Vang Vieng (cont) and Luang Prabang

Day 63 / Day 22 of ATID – Vang Vieng

This was a pretty action packed and highly enjoyable day and I think what I took away most from it was the sheer beauty of the landscapes that surrounded us from dawn until dusk. The cost of everything I’ll talk about (in between breakfast and dinner) came to a total of US $25 per person as it was all part of a package, but of course bear in mind our negotiator with the local tour company was g adventures, so take this as a rough guide.

Breakfast was included as part of the hotel stay and after this we headed to the ‘blue lagoon(erm, note – there are many ‘blue lagoons’ dotted around the globe, the first I ever came across was in Malta!) which was a pleasant, calm, very blue area to swim around. It also had a swing and a high branch, off which jumping was a trend. Dave had several jumps, of course, whilst I panicked from the sidelines as usual!

Blue lagoon
Blue lagoon

It was a very pleasant morning (especially welcome after a super bumpy long ride in a tuktuk-truck thing from the hotel), and though the water seemed super cold to begin with, as the sun climbed higher we got used to it and enjoyed it rather a lot. It was quiet first thing in the morning but was soon getting quite busy by nearer midday. We didn’t have time to explore the associated cave, but I hear there is one that merits exploration if you’ve more time than us!

After the blue lagoon, we were back in our tuktuk-truck to travel to where we would be having our lunch. I can’t tell you exactly where it was, only that it was in the most beautiful countryside setting, surrounded by fields, woodland and hills. We were joined by a friendly dog and watched by a friendly looking couple of cows and honestly the whole of lunch felt so idyllic. The guys who were running our package day tour got a makeshift barbecue going and served up a very nice lunch of skewered BBQ meats and veg, fried rice and fruit.

After this we headed to a part of the river to do some cave tubing. I’ve never done any sort of tubing before and can state that the way we did it, in the deep dark river cave with a rope to hang onto for guidance and head torches, was really quite fun and the only real danger I’d say was the risk of losing a flip flop (we kept flip flops/sandals on as the walls of the cave were pretty rocky and we’d sometimes be pushing off them), which one of our group unfortunately did. The two guides we had were good fun and made sure we moved along and made it back out the cave okay. Note, moving against current is impossible without a rope whilst tubing and we needed to really pull against the rope to get back out of the cave!

The next part of the day was kayaking down the river. I was looking forward to this after my new found liking of kayaking and wasn’t disappointed. This time, there were a few mild rapids to traverse (mild as the river was quite low) and this was rather thrilling and fun (thanks again to Dave for being a stellar companion). And none of the group fell in, yay! This was a good, manageable step up from the calm kayaking we had done before on the trip in Halong Bay. Partway through, we had a little break at a bar. Some of the group went for a drink and the rest of us attempted to wander the surrounding woodland to find a cave that was signposted – couldn’t find it in the time we had, unfortunately, but the woods were pretty beautiful. Er, we did all start to get eaten alive by bugs though, thank goodness I’d remembered to toss our insect repellent in the dry bag!!

Beautiful woodland break during kayaking
Beautiful woodland break during kayaking

Also noted some local laundry drying against a rather spectacular backdrop just beyond the bar area so had to snap a photo of that!

What a setting to dry laundry!
What a setting to dry laundry!

Whilst kayaking, we passed many young travellers and tourists doing what Vang Vieng is famous for – tubing (not in a cave with a rope!) down the river, freestyle. Back in the day before a massive clamp down on all the bars and partying, Vang Vieng was famous for its tubing-party scene – the idea being that you float down the river with the current from riverside bar to riverside bar. Sort of like a pub crawl, only in a little dinghy and down a river!! Having witnessed it, I think I can safely say it wouldn’t have been my personal cup of tea given my risk-averse nature, however the people we came across seemed to be having a great time!

Our kayaking trip took us back to the shoreline near our hotel (the same one we’d had overlooked whilst having a sunset drink the previous day), and after heading back to our rooms for a wash, we went into town to eat at another one of those sprawling restaurants with an insanely huge range of menu options (see last post!). This time I had a craving for the baked potato and beans so got them. They weren’t too bad, quite different to home though haha…

Baked (felt more boiled) potato and beans, with garlic bread - mmmm carbs
Baked (felt more boiled) potato and beans, with cheesy garlic bread – mmmm carbs

Bed for Dave and I after. I can’t remember if it was on this night or the previous, I think possibly this one, but whilst in our villa-on-stilts there was a massive rainstorm. We didn’t get caught in it but heard that a few of our group who were in town did!! (Mind you, warm rain isn’t unpleasant!)

Day 64 / Day 23 of ATID – Luang Prabang

The next morning we set off via (private) bus for the longish journey to Luang Prabang, stopping for lunch at a roadside service station type thing. We arrived in Luang Prabang in the afternoon and commenced an orientation walk after chek in before parting ways to do our own thing.

We had learnt of ‘Big Brother Mouse‘ on the way from our tour facilitator and I really wanted to go and volunteer at one of their drop in sessions, where you help local young people practise their English skills via conversation, as did a few others, so some of us headed straight there (Dave included) for the 5pm session. Inititally, there were already more volunteers than actual local youngsters needing a hand and we felt a bit awkward but we were encouraged to hang around because apparently, lots more people start turning up around half five, when they’ve finished tuition or work.

This was absolutely true and before long more people filtered in. Initially, there were three of us helping one local lad, and by the time we had to leave (for a group dinner) I was practising with somebody one-on-one. Prior to him, I had been talking to someone already quite proficient in English so it was pretty straightforward. The guy I had at the end, his English was extremely limited and I found it hard to teach/explain the meanings of simple words, having no grasp of the local langauge whatsoever. The session facilitator came and sat with us to help but in hindsight I think I would have possibly grabbed a picture book (there were many books in the Big Brother Mouse shop) and taught him some simple vocab that way!! However, despite this, I thoroughly enjoyed the few hours we spent there and would gladly do something like this again in the future!

We walked to the restaurant where we’d be meeting the rest of the group via the famous Luang Prabang evening/night market. It is unlike any other market I’ve seen so far in Asia. It was much less busy and all wares were laid out beautifully, not crowding each other, and stall owners didn’t shout ‘look, look, cheap price’. Of course I’m sure we’d have still had to haggle if we’d wanted to purchase anything, but I think I’d far more enjoy the haggling and shopping process in the peacefulness of this particular market compared to others!

The evening group dinner this time was in honour of the fact it was one of our group’s birthday, and was quite fun despite slightly sub par service given the good company! Dave, along with most of the group, sampled a ‘buffalo burger’, something apparently specific to the area, and enjoyed it.

Day 65 / Day 24 of ATID – Luang Prabang

In the morning, most (I think maybe all?) of the group wanted to head to Luang Prabang’s famous waterfalls, the Kuang Si Waterfalls, and our tour facilitator had organised two minivans to take us to them and bring us back.

The minivans dropped us in a dusty car park that was encircled by touristy stalls, the standard drop off place. We were advised to make a note of the numberplates as the area would fill up quickly with lots and lots of such vans with waiting drivers as the day went by! Our drivers helpfully pointed the way, and then we were off. There is a nominal fee for entry, this was covered for our group by the fee we paid our drivers.

There is a clear map at the entry to the whole area, and we saw that it made sense to visit the Kuang Si Bear Conservation Centre prior to exploring the waterfalls. This was quite interesting to walk around, with clear signs everywhere explaining the need for and importance of rescuing bears. I was also reassured to note that the enclosures for the rescued bears were pretty vast.

Rather amusing sign - taken at a specific angle
Rather amusing sign – taken at a convenient angle

I think there is also a butterfly park nearby. I can’t be sure, of course, but there were several ‘trails’ of beautiful white butterflies flying through the woodland now and then and twirling about us as we walked. Sort of felt like a Disney film!

We then moved on the the waterfall area and were greeted by the gorgeous scene below.

First bit of the walk around the falls! Already impressed
First bit of the walk around the falls! Already impressed

Now, we had had slightly vague instructions from the tour facilitator earlier, something about ‘going right’ and ‘climbing’ to get to the top of the main waterfall – as there is a main, spectacular waterfall surrounded by lots of little basins such as the above. Then we were to climb down from the other side and would be greeted with pools that we were allowed to swim in. At the site above, there was a bridge to the left, clear and safe. Then there was a barred, dodgy, broken bridge to the right. Oh no!! What to do?! There were no other paths.

The group split. Of course Dave wanted to take the dodgy broken bridge, saying that we had after all been told to go right, so I followed him, but was a little shocked at how many of the rest of the group trusted his judgement also (sorry, love!). Some of us risked the bridge and some of us hop-skipped the rocks in the shallow blue water to the other side. Then we embarked on a slightly dodgy, wild trail for absolutely ages, encountering scary insects and getting scratched legs, before coming out to a view of the main waterfall! And also arriving on a platform where there was a clear, non-wild, climbable path marked – to the right of the waterfall. Later found out from the other group members if we’d taken the original safe looking bridge, we would have arrived at the platform anyway in possibly half the time. Ah well. It was an adventure! I think if we’d stopped and thought, we’d have understood that of course the meaning was to follow the directions once we’d reached the main waterfall, not the first bit of water we came across!

Gorgeous main fall at the Kuang Si Falls!
Gorgeous main fall at the Kuang Si Falls!

We took the actual marked path – probably took about twenty minutes for averagely fit people to get to the top, took me about thirty five of course – and were greeted by wonderful views of the sprawling countryside below us.

Views from the top of Kuang Si Falls!
Views from the top of Kuang Si Falls!

There are some pools at the top, here, too. The ones at the very edge of the waterfall, where water cascades down just a few inches away, are marked with signs proclaiming danger and ‘no swimming’, but the ones farther away have no signs and we saw a few people swimming in these. After clicking some photos (the brave ones heading to the fence at the edge!), though, we decided that we were running out of time so the safest course of action was descent down the other side of the waterfall to the pools we had been told we were supposed to swim in.

Pools at the top, and the fence at the edge!
Pools at the top, and the fence at the edge!

The descent down was a lot more clamber-y than the climb up and I’d definitely advise doing it the way round we did. We encountered some sweaty climbers on this side and I think they’d have had a better time if they’d done it the way round we did.

Swimming in the ‘designated’ pools (also the most crowded) was really rather lovely. I’d not ever swam in the waters of a waterfall before and thoroughly enjoyed the experience. The water was a great temperature for the sunny heat surrounding us and a brilliant way to cool off after our long winded trek!!

After our return to the hotel, some of us popped for a late lunch at an Indian restaurant (woohoo!) called Nisha which was pretty good. Then, Dave and I, who didn’t have anything specific we were desperate to do, decided to visit the Buddhist temple and monastery, Wat Manoram, just down the road from us.

Part of Wat Manoram
Part of Wat Manoram

Most of the complex seemed shut to the public, at least at the time of day that we went, but we still enjoyed wandering around the bits we could. Whilst we were wandering, we met a very lovely young novice monk who wanted to practise his English (it was pretty good already!) and ended up chatting to him for a couple of hours. Really enjoyed getting to know him and learning a little about his life!

For dinner later in the evening we went and grabbed some street food near the night market. Here there are narrow alleyways full of lots of different options, including massive buffet tables where you pay US $2 for all-you-can-fill-your-bowl-with. A distinctly average and very good value option that Dave and I went for!

Street food buffet!
Street food buffet!

The next day we would learn about what it is like to stay in a riverside village on the Mekong with little to no electricity. An interesting and eye-opening experience!

Thanks for stopping by.

Ro x


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