One of the most natural attractions in Luang Prabang is the famous “Tat Kuang Si Waterfalls”. It is around 29-40 km away from the City proper. It is a fabulous kind of vast and wide waterfalls tumbling over limestone rock formations that falls into different layers of natural limestone basins creating natural swimming pools. A kind of natural wonder that attracts thousands of tourists and photographers all over the world because of its wonderful cascades formations.
The admission fee was 20,000 Kip per person.
It´s 5 to 10 minutes’ walk before we reached and able to see the gorgeous Waterfalls. We climbed up to the higher level of the waterfalls to the top after crossing a wooden bridge there is a path directing you to the other side of the waterfalls. So it means you have to cross the waterfalls. There above awaits a big basin –like hole where you can dip in to refresh and cool yourself. My Boyfriend took this chance but I just left myself behind without crossing the waterfalls. It was slippery for me and I dislike to wet my sandals.
How we got there? From our Guest house we hired a Motor cycle for a day trip. So we can do and go wherever we wanted to go. It was around 5 Euro in a day. The street was a bit bumpy but enjoyable because we can make photo stops or take some snacks. With our Motorcycle our time was unlimited.
Visit one of the elephant camps around the city and you'll have an opportunity to ride around the jungle for around an hour. It's not the most comfortable ride but the view from atop an elephant is great. You even get to cross the river with these beasts of burden and see Laotian life from above.
We booked a boat trip the previous night to visit Pak Ou Caves, which is an hour or so up-river. Sit back, relax and enjoy the scenery until you reach the caves which are located in the side of a limestone cliff. There are 2 caves containing 1000's of Buddhas, mostly old but some have been placed there recently. The trip is certainly worth it but a little busy with hoards of other tourists when you arrive there. Unfortunately it was raining the whole time, so i suggest to check the weather out early morning and then book a trip. The boat stops at 'whiskey Village' where you can sample different local alcoholic beverages (make sure that you have a strong stomach lining!). Buy a couple of bottles to take home, it will surely help to unblock your drains! and cheaper than paying for a plumber too!!! Also many of the usual souvenirs are available to haggle over. Bit of a tourist trap but an enjoyable day out.
Big Brother Mouse Bookshops are to be found in several cities in Laos. This is an organisation that sells books to tourists so they can give them to Laotian children on their travels. Local children cannot usually afford to buy a book and many don't possess any, so please purchase a few, only cost 10-20,000 each. Books are translated into the Lao language and will give the benefactor countless hours of pleasure. Many people think they are doing the children a favour by buying candy and giving money, but i think a book is more beneficial. You can also volunteer to teach a few words of english to the students. Search the for there website.
The market at Thanon Sisavangvong comes alive around 5pm. The street is closed off to traffic and the locals erect their stalls which sell every kind of souvenir/handicraft available in the country. The place is crowded with tourists searching for a bargain. It is quite easy to bargain them down and don't forget that once you make an offer and they come down to your price it is bad manners to back out.
Big Brother Mouse, a strange name I know. Big Brother Mouse is a charity which specialises in trying to attain literacy in the poorer areas round Luang Prabang. I had read in the Vientiane Times that 30% of females aged 6 - 25 have never been to school. They commission books for which they need sponsorship and distribute them in the Province but their shop / office / classroom serves as a drop-in centre between 0900-1100 every day except Sunday as a learning facility for Lao people wanting to learn English. This is what happened the first day I went there.
I speak about ten words of Lao, have no teaching qualification, well no qualifications whatsoever. Many Lao can now speak English as learned at school from Lao teachers but they want to work on pronunciation etc. Heaven forbid there should now be several young men in Lao speaking English with thick Belfast accents! It really could not be simpler. There are a couple of tables, a few maps on the wall and a few childrens English posters of the A is for apple, O is for owl type, and you just sit down, introduce yourself and talk. I am certainly good enough at that.
I have always respected teachers and now I begin to realise why. I had no classroom plan or whatever they are called, so what to talk about? It really was quite nerve-wracking at first, especially given the natural shyness of the Lao. What do you talk about? There is no guidance at all from the staff there so you just wing it. My "group", although it is all very informal, consisted of three (H)mong lads, two about 20 and one only 12 years old. They were all from far flung villages in Luang Prabang Province and the two elder lads were working in town whilst the youngster was studying at school a few miles out of town. We had two books, an English / Lao dictionary and a book of kids games that Big Brother Mouse produce. So off we went.
We started with the usual, "What is your name?", "Where are you from?" routine, so I came to Northern Ireland. That had to be shown on the very useful world map on the wall, so it gave me a plan. Northern Ireland - North. All the guys had notebooks which they assiduously wrote things in, so I got out the pen and did the points of the compass, using my guidebook to demonstrate. LP is Northwest of Vientiane etc. That led to compass and sailors / boats etc. and we discussed long tail boats and slow boats on the Mekong. I could not mime or demonstrate sailor so the dictionary came into play. Remember sailor, it becomes a little odd later on.
So, we had done the compass thing and then I noticed one of the older guys, the quiet one, was wearing an Inter Milan top. I asked if he supported them, trying to start a talk about football which the Lao love, but he told me he had bought it because it was warm! In about 30 degree heat and me sweating profusely, I found this odd. However, I then regaled them with the story of the founding of that club in 1908. The kids play book was then brought into play, so I got the young lad to read aloud from it (it is in English and Lao) and it started to get difficult. It has long been the butt of humour that Eastern Asians confuse our L and R sounds, thereby rendering farang as falang etc. They also have a serious difficulty with the W sound and render it as a V, so a fairly extended session on that, correct pronounciation of walk was the big one.
We were having a great laugh, and one of the games mentioned in a kids book was "write your name in the air with your bottom". I can just imagine the hilarity this must cause in a village. So, bottom led to the concepts of bottom top and sides, which went well. Then I was writing something in one of the guy's books and I noticed on the opposite pages a drawing of the Golden Gate Bridge, a map of San Fransisco etc. and a Chinese female name. Apparently, one of the large Chinese community in that city had come here to do what I was doing. I explained that San Fransisco was Spanish for Saint Francis. "What is a saint?" was the inevitable question. How do you explain the concept of sainthood to someone with only the scantest knowedge of Christianity? Go on, try it yourself. I think I managed. This is where it gets odd. In the two hours I was there we probably looked up about five words in the dictionary, so we looked up saint, and what was it adjacent to? Sailor, as above. What are the chances?
Somewhere in the middle of all this I thought to explain how odd a language English was. I did this to make them feel better as they were obviously trying so very hard and it was difficult for them. In fact, their thirst for knowledge was a truly humbling experience, not lost on one who basically squandered the opportunity of a very good education. You English speakers have a go at this. I wrote down BOW and explained it meant a thing you tie on your shoe, bending at the waist, something with an arrow a thing to play a violin with and the front of a boat. Confusing enough until I told them BOUGH as in part of a tree was also pronounced the same as bending at the waist. English is my mother tongue and it confuses the life out of me.
Then he hit me with another one. "What is Engand and what is Britain?" Here we go again. I am sure there are British passport holders who would struggle to differentiate between Britain, Great Britain and the UK. Cue another trip to the map and a discourse on the political makeup of the UK, the passport being used to demonstrate. Which led to more discussion of the perversity of the English language. I was talking about the visa stamp in my passport for PDR Lao. You are undoubteldy ahead of me already, dear reader. Stamp. What is in your passport, what you put on a letter and what you do with your foot. Three entirely different concepts served by the same word.
The older, quiet guy asked me another couple of questions and I realised how little I actually know about my own language. He asked what did "somebody" mean and he asked me to explain when to use the word a and the word the. Go on, try it. I know when to use them but was confounded by how to explain it. I tried my best though.
All too soon the two hour session was over and I have to say I left feeling pretty drained. It is quite hard work, although it really is so rewarding. The looks on their faces are a joy and there is no expectation of you, you don't need to be a formal teacher, although I would suggest you jot down a few topics should the conversation falter. If any of you ever venture this way, I strongly urge you to do this, it costs you nothing except a bit of a taxation on your brain, and the results are so, so wonderful. I didn't want to stick a camera in these young mens faces so you will have to take my word for it. The photo is of the outside of the premises.
Head Northeast on Sakkaline Road (towards the peninsula) and go past the school on the left. When you come to the 3 Nagas restaurant, turn righ and it is 50 yards on the left.
When looking for local tours, there are many stalls that offer various activities like visits to the caves, waterfalls, Mekong boat ride, out-of-town trips, etc. One unique activity that stands out is a visit to the Elephant Village, a government-approved camp where rescued or retired elephants are humanely cared for. You may opt to stay for a few hours or days.
Since I was in LP for just 24 hours, I availed of their half-day package that included transfers by air-conditioned van to/from the village, an elephant ride around the village and through the river, a boat ride to the Tad Sae waterfalls and back, and a sumptuous lunch. All for US$ 35. I booked the night before and they picked me up the following morning.
We ascended the 350+ steps from the front of the Royal Palace Museum.
The Wat at the top, That Chomsi, is nice, but you are really up here for the panoramic views of Luang Prabang and the Mekong and Nam Khan rivers.
Descend towards the Nam Khan river, down the zig-zag Naga stairway, passing an old Russian AA gun and various Budda statues.
Admission fee 10,000Kip/20,000Kip?
There are over 30 Wats in Luang Prabang so try not to get "Watted out".
The must see is Wat Xieng Thong located at the tip of peninsula between the Mekong and Nam Khan Rivers. It is very beautiful. The glass mosaics on the external walls tell folk tales & Buddhist history. Dont miss the "tree of life" on the back of the main temple. The building on the right contains the funeral chariot of King Sisavang Vong with its 7 headed naga. There are also some nice ancient marionettes. Admission 10,000Kip each (July 2010).
Other highlights for me were Wat Mai, Wat Wisunalat and Wat Aham.
Just wander up, down and around the streets of LP and you will trip over Wats.
Try to get to the caves before the crowds arrive as it is a popular trip. We just booked our 1/2 day trip from an agent on the main street for US$10 each but you can negotiate a price for a boat at the riverbank yourself.
When we arrived at the jetty, there were dozens of people waiting for boats, but not for all of them for the caves? We followed our captain to his boat to find there were only 6 onboard, including ourselves.
On the way to the caves we stopped off at a Whiskey village. The climb up the steep bank via a rickety bamboo stairway was a bit scary. Here our fellow passengers, 4 Japanese tourists, raced around the village following their own directions, stopping to give kids sweets, stopping to try the LaoLao and then rushing back to the boat, ignoring our guides instructions, so we never got to see how the LaoLao was manufactured, but it was so funny to observe their antics (well, you probably had to be there).
The caves themselves are ok. The lower cave has thousands of old, unused or broken buddas and you are able to take some good photos from inside the cave looking out over the Mekong River.
The upper cave has not a lot in it to see and you will need a torch so bring your own or you can hire one from outside. To be honest, it is not worth the effort if you had a very hot day like we had.
On the return journey, the boat ran out of petrol and we drifted along, so peaceful and quiet, until the captain refilled the tank.
The journey to and from the caves was very relaxing and it was nice to see the riverbank life with water buffalo bathing and fishermen casting their nets etc so it is a pleasant way to spend a morning.
Admission fee 20,000Kip (July 2010).
Went to Kuang Si Falls by songthaew (covered van) one morning at 0900, to beat the crowds. Negotiated a price of US$13.
We actually walked to the falls straight up along the tarmac road and then backtracked along the river bank to the exit.
After a thunderstorm the night before, trying to climb to the top of the falls was very dangerous. I tried a couple of times from both sides of the falls, but kept slipping so I just gave up. Even walking down the bank was very slippy so be careful.
You are able to have a swim in a few designated areas, with small wooden huts available to change in.
There is bear sanctuary at the right hand side of the entrance with 3 Black bears and if you want to walk up to the falls via the river bank, head this way.
There are food and drink stalls if you feel hungry after your exertions.
Admission to falls, 20,000Kip (July 2010).
LUANG PRABANG I found when not walking around Luang Prabang a tuk-tuk was the best and cheapest way to get around the city....of course you will have to bargain for the costs of " your hire" but they are reasonable and DONT bargain too hard as the locals have a hard time as it is.. I found them to be reliable and in the designated places when hired.always polite..its the cabs (taxis)that are the rip off's.
After a short walk from the entrance is the Bear Rescue Center, the center was set up in 2003, and it´s home of some Asiatic Black Bears (listed under the most critical category of endargement) confiscated from poachers. There was also a lone and bore Asiatic Tiger.
This 100m-deep limestone cave temple is located the other side of the river in the village of Ban Xieng Maen, near Vat Long Khun (see previous tip). A couple of guys came over to me when I was visiting the temple and said about visiting this cave temple which houses a few Buddha images that are hard to make out in the dark.
This large temple complex is located on the other side of the river in the village of Ban Xieng Maen and can be reached by taking the path all the way along the river from where the boats dock. The main temple building features some lovely wall paintings known as jataka murals that probably date from the 18th century. You may be approached by some young guys offering to take you to a cave temple nearby (see next tip).