ParkOu Cave

Tham Ting is a beautiful natural cave, a mountain cliff, which is located on the Mekong River bank to the west, across from Pak Ou village where the Ou River flows into the Mekong River. The cave is 30 kilometers from Luang Prabang. It is an important and famous tourist site in Luang Prabang and in Laos. Tham Ting is divided into two sections: a lower cave and upper cave. Paved pathways lead up to the lower cave as well as to the upper cave. Both of the caves are wide and there are more than 4,000 sculptures of Buddha, which are made from wood. According to reliable people, this cave was once a residence of an ancient Buddha and then local people made more Buddha statues to honor the customs and beliefs of the locals. From the 18-20th century at New Year, the king and local people poured water on the Buddha statues and we are still doing this activity until now. We don’t know where the name “Tham Ting” came from. But in Khounburom’s book, he mentioned the name came from Khoun Lua’s army. Why? Because he ordered the army downstream to the Nam Ou and MeKhong Rivers to settle at Sop Ou (in the area of Pak Ou village) and Pha Ting. On the other side of the river, in the mid 15th century, Chao Fa Ngum Maharaj had gathered and founded the kingdom of Lan Xang. He moved the army from Khamen, and settled his army at Pak Ou and Pha Ting too. So, “Tham Ting” was the name for a long time just because the army had been settled there. And another is because the cave has lime stone formations inside, local people called the cave “Tham Ting” too (Ting means things that hang down). According to archaeological evidence, they have proved that the upper cave and lower cave were buried by the sea millions of years ago. So, the movement of the water made this mountain both a cave and a mountain. After the sea moved away, there was beautiful scenery and the caves. More than 1000 years later, some ancient tribes settled in the cave. Later they lived both outside and inside and divided into different groups of people who lived in different places. They also used the caves for religious purposes during the time when the ancient people worshipped Phi or the spirits of nature. In Lao history, during the reign of King Chao Fa Ngum was the first use of the caves for religious purposes as well as locals worshipping Phi or the spirits of nature. It is said the caves are associated with the river spirit. It’s believed the ancient people first entered the river valley in the middle of the 14th century. It wasn’t until considerably later that Buddhism spread to the area. By the 15th century Buddhism had been adopted by King Chao Phothisarath, of the Lao Royal family and the caves received their royal patronage from that time on. Every year the king and the people of Luang Prabang made a pilgrimage to the caves as part of New Year religious observances. Artisans were commissioned by the Royal family to prepare sculptures to place inside the cave for worshipers. For the most part they were carved from wood or moulded from a tree resin then coated with red or black lacquer and the covered with gold leaf. More than 3,000 of the Buddha statues in the cave date from between the 18th and 20thcenturies. There were a few Buddha statues made between the 17th and 20th centuries, most of them made from wood, sticklac and a few from copper and stones. The most beautiful carving of the Buddha was discovered in the XVIII and XIX centuries. Furthermore, there are some Buddha statues made from gold leaf and silver leaf, but they were stolen by thieves. The cave is an important part of Lao history and also a place where a new generation can learn about Lao cultural heritage. • Lower Cave The mouth of the lower cave is a prominent landmark, visible from the Mekong River. Paved pathways lead up to this cave as well as to the upper cave, some 60 meters above the river. There are approximately 2,500 sculptures located in the lower cave. A focal point for the visitors is the altar closest to the entry with offerings of flowers, incense and candles. A Ramayana sculpture of the ‘hermit’ associated with forest medicines is immediately above the lower entry platform. A large stupa-like structure surmounts the highest platform. • Upper Cave There are 278 steps to reach the entrance of the upper cave. The cave extends for 50 meters and is 17 meters wide. There is an altar closest to the entry with offerings of flowers, incense and candles too. The first known drawing of Tham Ting is in a report by French Explorer, Francis Garnier or (Grainier)?, which describes the voyage of the exploration of the Mekong River that took place from 1865 to 1867. Beside the entrance there is a small stupa, which according to stories, is the place where Pu Yer & Ya Yer’s bones are (they are the couple who protect this city). In the past, the king always went to the cave for watering the stupa every Lao New Year. The door at the entrance is made of wood and carved in Lao style.