Amazing Days in Luang Prabang #2

I did a little bit of research for things to do in Luang Prang while I was in Vang Vieng. I wanted to ride elephants, go to the Kuangsi Waterfalls and then just rest a little while embracing the fresh air.

I wanted to ride elephants in Luang Prabang because I heard better stories in Laos where the elephants were treated humanely. Other elephant camps throughout Southeast Asia especially Cambodia is notorious for abusing elephants to make them listen to the trainers. I have heard about protective elephants camps in Laos where they didn’t use hooks and other metal tools to abuse these beautiful creatures. I just wanted to see them up close.

The new friends I made decided to do something  low key on our first day in Luang Prabang. But first we needed to find a place to say. We decided to stay in a guesthouse famous for their capsule rooms. Although the name sounds fancy it’s just a dorm room with 8 beds, 2 showers and 2 bathroom in each big room. It’s pretty cheap for a night which is 25000kip ($3)  a night, but if you are travelling in a group I think just renting one room to share amongst yourselves is better.

One disadvantage of living in a dorm room is you don’t know when your stuff will go missing. The doors are practically open wide for anyone to come in and take your bag. I had my laptop with me so I had to be extra cautious. You can leave your valuables in a safe at the front desk but need to pay 20000 kip ($2.5) extra which in total is same as just renting a room for yourself at a different guest house with you own keys to lock your room.

But one great thing about living in a dorm is:

You can meet new people!

Its a hub where new people come and go by constantly so it’s easier to interact.

So after placing our stuff in the dorm room and saying everyone’s stuff was mine so we just needed to pay 20000 kip extra to use the safe at the front desk, we decided to go to the Kuangsi waterfalls. It was me, the U.S dude, English girl and a French guy. What a mix right? I think it’s really common to meet young adults on backpacking trips especially in Southeast Asia and also maybe the time frame I was travelling which was around August worked to my advantage.

So the four of us rented a tuk-tuk to go to Kuangsi waterfalls. After some bargaining I forget how much we paid in total but I think it was $3 each, round trip, so around $12? We said we’ll give him half now and half later when we were coming back. Because we didn’t know if he’ll still be at the bottom of the waterfall waiting for us…or we would have to spend the night in the wild…hmmm…that took a lot of negotiating because the driver was really persistent in us paying in full upfront.

Okay so to help you budget your trip, for sightseeing trips try not to get caught in tourist packages that make you pay loads. The waterfalls is easy to get to as long as you have some people to help share the transportation cost. So that’s why it’s really good to make new friends, or just ask passing by tourists if they want to share a ride.

For the trip! We had baguettes for breakfast. With chicken, veggies and toasted. Mmmmmm. I also got myself a watermelon shake. Unfortunately the shakes where the night market is (the center) are mostly made out of syrup and they don’t add ice to it 😦 so it wasn’t the fresh fruity shakes I was looking for. But hey its a cheap deal.

One baguette is totally enough for one person. But I know the guys gobbled up two. It is good.

So I wore my swimsuit because I heard you can swim in the lakes and there are trees where you can jump off of like Tarzan. Yey! I just hope it wasn’t going to be rude to do that in the middle of the mountains amongst the locals. There were some signs when we reached the Kuangsi waterfalls saying we shouldn’t walk around with only our swimming costumes on because it was considered disrespectful to the local tourists who were visiting.

Enough with me talking. I bet you’re sick of me already. Here are some photos! It took 2 hours in total to walk up and down the mountain…or more because we lost count half way. It was just too fun jumping into the water. It was off-season so the currents were rapid and the water was muddy from the heavy rain. But that didn’t stop us from jumping in….We couldn’t really swim though because the currents were going to knock us all they way down. We needed to swim frantically to get out before it swept us away and beyond. It was really fun though 🙂

The bears we saw when we go to the falls

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Muddy cascades of waterfalls

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The actual waterfall

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View from the top

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Looks like stairways to heaven

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If it wasn’t for the fence…

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The guy behind me found a baby leech on his leg. ARGHHH I’m trying to launch a full investigation on this leech problem

Just try to walk where the water is actually flowing, leeches live where there are enclosed pools of water

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Jump!!!

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One fun fact! Everything in Laos has to close before midnight. This means even the clubs and bars. It’s the law. While the law is more lenient towards tourists, for the locals it is a must or they need to pay a heavy fine. So if you are the party type just relax a little in Luang Prabang. Go to sleep early or hang out outside on benches late at night with your friends with some pre-bought beer because you ain’t going any where. Although there is a bowling place and a club that opens till 1 or 2am. Apparently they have special permission.

PPS. Some people will try to sell you pot on the streets knowing that you are tourists. DON’T BUY IT. Some times they are undercover police trying to catch you. And some time they are just out to get you with fake pot. Not worth your time and money. Besides if you get caught, it’s the jail for you no questions asked and also can result in a death penalty.

Amazing Days in Luang Prabang #1

As soon as I reached the bus terminal in Luang Prang a cascade of tuk-tuk drivers all swamped us travellers.  They all tried to take our bags and fill their buggies with travellers to leave for the center. Many of the tuk-tuk drivers were affiliated with guesthouses so they also showed us their brochures while trying to coax us to get on their tuk-tuk. Just be prepared! The rates are all the same hovering around $2 USD to get to the center so there is no use trying to bargain down to a good price.

Since I was alone and I wanted to make new friends, I chose a tuk-tuk that seemed to have a lot of foreign backpackers all looking lost like myself and seem to be around my age range. I met some girls from the U.K, a couple from Germany and a guy from the U.S. We were dropped off at the guest house hub right next the center where most of the affordable guesthouses were.

We all huddled in a group as many guesthouse owners started their daily routine of trying to get us to their houses. The group I was in could not decide where they wanted to go and were very picky. All I wanted to do was take a hot shower and just collapse on a bed. I didn’t care if cockroaches decided to feast on me. I just needed sleeeep.

So while the group decided to move down to unknown territory in search of utopia, I searched for a guesthouse where we were dropped off.  A man who looked kind relative to all the others kept persisting that I stay at his guesthouse. I asked him how much. He said $8 a night. I was like hell no. I’m a poor student on a budget…in my head haha.

So I said how about $5? and if i like it tonight I’ll bring more people tomorrow. That seemed to work. He thought about it for a second and said fine. I didn’t know I could be so persuasive. Actually one life skill I have polished  while travelling is my negotiating skills. I should do it more often. But maybe this is one of the fun things about backpacking in Southeast Asia. I wonder if it would be the same trying to bargain in Europe or some place else.

The guy took me through some dark alleys and I was so ready to turn around and start sprinting. I was like great Claudia…what have you gotten yourself into….but thankfully nothing happened. The guesthouse was in a quieter area and the room had a private bathroom and free wifi!!! I love free wifi!!

So I left all my stuff and decided to go to the famous night market of Luang Prabang.

I was so hungry, I went to the night market and started looking around for food. Then I met the girl from U.K and the guy from the U.S from the tuk-tuk! YEY! They told me they also got sick of following the group who couldn’t make up their mind. So they also just found a cheap place on the main guesthouse road.

We ate amazing food for so cheap! The fish was amazing! Please try the fish when you go here. It’s lightly seasoned and just grilled but Mmmmm Delicious! The pork was a little dry but still good nevertheless. The stalls are mostly buffets so you take as much as possible on your plate. You just need to pay by plate. Oh! and don’t forget the beer! Cheap good beer 🙂

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Afterwards, we decided to go look around the night market. There were so many pretty paintings, accessories and my love harlem pants (baggy pants?). The market is largely geared towards international tourists so prices may be high at first but that’s where your well polished bargaining skills come in.

But I was in a bar at Luang Prabang after this night and I felt so bad after reading something at the back of a  menu. There was a paragraph that said while bargaining you may be saving just $1 but this can be three whole meals for the locals. I was like ouch…guilt tripped. I should bargain on reasonable lines.

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Oh! I forgot to note. I feel like Laos is such a safe place especially for female travellers roaming alone. Overall I didn’t feel threatened at all in Southeast Asia. Is it to do with Buddhism?

Luang Prabang!

The journey from Vang Vieng to Luang Prabang took around 6 hours although the agencies estimate 5 hours.

I just went into any travel agency to book a bus ticket. The prices are really similar so there is no need to go in search for the best price.

The views from Vang Vieng to Luang Prabang is amazing. Tons and tons of lush green forests spread out in front of you.

The bus that I got on made one stop half way for bathroom trips. You have to pay for using the bathrooms though. Its great to just go out and stretch your legs and body from the bumpy ride. The bus drivers are so skilled. They don’t slow down at all swerving sharply on the mountainous roads. I felt like my life was on the line some of the times because the roads were very narrow and all you can see is a cliff right next to you. But the driver never slows down! Guess that’s why we arrive on time at Luang Prabang haha. Phew!

Beautiful scenery!

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Vang Vieng Adventure #5

Most of the restaurants in Vang Vieng is very tourist oriented. So many of the food and services made are very Western like. There are a lot of places where you can sit, chill and they have Family Guy and Friends on 24/7. Although I don’t really like hanging out where all the tourists go to, it was so relaxing to sit in, chill, sip my mint shake and watch Friends. I actually caught up with 3 seasons of Friends lol. It was so addictive!!! I was sitting there thinking, okay just this episode. This one and I’m going. And then another would follow right after that episode. And my brain would go through the same process again. Just this one. One more and I’m going…one more…one more…ARGH!!!! So that’s how I ended up spending the whole day watching Friends 😀

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I saw more foreigners than local people. Vang Vieng is notorious for tubing and all the drowning accidents that increase every year. But even though tubing and drinking might not be in your agenda, it is great to go sight seeing, ride a bike to the caves and the blue lagoon. Also for those people who just want to read a book and chill, the town is actually very quiet and relaxing–this of course is during off-season . I cannot say the same for peak-season.

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I happened to wake up really early the third day. I walked along the street my guesthouse was on and saw three restaurants in a row. Guess what? Lots and lots of locals all eating together. They were eating noodle and rice porridge.

Yes!! A chance to try out the noodle place. My one and only motto in a foreign country is to always try food where the locals eat–where a lot and lot of locals eat. I guarantee you the food is going to be amazing!

So this is what I ate for lunch, beef noodles. They call it Pho!!! Same as Vietnam. Possibly because they share a border?

There is a difference though. This Pho had tomatoes in it. There is also a side of mint, greens, and french green beans (okay…put that to the side because I hate the taste) with a side of a sweet soy bean paste looking like thing. The greens are eaten with this sauce and it’s so good! It’s like the Hoisin sauce you eat with Vietnamese Pho but chunkier.

The bottom line is: the Pho was soooo good!!

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Vang Vieng Adventure #4

After what seemed like a very very long time, I heard something.

“Is anybody there? Can anyone hear me?” I shouted at the top of my lungs.

Please can anyone hear me?

I heard voices! Human voices! But they were moving away.

Like Rose from the Titanic, blowing the whistle in the middle of the dark sea I called out to them,

No come back…come back…

Come back!!!!!

Blow the Whistle

2 Laotians came to the rescue. What they saw was:

A terrified girl with tear stains on her face and drenched in sweat. I smiled so brightly when they found me. They laughed so hard. I bet they never thought in a million years they would find someone who had been lost for 2 hours in the cave.

I asked them, where is the exit? exit? out? I want go out!

They pointed to the entrance. Yes, I was pretty far down from the entrance, and I had managed to wander behind some huge boulders. Apparently I was circling behind the huge boulders which I why I couldn’t find my way back.

There is no fixed way to get back to the entrance, so you have to inch yourself around the boulders and jump across rocks.

The two young Laotians were still laughing as I waddled back to the entrance. I slipped. So embarrassing! But thank goodness I wasn’t going to end up as a skeleton in the cave. I slipped again. I could hear them laughing. They stood there and watched me until I was safe in an open clearing. Ahhh, I don’t care if they laughed, they were my guardian angels for all I care.

The entrance!

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The moral of the day:

Rent a head lamp if they tell you to rent it.

Take a guide with you when they tell you to take a guide.

Don’t go into a cave alone

…especially when there is no one

…especially when it’s off-season.

Vang Vieng Adventure #3

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When I arrived at the Blue Lagoon/Tham Phu Kham Cave, I paid for my entrance ticket which was 25000 kip around $3. They didn’t have change for my 50,000 kip so they told me to come back after 2 hours. Bahhh

I told them to remember my face because I will be back. Astalavista baby lol

It was around 11am and there were some local people playing around the blue lagoon. It was very nice and turquoise.

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I parked my bicycle and looked around to see which way the cave was. I saw a young woman and a man behind a small desk at the foot of the staircase leading up into the mountains renting out headlamps. I decided to ignore it and just start climbing.

The lady called me back. She told me I needed a headlamp. I told her I wasn’t thinking of renting it. She said it’s a must. I found out later on that this cave was purely in its natural state. There were no lights, or any infrastructure of any kind. I rented the head lamp for 2000o kip ($2). The lady kept on saying something and it took me a while to realize what she was saying. “Tour guide? Do you need a tour guide? ” Ahhh…for that split second I thought of all the yummy snacks I can buy with that money and hey! I was feeling adventurous anyway so I smiled and said no. I don’t need a tour guide. I can take care of myself.

Nooooo!!! Why did I do that! My guardian angel should have been there to tell me YES YES YES I need a tour guide.

I made my way up to the cave. The climb was steep but wow the landscape was beautiful.

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The cave was pitch dark inside with some light coming from the hole above. There was the reclining Buddha in the middle. There were rocks and endless routes spiraling downwards.

All I had to do was follow the red arrows. This is the first red arrow right at the entrance.

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I felt like Dorothy from the Wizard of Oz. Follow the yellow brick road, follow the yellow brick road. At least Dorothy had a clear yellow brick road in front of her to follow. The red arrows were spread out so far from each other, I would get lost, go back, try to follow the red arrows again. And then this is when it happened.

I kept moving forward. There was nobody in the cave. It was just me and the head lamp. I couldn’t find my red arrow. I looked back. Everything looked the same. I had climbed over some rocks and stones, jumped over some cliffs and crawled under rock bridges. There I was trying to go back to follow my red arrow. Uh-oh. No luck.

Okay keep calm, let’s be calm. Which way did I come from? I tried to follow my way back. I was back in the same spot.

I had no idea where the hell I was. Have you watched the movie The Descent?

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I hate horror movies and I have no idea why I had watched that movie with my friends. It’s a movie about a group of friends who go on an adventure in a cave , and meet Gollum looking like creatures. Spoiler alert! The creatures end up ripping apart everyone. Great ending right? They also scream weird cries…Damn it for watching that movie! Damn my brain for recalling that!

All I could think about were those creatures and I swear I could hear something. Everywhere my head lamp shone, spider were jumping around, no kidding, 1 meter heights. AHHHHHHHHHHHHHH HELLLPPPP

I frantically scuttled around, trying to find the red arrow. Trying to find a way out. Should I keep climbing up? Should I go left? right? Should I go under that rocky bridge? I was back in the same spot again.

I started calling out”Is anybody there? Anybody? Can anyone hear me?” Silence…

These were some photos I took while I was still sane haha

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To be continued…