Which way do you think we should go?
I looked over at Angie, looked back at the path and realised I had no idea where we were...the sound of raging water was my only guide...
Welcome to Luang Prabang, Laos Mini City; full of market places, crazy accessories, incredible food and some of the most impressive cascading waterfalls my eyes bared witness to.
Arriving in town at 4 am, I asked around to see if anyone had any idea where they were going to stay. Blank looks came across everyone's faces as no one had booked ahead. We assumed that our bus would arrive in town at around 6 am with some sunlight out. No one expected to be early! It was unheard of.
Travelling does a funny thing to you, it instils this sense of belief that everything will work out, no matter how strange the situation.
I had no doubts we would find a place to stay, so I hopped on maps.me, had a quick gander and just picked a direction that showed a few home-stays. As we ventured down the road, I noticed a trail of backpackers following behind me. They must have assumed I knew where I was going.
Out of no where, I was asked, "You need place for stay? Come come, I take you to guesthouse."
A random short local fellow, who must have been waiting in the cold, on the side of the road for hours, appeared out of the shadows. He didn't look homeless, or like he was about to rob us, so I took his word and followed him down the street, into a small alley way, with the crew of people still behind me.
To my surprise his place was actually half decent and I managed to bargained him down to 50,000 kips per night, for a double bed and room with a hot shower. Though it did look like no one had cleaned the room for about six months.
Finally, I could rest.
Luang Prabang is exceptional for food and its famous night market.
In the day there is one main market open, with local ladies lined up in their small decorated stalls, covered in all kinds of colourful fruits, vegetables and oreos. They all rise together, calling out to everyone the moment you enter into the market space.
Each stall makes very similar food, dishing out avocado salads, Laos-Thai infusion foods, delicious sandwiches and some of the best fruit smoothies in the country. Have a try of a few different stalls because you will be back. Once I found my stall, I went back every single time, at least twice a day.
When the sun begins to set, the night market begins to rise. Locals selling everything from clothes, bags, paintings and even small trinkets made out of discarded bomb shells are readily available. The colourful lights and vibe of the place can be very enticing, making you buy a few too many things you don't really need.
With the night market up, all you can eat buffets begin popping up in small side streets. Fried rice, curries, fried noodles, spring rolls, noodle salads, deep fried bananas and much much more are spread out everywhere. You can fill your plate to the brim for 15,000 kip, all vegetarian, but BBQ'd meats are all over the place to satisfy the carnivores.
Fill your bellies, have a few beers and just soak in the overwhelming environment for a while, its something you cant miss in Luang Prabang.
Kuang Si falls
I sprang out of bed, ready for an adventure to the famous turquoise falls of Kuang Si. I told my dear German pal, Tim, (who I had not seen in 5 years) to meet me in town as soon as I was ready.
Turned out the whole of Lunag Prabang went into complete WiFi blackout mode and we ended up meeting purely by chance, at my favourite market stall.
I rented a red semi-auto Honda wave for the day, setting me back 120,000 kip and set out into the mountainside in search of this natural wonder.
As you leave Luang Prabang in heavy traffic, smoke bellowing out of the cars and make your way out of town, the congestion and noise will change into green rolling hills and wild jungles. The air clears and a sense of relaxation will come over you as you wind through the turns and cruise through the small villages.
The sun was kissing my face as we began picking up pace. Another perfect day to be out on an adventure through the north of Laos.
We arrived at Kuang Si, parked up and made our way past the entrance. The first 50 meters is filled with black bear enclosures, a sad site to witness, but they are here due to the dwindling numbers that now roam the forests. Due to deforestation and changes to there habitat, the bears have been forced closer to the cities and hunters, which is why they are now kept in protective captivity.
We finally made it to the beginning of the falls. The smaller pools at the start had already got my eyes popping. The first thing that hit me was the colour of the water. An unimaginable turquoise, vibrant and flowing like nothing I had ever seen.
I threw my bag down and jumped straight into the water. The sun was beaming down on me, small pools situated all around, the ground felt as though it was made from sandstone. A few giant trees were laying fallen in the water, so I perched up to soak it all in.
I was in paradise, sitting back, observing everything around me. A sense of complete joy took over. The cool breeze was the perfect tonic from the clash between roasting head of sun and the refreshing water. What a life I was living, not a care in the world.
I was so tranquil when...
"Ahh!!! What the hell was that!"
Something was snapping at my feet. I looked around but saw nothing.
It happened again, this time a little less intense. I looked at the sole of my foot, nothing was missing, so I let my feet hang in the water once more, bemused at what it was.
Again another nibble, then more. Before I knew it I could see maybe 10-15 small fishes biting away at my feet. Luckily for me, they were just eating the dead skin off of them and what shocked me at first had suddenly became therapeutic.
I could here screams from other people around the pools, as the fish went in for a nibble, it made me giggle.
After the dip we set off to see the main falls. Passing the small pools that lead up and stopping for photo opportunities.
In the final few hundred meters as we approached the falls, you could hear the thunderous crashing of the water growing louder. The Kuang Si falls was one of natures impeccable creations. The 60 meter cascading multi level fall was simply stunning. Rather then explain it, here is what I saw...
I had not looked at any images of the falls before I arrived, which made the whole experience even better.
Satisfied and in awe, we finished up with a few more shots, before making our way back to base, humbled and thrilled at what we had just bared witness to.
Bidding farewell to my dear pal Tim, I had one more thing to do before I left Luang Prabang. That was to get out and see the Tad Si waterfall.
I set out with my trusty companion Angie once more, on a rumour from Tim, about a secret path that leads away from the falls, to hidden pools with no one around.
With the sun ablaze in the sky, my motorbike full of fuel, we set out 15km south east of town. I raced through the hairpin turns and flew through the open roads eager to find this location.
We arrived around 10 am and at this time no one was around. You need to take a small boat across the river to arrive at the entrance. We didn't know you were supposed to pay the entry fee, so we just walked straight in.
The main fall was beautiful but we would return for that later. Tim had described the beginning of the path to me in these words.
"Once you see the waterfall, take the bridge across the falls, to the far side and follow the dirt path, you will find the pools there."
I figured it would be easy, so off we went, over the bridge and started out onto the dirt path. The sounds of people fell off into the distance, the bush lands became more dense around us and suddenly we were in the middle of nowhere. If one of us were to be bitten by a snake, we had no hope. So as usual I had to lead the way.
As we ventured further, the path began to ascend and we found ourselves staring at a fork in the road. Tim didn't mention this, I thought.
"What are we going to do?" Angie asked. I looked left, then right which made no difference. I heard a faint sound of water rushing along. "This way" I pointed, heading right towards the water.
"Yes, we went the right way!" I proclaimed.
After another ten minutes we arrived at an opening, with no one around. A grassy open spot to sit around, bathe in the sun, watch all different types of butterflies dance around and occasionally stopping on one us for a while. Combined with the turquoise waters raging in the background, made it feel as though I was in a fairy tale.
We continued on, looking for a place with calmer waters to swim in.
Taking a different path to where we came in, we found ourselves walking along the cascading falls, stopping at more and more places with no one around. We stopped continuously for shots and to soak up some sun.
Once more we found ourselves at a fork in the road. This time I knew exactly what to do, just listen out for the sound of the falls and it will lead the way. I was now super confident at my tracking skills. "This way." I said.
We stepped on, descending down a muddy path, gripping onto shrubs to keep us from falling, when the path ended...
I raised my eyes and what lay ahead was not good...
We were at the peak of one of the largest waterfalls in the Tad Sae area. The falls were crashing down below us, but the top of the falls was still semi-calm. It was a 30 meter cross that lay ahead, with deep water in some stages and ever chance of slipping with each step.
I looked over at Angie and said, "I'm going to see if we can get across." She looked at me, a little concerned and said, "even if you make it, I'm never going to get across this. I'm clumsy and have all my camera gear."
"I'll take a look and be back..."
I started out, step by step, across the top of this multi level falls. I thought, if I slip I'll probably live, maybe just severely hurt myself or drown.
I pushed on...
Step by step I made it a third of the way across. The water gradually became deeper, almost up to my waist, when the force of the falls made me loose my footing. My feet began sliding underneath me, the thought of falling over the edge slipped through my mind, but in one quick motion I reached out for a near bye tree branch and caught myself from toppling over.
I collected myself and continued on, eventually finding out that it was possible to cross. Now all I had to do was convince Angie to follow.
"We can make it," I said with a cheeky grin on my face.
"I can't I'm going back" Angie confessed, worry written on her face.
We didn't know how far it was to go the long way around. The alternate path looked to lead away for hours. I looked her in the eyes and said, "you can do this, just hold onto me and we will be across before you know it." I managed to convince her.
There we were, two of us, bags full of camera gear, barefoot, looking out over at the people at the bottom of the falls. There was a safer way down, but it would have involved loosing my camera, which I was not willing to sacrifice. What's life without a few risks?
Step by step we made our way over. Scaling over toppled trees, feet sliding under mud. I held Angie's hand to try and keep her confident.
I reached for a large stick, dispatching an enormous spider that had spun its web in our way, before taking my first step back on dry land. Finally, the endeavour was over.
We made it.
"Told you," I laughed.
Angie looked shocked, though relieved.
I spent the remainder of the afternoon cooling off and making friends with other travellers that had witnessed our attempt to cross. The falls were a wonder. Nature seemed to keep on giving in Laos, just when I thought I had seen it all, it kept throwing surprises at me.
I stared at this cascading beast, soaking in my environment, breathing deeply and feeling the great vibes that surrounded this place, not knowing if I would ever experience anything like this again.
Go off the known path and discover a new location. Everyone visits the main falls but they are missing out on half of the fun. Venture around and take the dirt paths that lead off into all directions.
Don't attempt to cross the Tad Sae water fall! Well, its fun, so maybe try, just don't take anything you are not willing to lose. Take a weatherproof bag to be sure.
Listen out for the water flowing in the distance, it will always lead you in the right direction.
Take plenty of water, sometimes you have no idea when the path will end.
Take a motor bike out if you can ride, it will cost you much less and the scenery on the way is worth the see.
Be prepared for the fishes to bite your toes! They wont hurt you, well, the little ones won't. Just enjoy the service.
Try get in early the place fills up with loads of people in the afternoon.
Luang Prabang Town
Be sure to find the 10,000 kip fill your bowl vegetarian buffet.
Go taste all the delicious food in the streets at nights and walk into the small alleyways to discover hidden stalls. They will have 15,000 fill your plate options all over the place.
Visit the day market. The food is some of the best in Laos and a fruit smoothie plus a tasty sandwich will cure what ails ya.
Don't go to the main viewpoint in town for sunset. It is insanely busy!
Go to Utopia for a drink, the place is beautiful.
Drunk Bowling every night, just ask anyone where it is.
There is a Visa renewal available in town.