3/28 – This morning we had an early breakfast so we would be ready for our tuk-tuk at 8am. We are taking a two hour tourist slow boat up the Mekong River to visit Whiskey Village, and see the Pak Ou Buddha caves. There are seven of us (two young women from Hanoi, a Spanish man from Barcelona, and a couple in the back that we never got to speak to) in the long boat, which is motor driven, so is not really that slow. The morning is overcast and it is actually a little chilly on the water.
We see fishermen and children along the riverside, and deer and water buffalo on the far shore.
We stop for gas at a floating gas dock.
An hour and a half into our ride, the driver stops at a set of rickety steps, and we disembark and climb up to a tin-roofed shack containing a metal drum distillery heated by an open fire.
Whiskey Village produces 100 proof rice whiskey, as well as red and white rice wine. The proprietor offers samples to anyone who wishes to partake. Jim tries some of each, and is drawn to the small bottles containing whiskey-preserved snakes or scorpions – powerful medicine. I remind him that we already have several of these bottle at home, from his previous Asian adventures!
It’s 10 in the morning, too early for me to drink whiskey, so I walk further to see what else the village has to offer. Women sit at their looms, producing bolts of cloth and scarves in either cotton or silk. They each entreat as I pass, in low voices with eyes downcast, “Beautiful for you madam, lucky scarf, cotton for you, silk for you, discount for you.”
As backpackers, we normally have a “no buy” policy, but the morning is chilly and the thought of a shawl around my shoulders leads me to engage with one of the women. She allows me to take her picture, and we negotiate for a light cotton turquoise shawl, which ends up costing about $2.50.
“Lucky for you, madam”, she says, and brushes the money over her other wares, transferring the luck in hope of future sales.
In 20 minutes, we are all back on the boat. I see that my fellow female travelers have each bought a scarf. The men are smiling, so they must have enjoyed the whiskey and wine.
Now we continue our journey north to the Pak Ou caves, where a bamboo bridge and a set of steps brings us to the mouth of a cave filled with small Buddha statues, mostly made of wood, that people have been bringing here for over two hundred years.
The lower cave area is illuminated by natural light from the mouth of the cave.
We emerge and walk up another set of steps to find the upper caves. These are not illuminated, and you need a flashlight to enter. Jim, as always, is prepared, and I am able to capture some pix with my camera’s flash.
Jim would have been happy spending several hours here, but our boat driver has only allotted us 40 minutes, (one of the reasons we try not to take group tours), so we pull ourselves away and hurry back down the steps. Sure enough, he is waiting for us – everyone else is already on the boat.
Our return trip is heading south with the current, so it only takes an hour to get back. The sun is now fully out and the day is hot – don’t need my shawl any more, but am glad that I got to meet the woman who made it. A beautiful day.