Exploring Luang Prabang, Getting Lost, and a Waterfall Hike

I wake up early after a wonderful night sleep. It’s easy to sleep well when I have a big bed, fan, and AC to keep the temperature unlike the humid outdoor air. It’s also nice not having to tuck a mosquito net into my bed every night. My room has actual windows instead of small panes of glass that lazily combine to form a drafty hole in my wall. I think I also sleep better knowing that the mosquitos aren’t in my room planning an ambush when I wake up and undo my net. I’d say this is quite an upgrade from my living conditions in Ghana. After I roll out of bed I get a shower under a nozzle that actually has running hot water. I can get used to not having to fetch water every day and then splashing it on myself out of a bucket. I think the kicker is that I don’t have to share any part of these features and I can even request for the guest house managers to clean my room and change my sheets. I have to say I’m glad I got to experience life like that for 10 months because I really can appreciate what I’m given now. I also will have some extra time on my hands not having to do the many daily chores, as I did in Ghana.

 8 comes around and I get ready to go out and find something to eat. Caroline said she’s going to stay at the guest house, so I went out on my own to explore and find a place to eat. I find a place not too far away and noodle soup dish. I practice my Lao with the server because he looks like a friendly guy and there aren’t may other people here so he’s not too busy. The only thing I really know so far is saa bai dee, which is hello and kawb chay, which means thank you. After the meal I just start walking down the street to explore the town a bit and get used to the layout. With every new place I’ve lived I found that when I get lost I learn the most about the geography. So, that’s my goal right now. Not far down the street I see a beautiful museum, which looks like the building is covered in gold. As I pass by that place I see a homeless man and instantly I realize he was the first one I’ve seen since being here. I’m not sure if there are less here or they are sent away from the city center to avoid scaring tourists. As I get further down the street I realize that I recognize where I’m going from the previous night, so I take a left down a quiet side street. I keep walking until I get to the Mekong river and then walk along the riverside. Before I get very far I have people from all over trying to get me to take a ride in their truck with a cover over the bed, called a Tuk Tuk. I’ll try to get a picture to remedy my awful description. I also have people propositioning me to take a ride in their boat along the Mekong. I use this opportunity to further practice my Lao. I figure that these people make money by making conversation, so I want to take advantage of that and possibly learn some new words or strengthen the few I already know. Instead of saying no, I say baw maen. I got that word on some Laos translation I was using back in the States. From my experience of speaking Twi in Ghana, when I would use their local language I would get some kind of recognition in their face and often times a bit of excitement. Now, instead of recognition I’m getting blank stares and the end of a conversation. One of the men responds to me, but he’s speaking very quickly and there’s no chance I pick up on anything. I get to a main street and take a left heading back into town. The streets are very peaceful and everyone seems so used to tourists that I feel like I’ve always been taking this route down this street and no one actually sees me. That’s totally the opposite of Ghana where I was the spectacle, pretty much everywhere I went. The temples, or vats, are all over the place in this city, so I’m always walking by those magnificent golden buildings and seeing their monks strewn about. Then, I cross another man trying to sell a tour to me. I’m more aggressive with the conversation this time and I ask him how to say no in Lao. He tells me to say “baw”. I guess the second part I was saying before was not right or just too formal. I walk by another Tuk Tuk driver and answer his offer with a simple baw and turn to leave. I hear him say kawb chai, so I turn and smile and repeat “kawb chai”. I think even though I declined his offer, he appreciated me trying their language. That’s more like what I was looking for. Then it really happened like I wanted it to when one man sitting down outside of a market area asked me if I wanted to buy something and I told him “baw” and his expressions were perfect. First, he looked stunned and then a grin washed over his face and I couldn’t help but laugh. I think once I get past the few words that every tourist knows, I will begin to get the kind of recognition and fun conversations I’m longing for.

 After a few hours of walking around I realize that I felt lost at some parts, but the city is too small to really get lost. I decide to go back to my room and some water and to see if Caroline wants to go out and get lunch. Shortly after, we leave again and walk around town and settle on a place right on the Mekong, to have lunch. I order pad thai and it’s very good and quite filling. We try to decide what to do for the rest of the day and we decide to run through the market quickly to get some fruit and then head back to the room to get some money to take a trip to see the big popular waterfalls of the area.

 After leaving another time I make sure to grab my camera to get some shots and take some extra money to cover the trip to the waterfall. Neither Caroline or I have ridden in a Tuk Tuk or tried to negotiate yet, so we’re excited to give it a try. We ask the first group we pass and they tell us it will be 200,000 Kip, which is about 25 dollars. We negotiate him down to 170,000. It seems like a bit much to me based on the Ghana prices. I’m not sure how far we’re going, but a 25 dollar ride in Ghana would be maybe a 2 hour trip, if you were to charter a car for yourself. Who knows, maybe the transportation is just more expensive here. We get in the Tuk Tuk and head out of town. Before we reach the end of town the driver pulls over to the side of the street. Okay, we’ve been in the car for 2 minutes that definitely was way too much money. He leans around the truck and asks again which waterfall we want to visit. Caroline tells him the name of the popular one and he get back on the road. That’s impressive that he is so willing to make sure we are going to the correct place even though we probably wouldn’t know the difference. Back on the road we start to get near the edge of town and the tourists disappear. It looks like we’re just surrounded by locals on their daily routines. A woman and her child come up behind us on a motorcycle and it catches my eye because the boy looks like he’s steering and very confident at what he’s doing. I start to laugh and the woman notices me and picks the boy’s hand off and gets him to wave at us. I’m a little worried that she’s now only driving with one hand, but the situation is too cute to worry. I will try to get that picture from Caroline soon so I can post it here. We keep driving and eventually come to a small one car bridge where they have boards that are a little bit risen from the boards about the width of car tires. It’s a little bumpy, but probably much better that they made those boards going long ways with the bridge, instead of the ones underneath going with the width of the bridge. After the bridge we are officially out of Luang Prabang city and now heading more into the countryside. The scenery is absolutely breath taking. We’re right at the end of the rainy season, so everything is green and lush and the farmers are hard at work. It also surprises me to see such big mountains surrounding us. After about 30 minutes in the Tuk Tuk Caroline and I joke that we hope he’s taking us to the right place still. I ask her if he will stay and then take us back and she says they will. Okay, already this is something that would never happen in Ghana for this price. The drivers are so aggressive and money hungry that they would either leave you or ask for triple the price to wait for you and take you back. Then after about an hour drive we reach the town right outside the waterfall. The driver pulls over the car and tells us to be back at 5:30. It’s 3 now, so it seems like he’s given us plenty of time. How much time could we really spend looking at a waterfall anyway?

 We pay 20,000, which is about 2 and a half bucks to enter. Once in we follow the path that is labeled as trekking path. I want it to be a bit more adventurous and possibly get in a bit of a workout on the way. Before long, we reach a habitat of Asian bears. They have really funny descriptions for each of the bears that gives them a personality and even makes them sound kind of human. Every post I read I would be giggling. Already a great start to the adventure and well worth all of the costs involved. Then we head to another enclosure which this time has an electrical inside barrier. Immediately that caught my attention as to see what was in there. There are no signs, so I just assume that it’s for the more rowdy bears. We continue to walk along a not so well marked path. We come to a small waterfall, almost more like a rapid, dropping into a pool. There is a sign that say swimming area, but the current is strong and drops off immediately in a few different directions. If I were to swim here I would probably go missing and be found somewhere down the river in China. We kept walking up the path and the water seemed like it was in places it shouldn’t have been. First it was just really close to our path and then there were times where we had to step over small streams. There was a small bridge going over a somewhat big stream that looked like it was a few gallons from completely overtaking the bridge. We passed a few more rapid falls and each one increasingly got bigger. Then as we got farther the water really started to overtake the paths. We had to carefully decide which path to take to not fall into the water and not to get too wet. After a little more time, we reached a roaring sound and I was sure we had reached the waterfall.

 Sure enough the waterfall is much bigger than all those smaller ones before. To a factor of 30. It wasn’t necessarily as tall as it felt powerful. I could really feel the raw power through he sound and the mist being blown everywhere. There is a bridge walking out in front of the falls, but I wanted to take a side path first before we got too distracted. When we got to the side path, there were some tourists that had walked along a pathway that was completely covered by the flowing water, only to leave the handrail visible. They were all the way to the end, almost underneath the waterfall. They really looked crazy. I thought to myself, “what kind of idiots would walk all the way out there through rushing water supported by a rickety hand rail that was who knows how strong and if it all fell down then they would be swept down the rushing current to some unknown drop off into the forest.

 After a few minutes of watching these buffoons, Caroline turned to me and wearily asked, so are we going to try it. The way she asked though showed that she was kind of nervous, but definitely willing to go if I said we should. Being the idiot buffoon I am I said we had to try. We took off our shoes and asked one guy to take a picture of us as we got out there. I took my camera to make sure that if I fell everything expensive I owned would go with me. The first part was easy because we could just walk along the clearly laid out wooden path and hold onto the railing. Then it got more interesting when the ground sunk more and was clearly not on a wooden path. Now we were walking along the side underneath the handrail. Then we walked up a well placed log to another platform slightly above us. We walked all the way over to the end of the walk way and looked back to pose for the picture. I took out my camera and tried to get some perspective shots of where I was standing in the rushing water and how closer we were to the actual waterfall. I’ll post those as well. We made it there and back without falling and being washed away.

 Next was to cross the bridge that went in front of the waterfall. It was fun to get a new perspective, but there was so much mist that we quickly went to the other side. We thought we could backtrack from there to a bridge we saw coming from the other side a bit back in our trek. We got distracted by a sign that said to the top with an arrow pointing to the left and completely forgot about that other bridge. The hike was easy at first, but soon got much more difficult. There was a stream coming down winding across the trail and it was somewhere in between rock climbing and hiking. Everything was wet, which made it much harder and a bit dangerous. Regardless, we kept climbing and were just smart about where to step. The one thing that worried us the most was the hike back down actually. At one point we got to a spot where the continuing path wasn’t obvious and there was a well placed sign, as if someone had gotten lost there and complained. We kept going until we rested and seriously decided just going back down because it was unclear how much further we had to go and whether we were even going anywhere at all. Right then as if it were some kind of sign I saw some people coming down the path toward us. We asked them about going to the top and they told us it’s a must. One guy also told us that it’s easier to step in the stream of the water instead of the damp mud around. Ugh, that sounds like the absolute worst place to step to me. We tried it and he was actually right. There was no mud where the water was running, so your feet could grip the rock much better then the surrounding mud. My thought was that if there was all that water then there would be moss, but for some reason there wasn’t any. After not much more time we got up to the top and were looking over the falls at the beautiful mountains in the distance.

 It was 4:45 and we had until 5:30 to make it back to our Tuk Tuk, so we soon started our decent. It wasn’t as bad as we thought, but I had a big water bottle in my hand, so that just added to the difficulty. My strategy was a lot of low squatting and reaching with my foot and then slowly transferring my weight. It seemed to work as I only slid once and caught my self before taking a spill. A few times though I had to chuck the water bottle and of course the times where I wanted it to go to the bottom it only went part way and I had to keep after it and make sure it followed us down. Then when I wanted it to stay it would hit a slippery part and fly way too far off into the brush. I think closest I was to falling was when I had to get the water bottle after it flew off the path. We finally made it back to the waterfall and there were only a few people left other than us. I guess it is closing time. We hiked back and got on the Tuk Tuk to get back into town. The ride seemed to go by much faster on the way back and I was too exhausted to do anything once I got back to the room. Caroline went to get something to eat and I passed to just stay in my room and fall fast asleep. I think there is still a bit of residual sleepiness from the trip yesterday.

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