SE Asia Days 13-14: Luang Prabang to Tad Kuang Si 

Jan. 7, 2017

Ride map.

We woke up relatively early this morning; we had a date with some waterfalls 30km outside of town today, so we had to pack up all of our stuff. This posed just a bit of problem, because the clothes we washed two nights ago when we arrived were still damp. Humidity. It’s a kick in the hotel-bathroom-sink-laundry pants.

So we decided to wrap up the damp clothes and hope for the best. We left our bags and bikes with Eric, the delightful owner of our guesthouse. Since the ride was only 30k, we decided to take off in the afternoon, and first thing in the morning was a slow boat up the Mekong to the Pak Ou caves.

We thought about getting coffee at the shop right across from the dock, but there were no chocolate croissants there, so…yeah. After a quick jog we were back at the pier on time and ready to get on the boat.

It was really a fleet of small boats with six passengers on each. The boats had what seemed to be minivan-style bucket seats, and they were comfy and roomy.

  
Travelling upriver, we were treated to wonderful greenery on either side of the river (which, by the way, is enormous). Rolling hillsides, small villages, buffalo that somehow ended up on an island in the middle of the river. All of the sights.

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   After an hour or so, we stopped for fifteen minutes at “whiskey village,” a little market aimed solely at tourists on these boats. We tried a few types of locally made rice whiskey, marveled at the “medicine” whiskey (which was infused with snakes, scorpions, and all matter of yuck), and passed judgment on the tourist who threw a small fit about having to pay a quarter to use the restroom. Entitled jerk.

   
    Back in the boats, we made it up to Pak Ou. There were two caves completely full of little Buddha statues. Back when the main Laos religion was a form of nature worship, the caves were thought to house a river spirit. After converting to Buddhism centuries and centuries ago, the caves became part of the royal family’s new year ceremonies. And people still visit the caves to place new Buddha statues.

   
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After exploring the caves, we got back on the boat and headed back to town. As soon as we got to town, we walked to our new favorite noodle soup place for lunch. The proprietor recognized us gave us a big smile for being repeat customers.

Then after lunch we suited up and got back on the bikes to ride out to Tad Kuang Si. It was a beautiful ride; I might even go as far as to say it was the prettiest ride of our trip. Verdant mountains and lovely quaint villages.

   
 It’s true that there was a significant amount of traffic (renting a motorbike or booking a van are the most popular ways to visit the falls), but it came in waves and we had stretches of time to relax and enjoy the road.

The ride had two main climbs, one in the middle and one to get up to the falls, but they weren’t too bad. It was in many ways the perfect type of ride: rolling hills with slightly more up than down every time the hills rolled (can I use the expression like that?) so we were steadily climbing but it felt like we were going as much or more down than up.

I’m not sure that made any sense at all, but if not, the main take away is that it was a pleasant ride. Except for the fact that Dani’s bike was having shifting problems and she was forced to ride up some of those hills in a harder gear than she would have liked.

We made it to the town just before the waterfall and after some confusion stemming from a complete lack of signage, we found our home for the next two nights: Vanvisa at the Falls.

   
 Vanvisa was . . . mixed. The grounds were absolutely beautiful; it sat right on a miniature version of the gorgeous waterfall we came to see. The owner was an adorably gregarious Lao woman who was friendly and charming and cooked traditional Lao family meals for all of the guests every night.

The downsides were that it was by far the most expensive guesthouse of the trip and the room was not wonderful. The whole room was damp and mildewy, there were bloodstains on the sheets, no wifi, dirt and the poop of some small animal (?) falling from the ceiling, and the temperamental shower liked to switch from freezing to scalding without any notice.

We immediately changed to go swimming, but by the time we made it down to the falls there were: (1) a family having a picnic playing loud, bad music and throwing trash into the river, and (2) four small naked Lao boys running around and jumping into the water.

I like swimming though. So I jumped in and swam around for a bit before we headed back to the room.

We had family dinner (which we found out later was also absurdly expensive), and it was decent. There wasn’t a lot of food to go around. Some so so chicken wings, beans with an egg topping, soup, and sticky rice.

After dinner, we went to bed.

Jan. 8, 2017

Today was waterfall day!

We woke up and ate a pretty good breakfast (homemade passion fruit jam!) and then we walked to the waterfall.

Kuang Si is a series of falls over limestone rocks. The water picks up calcium carbonate from the limestone, which gives the water a stunning blue color. The local story of the falls is that a wise old man dug a cave and beckoned the Earth’s water to come forth. When the water started to flow, a golden deer came and took up residence under the falls, giving the water it’s color.  Kuang Si means “deer dig.”

On the walk to the falls we went through a moon bear sanctuary. Moon bears are endangered because Chinese traditional medicine thinks that bear bile gives strength. There were some pretty terrible pictures of bile farms where bears are keep in tiny cages for years and years and harvested for bile every day.

People can be terrible.

Anyway, the falls were beautiful. A series of smaller cascades leading up to the main falls.

         Then we climbed up the top of the falls (a steep, slippery trail) and saw an amazing view of the surrounding area.

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We continued about 3km uphill to the source of the falls and the fabled deer cave. The cave was enormous, and we were the only two people to go in so early. The man gave us a flashlights to help explore. There were beautiful sparkly stalactites and more buddhas sprinkled throughout. We went in bit by bit, but we didn’t make it the whole 100m to the back because I got claustrophobic and begged Dani to leave. I just can’t think of something more terrifying than somehow getting trapped in a cave forever.

  
Then we visited the source of the spring, which conveniently had a restaurant right next to it. The guy running the restaurant had a challenge for me: walk across the river on a log without falling in (I got two tries) and he would buy me a beer. If I fell in, I owed him a beer. I didn’t even WANT a beer, but I couldn’t turn down the challenge. He showed me how it was done and made it look so so easy. I took my turn, and it didn’t go as well.

  
Since I was already in the river, Dani joined me (she was smart enough to have her swimsuit on before she got in though) we swam for a bit. We had the whole place to ourselves and it was lovely. They even had a rope swing into the river that I used again and again and again.

   
 Then other people started showing up (I’m glad we got such an early start!), so we got out of the water, shared a plate of fried rice, and started back down.

We took a wrong turn on the way back and ended up walking to the village and not to the falls. On the way, we heard a loud, close gunshot. Dani squealed, ducked, and covered; I looked around confused. Then I almost got hit in the head by a couple of dead birds falling from the sky. A few seconds later, a smiling Lao man walked out of the woods with a shotgun and picked up his kill. So that happened.

After we got back to town, we relaxed at the hotel for a bit and then went to town where we got barbequed chicken, spicy papaya salad, and some fresh coconut juice.

Then we walked back into the park to sit and gaze at the beautiful waterfalls, which were a deeper shade of aqua in the late afternoon. 

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 Later we ate another family dinner, with salad (with an amazing dressing), soup, and fried noodles. They brought out some offals, too, and we each took a bite expecting meat and Dani almost vomited because of the surprise of chomping into a chalky, gamey organ. Again, our most expensive dinner of the trip, and half as filling and delicious and four times the price of our favorite noodle place back in Luang Prabang. Now we know to always ask the price (and not to eat unidentified meat products)!

Tomorrow we bike back to Luang Prabang for another day before we head off to Thailand!

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