Friday, October 26 – Day 6 – Today we are off to the Pak ou Caves. But first, we learn about rice farming.
We were told to wear shorts and be ready to get a little muddy “if you wanted to.” My wife decided to be the designated photographer. We arrived at a farm that is set up in one small area to teach the tourists about rice farming. We volunteered to get into the mud and do some planting, thinning and plowing.
Once the seeds are sprinkled on to the wet soil, they are kept very wet. In a short time the plants appear growing in clumps. When they are about six inches tall, they need to be thinned. So in we go and pull them out and replant them individually about six or eight inches apart. Then we wait for a few weeks to pass and the grains appear and turn brown. Then it is time to harvest with a scythe.
We also had the opportunity to plow a small portion of a field with a water buffalo before going inside to thrash the rice. Who wouldn’t want to do that. So in we went, one at a time and gave it a go. We were up to our knees in mud and it was difficult not to fall in. That would be a dirty disaster. The buffalo seems to be used to the tourists who have no farming ability and who make her life just a little more interesting. Her name was Suzan. We pulled a tool behind her that broke up the deep, muddy, soil and also gathered up some of the stems of the rice plant.
We washed off as best we could when we were finished and then went inside to learn more. All the while you are surrounded by the most beautiful landscape you can imagine.
The harvest comes inside and the top of the plants are beaten on a wood structure that is set at about a forty-five degree angle. The grains fall to the floor as you hit the table with the rice plants. Then the seeds have to be separated from the husks. This is done by tossing the seeds into the air and letting the husks blow away.
Then the seeds are beaten in a pot by a very long wooden hammer to remove the hard covering of the rice. That is separated and finally you have some rice to eat. This is a very labor intensive crop. Remember that the next time you start to eat some rice without a thought to where it came from.
We then left the farm and drove down to the boat.
We take a long boat journey up the Mekong. The landscapes are beautiful, with those steep mountains you have seen in Chinese paintings and with everything covered in green forests. There are some small villages along the river, but not many. A small garden along the river is all that tells of their existence.
The river is calm but moving rapidly to the south and we hug the western shore. A few small fishing boats passed us, but it seems that we have the river to our selves today. It is a voyage of two hours perhaps.
The cave was a secret hiding place for the Vietnamese over the centuries as the Chinese would come in occasionally to attack them. It is on the west side of the river and perhaps fifty feet above the river.
The opening is a wide, low, ragged one, almost like a persons mouth. Our long, narrow boat arrives at it’s floating berth and stops gently. The smooth rock face is a light grey with large white splotches looking at us from above.
We had a private lunch on the boat. There was just the three of us, plus our guide and the man and wife who crew the boat. The boat was very clean and tidy with two restrooms. We are still just three in our little group.
The dock we are now walking on is a group of ancient timbers laid over a floating bamboo raft. It moves with every step and appears to be held together with rope. It serves it’s purpose well, even if it looks a bit old and well used. That is what you want to see in a dock, I think.
We climb the stairs up to the mouth of the dark cave and walk carefully into the wide, shallow, opening. It is a quick, short climb. The cave is full of thousands of Buddhas of all ages, shapes and sizes. Some are covered in gold and others are covered in other things. Some are huge and others, minute. Some were put here yesterday and some perhaps a thousand years ago. Our guide placed one here a year ago on one of her trips. You can climb up to the left and walk around the corner to see more. We did not.
Up high in the dark recesses stands a large, slender, gold Buddha, surrounded on several levels of rock by many others of all sizes. How long it has been here is anyone’s guess. It stands in silent watchfulness, it’s hands raised in peace.
A man lives her with his dog and protects these artifacts from vandals and other dangers.
We pay for some candles and light them with hope that they might help make the world a better place and place them on one of the several alters bunched together. It couldn’t hurt I suppose. If nothing else, the money will help to protect these priceless objects from possible destruction by the foolish, who come to places like this and carve their names into the stone.
Look for our pictures on Facebook at my friend’s site. Ray-Andrea Matthews. It’s public.
I have several novels for sale on Amazon. You can get to them from this site. “The Adventures of the Smith Family,” by R. C. Hand is one of several. It is longish, but some of the others ore quick reads.