though we tried, cannot join into the conversation, due to language difficulites.

Dock at Whiskey Village

There is great conversation going up the river. The Australians are invited to couch surf at our house, if the ever make it to the USA. Roland and Monkey Man talk about a “boys holiday” as both have wives who still work.
More Temple Cats

Our boat captain is wizened, gnarled, missing teeth and wears a wide smile. His skin leather from the sun. He can speak some French, remembered from when he was a child and Laos was part of French Indochina and of course. some English. He tries to chat us up because tips are important in this part of the world. Mostly, we only understand his laugh.

Mountains on the river
The caves are a mob scene when we arrive, as they are one of the top things to do in LP. There is a dock for the big boats and another for the small boats. Getting off the boat is always a challenge; this dock is no different. We must pass thru 2 other boats to get to the bamboo dock, which is slowly sinking due to the number of tourists standing on it. Then crossing a 6-foot section of a half round, 10-inch-wide, log/plank, we finally jump on the deep mud of the banks and scamper onto the 12-inch-high steps in front of us. Whew!

Crowds getting on the vessels
Once there and looking up, I remember about the 362 stairs to the top.
Let me tell you something about staircases in SE Asia; none of them are standard. One can find stairs which are the standard rise (7 inches) but mostly it varies, step to step, staircase to staircase. The run of the stairs is no exception either. There are no precise measurements like the Egyptians or Mayans. One cannot take for granted where the next step will be. Also, these staircases are not well taken care of. Traveler beware.

More tiny Buddha's
Up we go. Women selling their wares sit at every landing, giving away to younger children toward the top. Tourists are bending over, panting, holding each other at each landing. An Indian woman and myself speak that we are glad that we are doing this before we are too, too old. I wonder if she knows CPR.

The upper Cave
Tham Ting (upper cave) is protected by an ornate wooden door. The vegetation at the top is dense, so there is not view of the Mekong below. Two crones guarded the doors, with flashlights for rent. Inside the cave is dank and humid. The floor is smooth from years of pilgrim’s feet. The ceiling is about 20 feet high. Surrounding us are shimmering gold Buddha’s of all shapes and sizes. There is no light here except for the tourists’ lanterns and the random flashing of camera's. The cave is not deep, but it is twisty. At the back, a raised stupa sits on a platform, surrounded by even more Buddha’s. It is said that there are more than 2000 statues inside. I believe that number.

A tiny Naga
Back out on the steps, we had father to go for the bottom cave, Tham Thung which is right above water level. More tourists are there, because it wasn’t such a schlep as the higher cave. Fighting the Chinese to enter the second cave, we paused only for a selfie-someone was going to die here, as the Chinese are a pushy bunch and pushy is dangerous in cave 50 feet above the ground.

 Workers make their own place to eat lunch at the cave
The remainder of our voyage along the Mekong, included a stop at Whiskey Village. The Laotians have been making bad, sweet whisky for generations. They attempt to make it better with the addition of a snake or scorpion or bug, pickled inside the bottle. Me, the known drinker in the crowd, declined a taste. Nope. Not gonna do it.

Upper Cave

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