Cave visit brings Lao folktale to life

|     Patithin Phetmeuangphuan     |

THIS northern town is not that far from Vientiane where I live and always draws me back. I know that each time I go there I will see something different.

Tham Pha Leusi (Hermit’s cave) features in the Twelve Daughters folktale. I am familiar with this tale but had never seen the cave. Now it’s been renamed the Pha Tad Ke Botanical Garden Cave.

Last month I visited this horticultural centre as I wanted to see what the first botanic garden in Laos had to offer. While I was there an assistant told me that Tham Pha Leusi was very close by.

The cave is just two kilometres from the garden’s reception area.

A visit there and back on foot takes about an hour, including a climb up a steep wooded track.

Not many people get to see this cave but it’s interesting and is a good excuse to do another trek. But make sure you wear good shoes and take a bottle of water.

Along the way you will see other small caves but the entrances are all blocked by fallen rocks. From the outside we could only see some broken household items such as pots and bowls, as well as a few Buddha images.

It’s quite likely these caves provided shelter for animal hunters where they could sleep overnight or when it rained.

We also found a cave inhabited by bats with some dead plants outside that they apparently used to climb up to the opening.

Our guide told us that some tour operators bring people here who enjoy rock climbing and we could see several large metal screws inserted in the limestone to give them a foothold.

We could have got to Tham Pha Leusi sooner but it took us almost an hour because we stopped so many times to listen to what our well-informed guide had to say.

The cave looked a bit dark when we first arrived but we could make out a serene Buddha image inside, which was the same size as a human. We turned on the torch lights on our phones to see it more clearly and to read what had been scribbled on the walls, but it was obviously the work of some playful youngsters.

We were lucky to have arrived at 3pm because after a few minutes the sun got lower in the sky and came blazing in through the entrance, illuminating everything in front of us. It was the perfect time to take some selfies and look around because the light brought all the colours to life. Ten minutes later the sun had disappeared.

The cave seemed to be quite big but there was a lot of soil and rocks inside which blocked our way so we couldn’t go very far.

Our guide told us more about the role played by the cave in the folktale. In it lived a hermit, who was there when the son of the youngest of 12 sisters spent the night. The boy, named Phutthasane, was on his way to deliver a letter sent by a giantess to her daughter.

The letter asked the recipient to kill Phutthasane and eat him when he arrived but the hermit read the letter and reworded it while the boy was asleep. The message now asked the giantess’s daughter to take good care of the young man and marry him.

This place will fascinate people who know and enjoy the Twelve Sisters folktale and would like a bit more information while seeing the cave firsthand. – Vientiane Times (ANN)