Luang Prabang recommended

If this town is not on your list yet: put it on there NOW!
It’s friendly, cute, sweet, just homely atmosphere draws in many backpackers, yet it doesn’t feel touristy.

Luang Prabang Unesco World Herritage, Laos

That should say enough. You’ll love this place from the moment you arrive and it will capture an eternal spot in your heart as it did in mine.

– Transportation:
In the city you won’t need more than your two feet to carry you.
To go out of town just take a tuktuk. Renting a bike would be another option.
– Do:
Kuang Si waterfalls: the most beautiful water you’ll ever see! Though the main pool might be crowded, take a hike off the beaten path and find a universe all to yourself in no time. There is no end to the explorings you can do in this huge playground of falls.
It’s a 45 minute tuktukdrive out of the city, which will cost you, and the five others it takes to fill up the ride, just 30.000 kip each. The entrance fee is 20.000 kip. Rounds up to a $5 well spend.
Right before the gate you’ll find a market where you can get your cooled beers and snacks to take up into the park.

Alms giving is another big thing in LPB. I didn’t go to see it; I never pulled an all nighter or got up at 6am.
That’s as early as it happens. Locals line up along the main road with a prepared dish to hand out to the monks that parade with big bowls to collect food for their community.

Big Brother Mouse is a book club, teaching English and inviting foreigners to help in doing so. Class starts at 9am. It’s a great way to give back to your hosts.
To find a volunteering job you could also raid the schools and hostels for adds or just ask around. Plenty of help wanted anywhere and plenty to do!

The Doughnut Factory, in the alley between the nightmarket and Daramarket, likes to show you around in their making of sweet treats in the homelike ‘factory’. At the end of their day they take their goods to Kitsalat Road to have the young ones sell from their little cart.

Go down to the river at the end of Sakkaline Road to swim in the Nam Khan with the local kids and enjoy a beautiful sunset, finding utter inner peace at the beach.
Girls: be sure to wear your sarongs, or be stared at in a not-too-friendly manner. Buddhist culture prescribes women to dress shoulders to knees at all times.
(Wearing just a bikini is accepted at Kuang Si though.)

Climb up to the temples is another I could’ve, would’ve, should’ve, but didn’t. They’re hard to miss, making up the center of town upon Mount Phu Si.

– Eat:
In the late morning, have breakfast on the market where those sweet ladies will make you any kind of sandwich -5.000 to 10.000 kip- and all kinds of delicious shakes -5.000 kip- Be sure to try an oreo- and a lemon-mint shake!

For breaky or an afternoon bagel go to Joma’s Bakery. Good sweets too. More expensive though, as might be expected of this more western orrientated chain, also housing a branch in Vientiane (Laos) and Hanoi (Vietnam).

For dinner, take the first alley on you left, coming from the square where the market starts. Too much choice, all the tastiest food and just for 10.000 kip a plate; unbelievable!
The way you’re put at a table is the best way to meet new friends to spend the rest of your night with – or have a great conversation and then to never meet again.

The Lao Garden has a nice terras. Their prices were a bit of a shocker to a budget traveler like me. But if you like to really go out for dinner it’s a fine place to do so.
They offer a free welcome shot of laolao to all their guests.
And that I got a foodpoisoning after eating there doesn’t mean this was the place I got it.

– Drink:
Utopia was where I spend my nights, as do many of the backpackers that wash up in this town. Their drinks are priced reasonably, their service is great, and the volleyball court gives opportunity to meet and play with some locals.
It’s ran by a friendly Aussie dude who likes to come over and check if his guests are enjoying themselves.

The beach just down the left of Kingkitsarath Road is a good hangout any night. Be a good guest though; don’t disturb the locals, keep it down, and clean up your mess.

Bowling Alley is the one place open after midnight. I haven’t been though and would imagine it to be a bit of a part-party place with lots of drunk folks.
Outside of any bar you’ll find tuktuks more than willing to take you there.

– Sleep:
I wouldn’t send you anywhere else than Spicy Laos Hostel! The friendly family running it, the homely vibe, the cozy balcony, the comfortable hammocks, the roomy dorms; it’s all great! Plus there’s grandma’s stand to fix you up with any meal or drink at any time of day, there’s a good laundry service, a movie room, free wifi and a computer at your disposal.
A night won’t cost you more than 30.000 kip. It’ll be a fanned night, but who wants AC anyway? That’ll just get you a cold.

[Here are a few shots I took when in April 2012]

Kuang Si waterfall captured

Rob made some more amazing photos I just can’t keep from you!

[all credits go to Robert Graham]

Yesterday was the best. Day. Ever!

Day XVIII – April 5

In the early afternoon, as I was slowly recovering, some people opted to go to the falls. Nothing cures a hangover like a cold dive so I tag along. I’m glad I didn’t do that bike thing I was thinking of before; it really is quite far out of the city, no less than 45min at a steady tuktuk speed.
I like to mention that our driver was having a little trouble with his gears, which he fixed by opening up the gearbox, taking a sodabottle with some yellowish fluid and pouring it in – all the while driving.

Kuang Si falls
This water! Wow! I’ve never seen this bright a shade of turquoise.
We went in by climbing up a slippery tree and swinging out from a rope with everyone watching. Hate to admit it, but again I was shaking just the tiniest bit – but it’s that thrill that makes it fun, right.
You grab the rope, take off and float free, until suddenly you hit the water, which is as cold as it is beautiful. It’s nice to be cold every now and then though, remember where you come from and stuff.

The others had already been and know this secret spot, so up we go, crossing a bridge, up a little mountaintrail, crossing a higher basin by walking the legde, followed a wooden walkway, but quickly left it to climb up some wet rocks, covered with some magical moss that, despite the water, gave supersticky grip. We got to the third level and dove in. Not as turquoise up here, less cold and less crowded; sweet! We splash around a bit and discover a cave behind the fall we all fit in. The perfect place to share a first beer, perfect place to declare our new home, perfect place to never want to leave.
But we can go higher. So after we’ve finished the can we go out and up more of those non-slip rocks and get to a fourth level basin and some showers –best ever, undoubtedly!- and we just hang around up there in our own little universe for a while; so nice!

We’re all lost souls on the road.
I was telling of how back home I am the stupid one, always getting myself in trouble, always doing silly things, always getting too drunk and needing my dear friends to be there to guard over me. But, we concluded, out here we’re all that same person.
This came to mind when we were climbing up that impossible rocky road. I thought to myself “Should we really be doing this? We’re never going to get back down.” Something I normally wouldn’t worry about. Don’t think; just do. And out here there’s nobody worrying about it. Means you get to live all these adventures and get a million more adrenaline rushes though.
And I guess this also helps to bond more easily with these people you’re spending only a few days with.

Our driver said he’d meet us again at 5pm. They take a nap in the hammock in the back of their tuktuk while waiting for you, when they take you out to places this far, where you can’t just catch a tuktuk at random.
At 5.30pm we rush down. Not as easy as going up on these rocks, but all goes fast and smooth enough. Once down, a few of the boys have to have one last attempt at a backflip, that only one actually makes. When we get to the parkinglot our tuktuk’s still there.

After showers at the hostel everybody is a bit weary. I leave for dinner with the other three ready to go when I am, and find out only half way there, they intend to go to a restaurant named Lao Garden instead of the market. Well, why not. So I end up eating just some fried rice at 19.000k.
Oh, and I got my first food poisoning today. So yeah, that’s why not.

Later, back to the hostel, we all chill out at the balcony.
At 10pm someone gets up and suggests a game of volleyball. Incredible; you know how hard it is to get going with these big groups, but within 10 minutes everybody is moving. Still it takes half an hour before we’re on our way of course.
So another night at Utopia, where we rotate in playing against a team of locals; good fun! Who won, you ask? No one was keeping score.

Instead of bowling alley, everyone comes along to that beach, where we hang out in some deserted fisherboats, have heavy conversations, music, the laolao Levi [23, USA] and Oli [UK] picked up, pass down a spliff, and Dave and Loes [19, NL] even go in for a midnight dip.

Eventually it gets cold, a strong wind comes up and we go back home. Again, the balcony is hid away behind the safety of the blinds. On the other side lighting begins to strike, right before it start pouring those huge, big, fat drops that splash down with a thump. I cannot resist the urge to dance in it and find a companion in Levi. Together we run down the stairs.
Once soaked through we find a big white tuktuk in the enclosure to hide out in for a while. And suddenly we’re making out. I’ve been feeling myself drawn to him, nothing big, just like being good friends – or, well, more maybe? I don’t know yet how these things should work out here… I just know I find him a really cool guy, with good lips too.
We start making our way back, running from the tuktuk to a shed and after some more kisses back up the balcony and soon enough he leads me to his dorm. I’m a little uncomfortable with other people in the room, so we just cuddle and kiss until we fall asleep to the sound of the drops splashing on the roof, very sweet and soft.

Unfortunately this morning I am woken by my stomach and that poisoning I mentioned before. Well shit!
I have to get out and move, or something. I want nothing more than to lie down and sleep but nothing feels comfortable. I try a mangoshake from grandma and find myself some pillows on the balcony, but that doesn’t make anything better. Levi asks a subtle collective “Who wants to join me out for breakfast?” I’m too embarrassed to explain I couldn’t be any further away from the toilet for the time being, so just sit there quietly…

Over the day most of our group will be leaving for Vang Vieng, and I think I’ll just continue sitting here quietly.

Eventually I do tire of that. So in the afternoon when Lara and Cain and the other 2 new UK’s head out to where the Nam Khan river flows into the Mekong, creating a current that’s fun to swim in, I join them. It’s especially fun with all the local kids splashing around.
Lara warned me where to be careful and pointed out where you HAVE to get to shore, not to be sucked out there and get lost in the mighty Mekong. But I didn’t see well, and went too far that first go. Made it out in time though.
But the second round, when we all went together, we were all sucked down with such violence! I’ve never been this close to drowning! It took a whole minute before I surfaced again. Lucky I didn’t panic, and we all made it out with just a slight fright.

Lara isn’t feeling too great either, so on our way back to Spicy we pick up a snack at the nightmarket and settle in the movieroom for a quiet evening.

Lesson learned: Plan things when you get out here, not from back home; you’ll save money and gain adventure, and locals are always willing to help you out. I’m so sorry to be stuck waiting on that Stray bus.

[Credit for the Kuang Si photos goes to Robert Graham. Thanks my friend!]