Pak Wo Cave #18, Laos 1997
The journey from the ancient capital of Luang Prabang to the Pak Wo cave was supposed to take two hours by boat up the Mekong river. But before we had gone very far, the engine quitted and we found ourselves drifting slowly down the Mekon. The boatman jumped into the river and dragged the boat to shore. Sock, my young Laotian guide, runs to a nearby village and charters a speedboat which resembles a race boat with very low profile, just larger.

It is fast—terrifyingly fast. During the dry season the Mekong river is dotted with numerous boulders and there are others hidden close to the surface. The boat fly down the river, its hull slapping the surface of the water as we swerve to avoid the rocks. It feels as if we are flying and although I shout desperately to the driver, "No Rush! No Rush!" he does not take any notice. Though I was confident with swimming, but my custom made camera which is only one in a world...

We arrive at the cave in forty-five minutes, after a journey that normally takes two hours. For the next three days we use this boat to commute to and from Pak Wo. The cave has been considered sacred for 2500 years, an indigenous spirit having been worshiped there long before Buddhism was introduced to the area. It is said that at one time it contained over 8000 figures of Buddha, ranging from those that would fit in the palm of the hand to those that were larger than life, but approximately half the figures were stolen or destroyed during the Vietnam War.

To photograph deep inside the cave, I have to wait for the mid-day sun to be reflected into depths through the front entrance. No wonder my guide, Sok, appeared so relaxed that morning when our boat began to drift away, while I was nervous of missing the morning light.

I position the camera to capture the numerous figures of Buddha in a three-section panorama. I started to expose one section at a time. Every hour a fresh boatload of pilgrims arrives to worship and when they enter during one of my thirty-minute exposures, I have to close the shutter and wait for them to leave. By the time I get to the last section of the deepest and the darkest, the sun has lost its intensity and I end up exposing the film for two hours. The total exposure time for this panorama was approximately four hours.