Slower than Slow Boat to Laos

Trip Start May 04, 2011
Trip End Oct 08, 2012

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What I did
Kuang Si Falls Luang Prabang
Read my review - 5/5 stars

Flag of Lao Peoples Dem Rep  ,
Monday, May 28, 2012

Judith, a friend I met at New Life Foundation, and I chose today for the beginning of our journey to Laos. We set out at 7:00AM to catch the bus from Chiang Rai to Chiang Kong and managed to time it perfectly. The two hour bus ride went smoothly leaving us plenty of time to catch a tuk tuk to the border. A small ferry took us 100 meters across the river onto Laos soil. The border town here is called Huay Xai and is the starting point for the slow boat to Luang Prabang. In hindsight had I known that it was from this region that they organize the famous Gibbon Experience, I probably would’ve stayed in the north and done zip lining and trekking out of here. Instead we boarded the boat with our $1 paisley seat cushions and prepared ourselves for a very long journey.

We got especially lucky that we sat in our assigned seats closer to the front of the boat and conveniently located far away from the engine room. The boat was at capacity but I can only imagine how many more get squeezed on during peak season. Some came more prepared than others with multiple bottles of alcohol and cases of beer. Judith and I looked like novices with our sandwiches, cookies and playing cards.

Put 60 people on a small boat for 16 hours and friendships are bound to form. Our seats were conveniently located next to three young friends from the UK already entrenched in drinking games: Craig, Sinead and Rachel. Crazy Craig, a gay guy who exudes fun and joy made the monotony of the journey tolerable. As flamboyant as they come, sporting eyeliner and traveling with a pink zebra stripped hard suitcase, he certainly provided lasting memories of my time in Laos. Needless to say, the half full bottles of vodka, whiskey and gin did not last the full eight hours to Pakbeng. Pakbeng, the half way stop on this two day journey is a very small town and the first place where I got to witness the parade of monks collecting alms of rice from the kneeling villagers.

The excitement of the river boat wore off long before day two, so having to board the boat the second day was dreadful. We perked up as we approached the beautiful, white, French colonial buildings of Luang Prabang.

Luang Prabang is exactly how one would imagine classical Indochina. The streets are lined with white villas converted into boutique hotels, shops and cafes. The river runs down two sides of the city. Phou Si sits on a hill just opposite the Palace with a panoramic view of the city making the zig zag 328 stairs climb worthwhile.

The night market is located on the same main street selling all the typical Chinese produced souvenirs found in every Asian city. One thing that caught my eye was the collection of bottled whiskey filled with snakes and scorpions.

A main attraction in Luang Prabang is Utopia, a Western restaurant, bar, lounge that sits overlooking the river. During the day it is good for kicking back on the floor pillows sipping special juices and playing Connect Four. More popular among the night crowd, it’s busiest from 8:00-11:00PM with a game always going on the sand floor volleyball court. Once Utopia closes it is customary for everyone to proceed to the bowling alley. Swarms of predominantly drunk Laos and Western tourists fill the alley swinging the ball barefoot down the lanes. The social itinerary usually carries on to one of two nightclubs but I’m happy to admit, we didn’t make it that far.

One day Judith and I rented pushbikes, I have to distinguish pushbike from motorbike with the later known as “bike” here in Asia. We peddled across the bridge, to yet another monastery and then pedaled back around town discovering cafes and cute alleys.

The biggest highlight for me, aside from the local soup sold at the street vendor at the end of our street, was the Kuang Si Waterfall. The milky, powder blue pools that greet you upon entrance are only half of the magnificent beauty to be found at the secret spot. We got so lucky to have shared a songthaew with a guy who knew how to reach the top from his visit the day before. He led our group of seven on a hike, up the face of the waterfall and away from the masses; until we reached another set of pools. We were mesmerized by the idyllic picture perfect backdrop. We spent a good two hours jumping off the cliffs and into the inviting water over and over again. 
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Charlotte Bennett Schoen on

hey Stacy and great to get your entries. I adored Kuang Si and thought it was the best of any 'waterfall' I"ve ever seen (at least those you can swim in). And I loved the Lao families who had quite the feasts at the water's turquoise edge at all different levels - they know what they have. love Charlotte

Joy on

Thanks for sharing. Added Kuang Si Waterfall to my list of places to visit. You make me miss the road. Keep following your dream.

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