Hot day, bored couple who wants to do something “travelly” and not hang around our clean, but extremely boring, hostel all day. Time for a waterfall visit.

If you’ve ever been to Luang Prabang, then you’ll know that one of the main tourist attractions seems to be the Kuang Si Falls. And for all those who are intending to go to LP and are doubtful of visiting somewhere that is so often touted by tuk-tuk drivers, don’t be so easily fooled. The first time my family and I visited LP, we avoided heading to the falls for a while because we figured it was the typical tourist trap that you normally see in SE Asia. One pitiful waterfall and a bunch of overpriced stuff. We were SO wrong.

Us at the Falls

Kuang Si Falls are about an hour’s tuk tuk ride away from the centre of Luang Prabang. You can motorbike there, or rent a car, or even use a bicycle, but tuk tuk is the cheapest and easiest option. If you head into the centre of town, there will be swarms of drivers practically begging to take you. We went with two girls from Norway (total strangers) so the price went down to 60,000 Kip there and back. The downside of going with a group/people you’ve never met is you need to agree on what time you want to leave, and you need to make sure the people you go with are on the same page as you. If you’re looking for a 30 minute photo-taking adventure, you’ll be upset if you end up with people who want to spend the whole day there.

Kuang Si Park

Entry to the falls is 20,000 Kip. This also gets you entry to the barely-advertised Bear Conservation Centre, a place that rescues bears from becoming trophy pets or part of strange medicinal practices. And for once in my life, I can see bears in captivity that aren’t showing signs of extreme stress or depression, which warms my heart to now end. The bears here have space, friends, and lots of the right kind of activities to keep them entertained and healthy. You can give donations, or buy a shirt, a bag, a water bottle… you get the picture, to support the centre and allow them to keep rescuing bears.

Moon Bears

 

LP Bears

After cooing over adorable bears, we went along some slippery dirt paths to the falls. There’s many levels to the falls, and they’re all equally impressive. The lower falls have beautiful, milky blue-green water, and the biggest fall that comes down the mountain is seriously impressive in itself. We walked to the top and snapped the obligatory photo between making a very important choice. Climb giant boulders and try to reach the very top of the fall, or go back down the hill to the lower falls and swim. For two lazy people, it wasn’t a hard decision.

Kuang Si Falls

Since we went in the afternoon, the crowds were pretty intense at all of the levels. Most people recommend going earlier in the day to avoid crowds and I would echo that advice – it’s just more relaxing. And many photo opportunities are ruined by two hundred other people milling on the edges of each pool. We found a relatively uncrowded pool, and decided we’d finally take our Nikon AW1 in the water. It’s waterproof to 10M, and we were still extremely paranoid about even splashing it. But it turned out fine!

Falls

 

Be warned, the water is pretty freezing. But it’s nice for a day out and the falls are absolutely gorgeous. This is an especially good outing if you’re finding yourself a little bored with the laid-back town of Luang Prabang, or if you need a break from all the temples – of which we saw a total of zero. If you want to go swimming but milky blue water ain’t your thang, or you want something a bit closer to town, check out the La Pistoche Swimming Pool & Bar.

Waterfalls

 

 

So far in our trip, we’ve done something new in every city. New for me, I mean, because everything is new to Tim. In Bangkok it was ice skating and visiting an abandoned mall. In Chiang Mai it was motorbiking through the mountains. And in Luang Prabang, our new activity was discovering La Pistoche.

La Pistoche

When we were wandering around the city searching for accommodation, I noticed a bunch of little signs stuck to different street poles and light posts. “Swimming pool & bar” they say, with a little arrow pointing in the right direction. I didn’t take too much notice because the biggest thing on my mind was making sure we didn’t pay $100 a night for a hotel or end up sleeping on the streets. But a few days later in the heat, I remembered the signs.

After a quick Google for directions, we set off for La Pistoche, one of the most popular backpacker pools in Luang Prabang. If you can find one of the signs – very prominent around backpacking areas and the night markets – then you just need to follow them faithfully and they will lead you very easily to the pool. If you can’t find a sign, jump on the net and grab directions. The address is Ban Phong Pheng Village, Luang Prabang 06000, Laos.

Tim 

Entry is 20,000 Kip, plus a 50,000 deposit. There’s bicycle and motorbike parking, or tuk tuks waiting outside if you choose to head back that way. Personally, I’d recommend walking or taking a tuk tuk if you plan to drink at the very cool swim-up bar. I rode my bike back to my hostel a little tipsy and it wasn’t a fun (or safe) experience.

Tags

The 50,000 deposit leaves you with a little tag with a number. DO NOT lose this tag, or you lose the 50,000. This arrangement may sound a bit strange, but the deposit is more like a bar tab. Tell the bartender/waiter your number when ordering food and drinks, and they take it off the 50,000. If you don’t spend it all, then you get the rest back. If you spend more, you simply pay the difference when you’re leaving. A great idea for a bar in a swimming pool, and it means not having to worry about money until you’re ready to go home.

Cocktails

The water was beautifully refreshing, and we know that because we got there so late that there was nowhere to sit. I’ve read that all the lounges go pretty early in the day, so if you want a day of lounging and sunbathing, it’s best to try and beat everyone else. If you’re going to spend most of your time in the pool – there are stools at the swim-up bar – then it’s not really an issue.

Swim Up Bar

The bar seemed pretty reasonably priced. During “happy hours” which are from 12 to 5 you can buy two for the price of one cocktails, and they make them pretty strong. Big Lao beers are 15,000 Kip and the food all seemed pretty reasonably priced too.

In another pool, there’s a volleyball net (nobody was playing) and a slide. Being told of a slide, Tim went to try it out and used our awesome underwater camera to document the results. There’s also a little “spa” connected to the big pool with the bar, but don’t expect warmth or bubbles. It’s more like a dipping pool for those who don’t want to get wet.

Pool

The music is good (and loud), the food is fresh, the drinks are cold, the water refreshing and the company interesting, and potentially amusing. I kept trying to go back on our last day, only to remember my bikini was being washed. Boo. I would recommend this to anyone staying in Luang Prabang for a while who just want to chill out in a traveller’s environment. Far from being “touristy”, La Pistoche has a relaxed vibe that makes you want to stay until the sun goes down. A must on a hot day in the little town of LP.

It seems that many things are on the move in Laos lately! My Lonely Planet has once again left me unprepared for what happens at the end of my journey, so when Tim and I got off the boat, climbed up a mountain of dirt and found ourselves at an unknown road, we were stumped for a bit. There were (of course) tuk tuks everywhere, all of them telling us that it was 10 kilometres to town and we NEEDED to pay them all 20,000 Kip each and wait for our tuk tuk to be full so that we could leave. The lovely Tim, however, said “It’s only ten kms. We can walk.”Безопасные SEO эксперименты

It isn’t until we’ve been walking for five minutes and turning back and getting a tuk tuk would leave us scorned, that he decides to tell me 10 kms is the equivalent of his walk to work, to home, and back to work again. GREAT. So we plodded along in the dirt on the way to town, and after a while we passed a marker that said Luang Prabang was only 4 kilometres away. At this point we concluded that either the tuk tuk drivers were lying to us about the distance, or we walked way faster than we ever thought possible.

After about 45 minutes, fifteen tuk tuks crammed full of backpackers passed us, and we assumed it was the last of the people from the boat. We kept plodding along but when a smaller tuk tuk stopped and told us he would take us for 20,000 Kip for both of us, we basically fell into the back and let him take us instead. We were exhausted! And still a fair way out of town, because we came from the back, so I no doubt would’ve gotten us lost if we’d kept walking anyway.

So while I don’t think it actually is 10 kilometres, I wouldn’t recommend trying to walk the whole way into town unless you’ve got hardly any baggage or are really into walking. What I would recommend if trying to save even a little bit of cash is walking for twenty minutes, then getting into a smaller tuk tuk when they inevitably pull over to offer you a ride, and tell them you’ll pay 10,000 Kip each to the night market. They’ll probably offer it to you anyway.

Also, MAKE SURE YOU BOOK AHEAD if you’re going to be in Luang Prabang (or anywhere in SE Asia) during Chinese New Year. Because there is NOWHERE to stay, most guesthouses have little full signs out the front, and you’ll end up going way over budget for accommodation in what is normally a reasonably expensive town. Like we did, but not before we spent an hour and a half walking around town trying to find ourselves a bed.

And now, we get to play the game all over again because we could only book for one night. Joy!

“Getting into Laos will be easy. We go on this stupid little boat to Chiang Khong, then we walk down the hill, take a little canoe across the river and walk up the hill into Laos immigration! Done.”

Those, my friends, are the words of one very cocky traveller. You know, the one who has seen it all before, knows everything and gives other travellers advice on where to go and what to see. That one traveller that you think maybe knows too much, and maybe needs to see someplace new. You know the one? Yeah, that’s right, it’s me.

They’re also the words of one very misinformed and apparently out of date traveller, as I discovered last week. After prepping Tim on an easy and relaxed crossing into Laos from Chiang Khong in the north of Thailand, we had an entirely different experience. Turns out, they moved the border! WHO MOVES A BORDER?? Thai and Laos people, that’s who.

I thought I had the day sorted. We’d go on the stupid 500B minibus from Chiang Mai that makes you want to puke as it speeds round tight bends high in the mountains, and then we’d get some US dollars in Chiang Khong, find a place to stay and cross the border in the morning. Toooooo easy. Except that when we stopped at “Chiang Khong” today, it wasn’t the quiet riverside town I remembered. Instead, it was a large white border crossing in the middle of nowhere. NOT what I expected at all.

Cue a very confused, very cranky Britt arguing with her bus driver about how she wants to go to Chiang Khong, not this weird joint. Yes, Chiang Khong. The town, to cross into Laos. NO this isn’t the place! I want Chiang Khong. Yes, the town. The border. I want to go to Laos! Is this the place? No it’s not! It’s not the same! Oh, it is the place? It’s new? Oh. Okay.

(like a true pig-headed traveller, I didn’t even apologise to the poor guy who looked like he wanted to kill me. I just strolled off and looked confused)

I found out later that the new borders on the Thai and Laos side are only about one month old. So new there’s not even an ATM or clean water. Just toilets and a little Thai lady swapping 1000 Baht for $30 US. Because we were so unprepared we had to borrow some Baht from our new buddy and fellow Aussie Oliver, just so we had enough to pay for our visas on the other side.

So we stamped out of Thailand, paid 20 Baht for the shuttle bus across no man’s land (a five minute bus ride complete with a five minute screening of Iron Man 3) and across the new bridge to the Laos border and finally got into Laos after doing the immigration game. Which is basically filling out a form, throwing it at a guy in a hut with your passport and waiting around to pay the visa fee. And then we paid a 20 Baht “overtime fee” because of course we couldn’t get to the border before 4 pm.

Then, because we somehow ended up without a bus transfer, we took a 20,000 Kip tuk tuk to Huay Xai, the border town that I remembered. Here we finally found an ATM and were able to pay our driver, and go off to find a hostel.

I learnt today that relying completely on a 2012 Lonely Planet (whilst helpful in many other regards) and not checking dates on travel forums can really put a kink in some of the best laid plans. So if you’re headed to Laos from Chiang Mai or Chiang Rai and have done the trip before by canoe across the Mekong, be warned that this is no longer. Apparently a ferry still operates for motorbikes and little trucks but since I have neither of these I haven’t looked too far into it. Be prepared to cross the border, and make sure you have enough Baht or US dollars as there’s no ATM on the Thai side, and no promises of one coming any time soon.

Learn from my mistakes!

So again, I’ve been majorly slacking. I have so many ideas for this blog and what I should post about, and I’ve been forcing myself to explore Brisbane further so that I actually have more to blog about. And yet, I just write everything in my little black book and forget about it.

It probably doesn’t help that I’m working 60 hours this week and am finding it hard to find time to eat, let alone do anything else. Running on about four hours of sleep a night is messing with me a bit, and I need to work out a better routine for myself. I’m still sure that my body will never get used to night shifts and all of the drama that comes from working in an all-female environment, but I’ll be damned if I’m not going to try anyway.

Good news for this week is that I’m going to Cirque du Soleil this weekend to see the Michael Jackson IMMORTAL world tour, and at work I managed to meet some of the techies from the show and they’ve promised to take my friends and I backstage when we go on Sunday. I’ve also just booked flights for Tim and I to leave for Malaysia on the 21st of January, and then on to Thailand that night. So exciting! Our rough plan is going to be Luang Prabang in Laos, then 3 weeks on motorbikes in Vietnam and then back to Penang in Malaysia to visit my family because they should be settled and beginning overseas life by then.

We’ll see how that all pans out in reality, but one thing is for sure, I am going to ride another motorbike and try not to crash this time! I’m extremely excited about time off from my hectic work schedule, and even more excited to be travelling overseas with my partner for the first time. I’m sure he’s even more excited about it as this will be his first time backpacking in Asia, but I wish he’d do a little research of his own and tell me what he wants to do instead of letting me plan anything. But since I know he probably won’t, I’m turning to anyone who still reads this blog and I’m asking: what are some fun things to do in Vietnam that we shouldn’t miss out on? Luang Prabang will be our chance to relax after a few days in Thailand, but apart from what I did with my family when I was last in Vietnam, I must admit I’m at a loss.

So let me know in the comments below if there’s anything we should see, something we should eat, or someplace we should stay!

P.S. Motorbike crash injuries from last time that I pray I don’t experience again!

motorbike injuries

Oh man. Google will be the death of me. I was like “teehee, this is a great title to lead into my post, how catchy and interesting!” and then I Googled ‘wood smuggling Vietnam’ and the results that came up have me worried. Our overnight bus driver really might have been a wood smuggler!

I was going to write about our overnight bus trip and how completely hellish it was, but this is actually waaay more interesting. Plus I’m sure my mother will write a post about it soon and I’ll be able to add a link for you guys to read. Long story short, we booked the night bus from Luang Prabang, Laos to Hanoi, Vietnam. It was such an awful journey, but once we were in Vietnam, we were all waiting for the home stretch so it would all be over. Then we pulled over at some random place, and waited for five minutes. Then, the bus driver started ordering us on, then off, then on, and then off again! These directions were hazy because all he did was yell in Lao/Vietnamese and wave his hands like a madman.
So we all jumped off and then watched, astounded, as they unloaded wood from the bus.

Now, I’m not just talking a couple of planks of wood in the baggage hold under the bus. I’m talking huge, long slabs of wood, of all shapes and sizes, coming out from every imaginable area on the bus. From the luggage area. From under the seats on the bus. From in the FLOOR in the bus. FROM THE ROOF! More »