Visiting the Pak Ou Caves and Our First Motorbike Accident

About 25 km north of Luang Prabang lie the Pak Ou Caves, two caves that are full of hundreds and hundreds of Buddha statues.  To visit them, you can take a tuk tuk, a boat, or do what we did and rent a moto for the day.

We knew that the route we were taking was going to be lots of dirt paths and some major roadways with traffic, so we opted for a manual motorbike in hopes it would make for an easier journey.  Off roading on a manual motorbike we’ve never driven before?  Sounds like a great idea, right?

The trip started out a little jerky but once Jojo got the hang of the gear shifting, we were cruising along just fine.  Then we reached the beginning of the dirt road.

Bumpy does not even begin describe this road.  We were flying six inches off the seat as we made our way around hairpin turns and up and down dangerously steep inclines.  While it was admittedly terrifying and painful, it was also absolutely thrilling!  We were alone on the road apart from a few locals whizzing by us (and probably laughing at our pathetic attempt at driving on this road.)

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Jojo in front of some of the beautiful scenery we passed while driving to the Pak Ou Caves
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The glorious dirt road

We came to a particularly precipitous incline and started our ascent in second gear, but we were moving too slow and about half way up the hill, the bike slowed to a halt.  When the bike stopped, Jojo switched to first gear, but he was still holding the throttle all the way open.  The bike tried to fly forward, but our weight pulled it back so that instead of taking us up the hill, the front wheel flew up in the air and threw me backwards onto my back.  Time slowed, and I watched in horror as Jojo and the motorbike stood straight up and began descending toward me.  I saw it before it happened: me breaking Joe’s fall, and Joe breaking the bike’s fall.  It would have been a grisly event if Joe hadn’t thrown his weight forward at the last second, re-grounding the wheels and saving us both from being crushed by the bike.  We made it out with a few scrapes and bruises, but we were thankfully unhurt otherwise.  Not to mention, our tablet that I landed on top of, and our camera that was in my hands during the fall suffered no damage–we seriously lucked out!

The rest of the way was mercifully uneventful.  The roads were still treacherous, but Jojo had gotten more acclimated with the bike after our close call and we enjoyed the beautiful scenery as we passed by.

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Passing by farms with mountains in the distance
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We passed lots of animals on our journey, including this adorable baby cow!
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We passed through some villages on our way
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…and our first elephant spotting!! (We pulled over to let them pass.)

Finally we came to a village across the river from the caves.  We parked our bike and hired a boat to take us across for 26,000kip.

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Looking at the caves from across the river
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Boating across to the caves
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The stairs leading up to the caves

When we got to the other side, we got off the boat and walked up the steps to the first cave.  They call it a cave, but it was less of a cave, and more of an overhang–and as promised, it was crammed with Buddha statues of every style and posture!

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Buddha statues in the lower cave

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After exploring the lower cave, we climbed the stairs up to the upper cave.  It was filled with more Buddha statues and went a little deeper than the lower one.  It wasn’t lit up at all, so we had to use our flashlights to explore its depths and find the rest of the statues.

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Exploring the upper cave

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When we were finished with the caves, we got back on the boat that took us to the village where our bike was parked.  We decided to take Route 13 back to the city rather than the back roads, this time!  We made it back to Luang Prabang in good time, but we were really nervous that we would be held responsible for the significant amount of scratches the bike had acquired during our trip to the caves.  We’d heard a lot of horror stories regarding motorbike rental in Luang Prabang, and feared we might be demanded to fork over hundreds of dollars for the damages.  If they noticed the scratches, they didn’t say anything about it and we were relieved to be off the hook!  We finished the day with another dinner of Lao barbecue, grateful for our day of adventure and minimal injury.

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Breakfast: 85,000kip

Motorbike Rental: 120,000kip

Water: 5,000kip

Parking: 5,000kip

Boat: 26,000kip

Cave Entrance: 40,000kip

Donation: 5,000kip

Gas: 20,000kip

BBQ: 140,000kip

Water: 5,000kip

Accommodation: 80,000kip

Total Spent: 531,000kip ($65.85 USD)

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