2010 World Monuments Watch
Deep within the riverbank of the Mekong in northern Lao’s tropical region of Luang Prabang, the shadows of the Tam Ting caves reveal wonders of ancient spiritual and cultural heritage. It was here, during the 15th century, that animistic religions (the belief that spirits existed within not only humans, but within animals, plants, rocks, rivers, even thunder) featuring the water spirit of the Mekong River were peacefully united with Buddhism. Tam Ting has come to represent the national character of Lao—one that exists in a world of peace without conflict. Within the two caves of Tam Ting are stupas, shrines, and carvings of Buddha. Over 4,000 wooden figures of Buddha, many highly ornate, stand within the natural limestone caves, testament to the skill of Lao craftsmen centuries ago. Cast against the jagged mouth of the caves and the lush vegetation surrounding the site, the ancient works illustrate the relationship between man and nature. The works that endure today remain important symbols to the people of Lao and the Luang Prabang region. Vandalism and theft of these sculptures severely threaten Tam Ting. Further, increased tourism jeopardizes the rural sanctity of the site and endangers the caves themselves, where insufficient walkways and barriers inadequately shepherd visitors through the site.