Tuesday, August 25, 2015

Luang Prabang, Laos, Part 3: Waterfalls, Bears, Yoga, and & BBQ = Perfect Day

Last day in Luang Prabang!

Cliffnotes of the Day:
  • Headed about an hour outside of town by tuk-tuk to Kuang Si Waterfalls; one of the most popular activities to do. I shared a tuk-tuk with a lovely couple from India, who I hung out with at the waterfalls for the day. They were on a brief holiday through SE Asia - and it’s always fun getting to hang out with people outside the backpacker crowd every so often
  • At the base of the Kuang Si waterfalls is a black bear sanctuary called Free the Bears.  This org saves black bears from poaching (black bears are poached because bear bile is thought to be curative in Asia) and has them in these enclosures where the bears can chill and play and basically be adorable.
The Free the Bears organization
Fat lazy bear
Adorable wrestling bears 

I think this one was eating
  •  The waterfalls themselves were nothing short of stunning. I had heard they were gorgeous, but I wasn’t expecting them to be as nearly as breathtaking as they were. The falls run over limestone rocks to form travertine pools, and the limestone has particles that make the water a gorgeous blue-green color (just like Plitvice Lakes, or Pamukkale in Turkey).  The best part is you can hike up and swim in most of the pools - I actually found the waterfalls better than Plitvice Lakes, just because they were not only stunning, but you could swim in them. Not to mention it's consistently 100 degrees and humid and sticky here in Laos, so a refreshing swim is worth a million dollars. SO MUCH BETTER

Kuang Si Waterfalls!

And they had trees you could jump off of
And obvs, I will always make myself available for a waterfall-jumping photo

Getting there early meant very few people around which was SO NEAT. Later on, as we were leaving, the waterfalls were full of people sitting on them

More gorgeous travertine pools

And then you hiked up and reached the tallest waterfall!


There are tons of trails that give you the option to hike up to the top of the largest waterfall. The hike itself is crazy - you hike through pools, walk across slippery rocks, and rock climb

Walking across slippery rocks = death wish
My new friend Shoosh, half of the lovely couple from India, dipping our feet in the pools at the top. One of my fave parts of the pools were they had tons of those tiny fish in them that nibble at your feet and eat the dead skin off.  Like the fish spas you usually have to pay money for, but FREE

Top of the waterfall, looking over the scenery

New friends from India

More views. Like Jurassic Park.
  • After a full day at the waterfalls and saying bye to my new couple friends, I headed back to the hostel and met up with Ellen, a hostel friend - we had decided the day before to head to a 90-minute yoga class we’d heard was offered at the outdoor bar/lounge Utopia that we’d been at the night before. 
Utopia - that's the name of the bar, I'm not using it as a descriptor. But lounge-y seats looking over the river = amazing.  And apparently the yoga class changed locations, so we didn't even do yoga here, but we did have time to sit down and have a fruit shake

Looking over the river while sipping on smoothies - there was a team practicing wooden boat racing (there's a huge festival in a week where they race boats)

So yoga happened to be on the rooftop of a nearby building during sunset. It was so, so beautiful 
Views from yoga. I could not believe this was real life.
  • The next morning, before heading out, I hauled myself up at 5AM with some friends to go experience Tak Bat -  this is the morning ritual for all the monks in Luang Prabang, where they leave their monasteries and walk through the streets as local women, shopkeepers, and family members offer food and alms to them.  It was originally a beautiful tradition meant to highlight the rituals and respect of Buddhism; however it's really been ruined by tourism in the recent years - people get really close to the monks to take photos of them, dress inappropriately, and enterprising businesspeople in the city now sell food you can offer to the monks (which you shouldn't do if you're not a Buddhist), which comes from an unknown source and has been known to make the monks sick before.  We saw a ton of totally not-OK behavior when we were there (which I completely understand not everyone is a nerd like me who researches all this stuff in advance), which makes me really sad.
5:30AM, here come the monks out of their monastery

Locals offering food

The monks walk single file, oldest to youngest - it truly is beautiful watching the process.  Though you can see some of the tourists and how uncomfortably close they get to take photos.  And I did crop out the three Korean girl tourists who were dressed in the tiniest shorts offering food in order to take selfies every 2 seconds. Sometimes tourists are the worst.

Meal of the Day:
Post-yoga, Ellen and I ran into our other hostel friends in the street and all went to dinner at a Laos BBQ spot. Laos BBQ is similar to Korean BBQ or Japanese BBQ - you basically sit at a table and there’s a big hole in the middle. The restaurant then brings a huge stone dish full of hot coals and puts it in the hole, and then a metal cooking apparatus which they pour broth over. Then you cook your own meal (which they provide a delicious red dipping sauce for)!  I love interactive dinners. 

A stone bowl of hot coals on the table

Cooking our delicious meal

Moment of the Day:
As the Kuang Si Waterfalls are an incredibly popular destination, most hostels and tour groups in town offer a shared van shuttle to them at 11:30AM each morning. However, I’d heard if you go by tuk-tuk, you can arrive to the waterfalls earlier than when the masses get in (therefore ensuring some peaceful waterfall time), and then you can stay as long as you want, since the tuk-tuk drivers wait for you and will leave whenever you want. On top of that, if you find some people to share the tuk-tuk with, it can be the same price as the shared van.  Sold. I was sold.

I inquired around our hostel, but nobody seemed to be heading to the waterfalls that day. Undeterred, I headed down to the main street to see if I could spot anyone else heading to the falls. A tuk-tuk driver approached me and said he already had a group of 2 people ready to head to the falls if I wanted to join in. However, they were paying 100,000 kip a person (about $13) - and I’d heard you could get down to 40,000 kip/person in a shared tuk-tuk. 

I told the driver I wanted to pay 40,000 kip - he resisted, saying the other people were paying more and that I couldn’t pay less than them because they would be unhappy. We went back and forth for a second, then I asked “What if I pay 40,000 kip….and we just don’t tell the other people?”  He looked at me, smiled, and then was like, “OK…..but shhhhhh!”  It was the cutest because as he shuttled me to his tuk-tuk and the couple was waiting inside, he kept turning me and grinning and putting his finger to his lips and going “shhhhhh!”, like we had some kind of big shared secret. CUTEST.

Fun Facts of the Day:
  • About 8,160 kip = $1 USD. What is this conversion rate. It is super hard for me because everything has so many zeroes and I can’t quite figure out how much things cost. Luckily, things in Laos are typical SE Asian prices - so you’re hard-pressed to find things that cost more than a couple dollars.
  • "Hello" in Lao = "Sawaidee".  "Thank you" is "Kop Jai"

Luang Prabang was such an incredible place. The beauty was unreal, I met some amazing people, and there were so many incredible things to do.  You know how sometimes you're somewhere so great, and you think to yourself, "I may never see this place or be here ever again."  That happened everywhere I turned in Luang Prabang, and it made me sad, and I honestly hope I'll be back one day (though maybe not staying at the slum hostel this time.....)  <3   

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