11.01.2012 - 19.01.2012 26 °C
We arrived in Luang Prabang at about 7:00 pm after a gruelling 7 hour bus up windy mountains next to cliff edges. I did not enjoy this at all and spent the whole trip practically fearing for my life. We were once again on a "VIP" bus because they advertised that it had a toilet..but it did not. After dark we finally got to Luang Prabang which was in the middle of absolute nowhere. We then took an over priced tuk-tuk into the "city centre" which turned out to be a guest-house nowhere near the city centre. We had a look at the room anyway and decided to stay there one night (80,000 kip). It had a double bed, a private bathroom and a TV, although it had see-through curtains. It was pretty good for the price (which turned out to be the cheapest we could find, but it was a fair walk from the centre of town). We walked around trying to find somewhere to have dinner and to find out where the city centre was. We ended up having dinner by the river at a place with terrible service. We were used to the excellent service in Vang Vieng, but here my meal was a cold salad and came out 30 minutes after Bundy's.
The next day we walked into town trying to find a guest-house closer to the centre. They were all either very expensive or full or both. We ended up choosing the cheapest we could find (120,000 kip) at Le Tam Tam Guest-house and Restaurant along a main road. This guest-house turned out to be one of our favourites after we managed to shut the windows to avoid being eaten alive by mosquitoes. We went for breakfast on the river and then hired a scooter for 130,000 kip for 24 hours. I let Bundy drive me because there was no way I could do it. So fearing for my life again, we rode to the petrol station and then off to Kuang Si Falls (about 28 km away). We passed through lots of little villages and the scenery was pretty great. We got there after an hour of riding, paid 2,000 for parking and 20,000 each for entry and off we went. On the way to the falls was the Bear Rescue Centre, where they have saved bears from illegal trade.
We walked down the trek path to the bottom areas of the waterfall which were amazing. The water was bright turquoise. It was a pity we didn't have bathers and that it was a cold and cloudy day. We trekked further into the rainforest to see more of the little pools and once we got further up a friendly tourist told us to keep going to the highest viewing point as it was only 5 minute walk and well worth it. It was quite steep and an extreme workout for me and my unfit legs on the slippery dirt. We found a turn where we thought lead to where the man was talking about so Bundy walked ahead and said you couldn't get through so we kept walking up, and up, and up. It kept getting steeper and harder and further away until we were at the top and couldn't find a way to the actual waterfall. We wasted about 15 minutes trying to find a path then gave up and headed back down. We decided to try the first path we crossed again much further down. Turns out you could get passed and that it was the correct trail. We finally got to the viewing and could stand right next to the water where it ran straight down the cliff and we could see all the forest and little pools and smaller waterfalls in the distance - it was amazing. We then had to hurry all the way back down to get back into town before dark. We wish we had have gone earlier in the day and been able to swim. On the scooter ride back we got hit in the face by lots of bugs.
Once we got back we walked through the night markets outside our hotel which were really good - I wished I could buy everything. Bundy found an excellent side street full of food stalls. We got as much as we could fit on a plate for $1 and it was delicious. We ended up eating here a few times. When we got back to our hotel and I felt terrible. I'd felt pretty ill before we left in the morning but I didn't want to waste another day like we did in Vang Vieng. However, I ended up staying in bed sick for a few days, not sure what was wrong. We were thinking either a bad reaction to the anti-malaria drugs or gastroenteritis.
After I started feeling better we got up early and just walked around looking at temples. We had breakfast on the river at the bakery and I got a continental breakfast for 35,000 kip which included a bowl of fruit salad, a fruit juice, a coffee, a croissant, two pieces of toast with butter and jam, and a delicious banana muffin - not bad! We went to a temple on the same street as our guest-house which was at the top of what felt like a million stairs. People were selling little birds in tiny cages that you can release at the top but it seems quite terrible keeping them in such a tiny cage for who knows how long, so we didn't support it. The temple itself was very small and not worth the walk but the almost 360 degree view was stunning and overlooked the whole of Luang Prabang. It was in the end well worth the walk. We saw a few more temples after that (only the free entry ones) which were nice but nothing spectacular. Then we went back to our hotel and had a nap. When we woke up we strolled down the night market again and had dinner at our guest-house by candlelight and fairy lights.
We woke up early to get to the tour booking office by 8:50 am for our day of elephant riding, visiting the lao lao whisky village and the Pak Ou caves. We paid for two (US$40) so we thought it was just the two of us but we ended up being in a group where everyone had paid less than we did. We were with Chris from England and a Russian/Ukrainian couple. We took a minivan to the lao lao village first. We were shown how they make the whisky and we were allowed to try a few shots of it (both the distilled and the not yet distilled). I only had the yellow one which was a rice wine at that stage. The distilled one was very strong - all alcohol and no nice taste. We saw lots of medicines in jars with dead animals (such as geckos and snakes) which the people drink from. The area was much like the market stalls where a lot were selling scarves and materials they had made on a loom and everyone was pushy for you to buy their things.
We were then driven out to the mahout village. We walked up to a platform to mount the elephants. Bundy got to sit on the elephants neck while Chris and I sat in the howdah. We rode the elephants around a track through the vegetation. It was very slow, peaceful and nice. Our elephant didn't follow the track very well however, and we often stopped while the elephant yanked down tree branches to eat. About half way I got to swap with Bundy and sit on the elephants neck which was great fun though a little worrying when you have nothing to hold on to when they dip down a bit or to the side. Our elephant also sprayed me with mud after grabbing a tree. My camera battery ran out but luckily Chris said she would send us any photos she took of us. We dismounted the elephants back at the platform and came down to the ground where we had photos hugging them. I went to get a photo hugging one but instead the mahouts instructed me to get on it from the ground which was very hard with my tiny legs so I needed a bit of a boost up. I sat on the elephant and we wandered around for a bit. Then Bundy got on with me and we went down into the river. We got into the water and the elephant would spray us with water. We got saturated! The other elephant with the Russian couple was in front of us in the water and decided to take a crap or two in the water which floated next to us. We stayed in the water for another 5-10 minutes getting splashed and then we went back up onto land. We really enjoyed it. We then had a shower and lunch. We had a little cat come over wanting some food so I patted him for awhile. We were supposed to have longer on the elephants and do some mahout training but we didn't.
We then took the minibus out to the caves. We got to a village and wandered through there where we saw a great big owl and a monkey tied to some wood plus some squirrels in a cage. We walked down to the river and got a slow boat across. We had a lot of trouble getting entry to the caves - we'd paid for it in our tour but our tour guide didn't come across with us so we had to try and explain but they didn't speak English. We got there in the end though. Once again we had many stairs to climb before we got to the top and I do not recommend seeing the caves. It was very disappointing. It was one small and short cave with heaps of little Buddha statues and that was it. We had two hours to kill since our car apparently broke down and we'd had enough and seen it all in 20 minutes. So we walked down to the river and chilled there for a bit then decided to just go back across the river and wait there. The whole day wasn't very well organised but the people in our group were lovely and made the day much better. Once we were back across the river we all sat in a restaurant overlooking the river and the mountains and got a drink. Luckily our tour guide got back early and we were able to go. Unfortunately we were in a tuk-tuk on the way back which was about 30 mins on dirt road and it was extremely bumpy and uncomfortable - so I got a bit motion sick. Eventually we got back into town at about 4.30 pm.
We had planned to see Tad Sae waterfall but we didn't end up going since it required a tuk-tuk and a boat and apparently isn't that great in dry season anyway. Instead we had breakfast at the river bakery again, this time I had a melted cheese with tomato, onion and ham on a croissant - pretty yummy but not really a breakfast food - luckily I got some toast and jam with it as well to even it out. It was very hot in the morning so we ended up just going back to our room to relax and watch a movie. We also needed to save some money since we bought flights to Hanoi for AUD$185 each.
We woke the next morning pretty late with our bags packed and ready to finally check out. We had breakfast on the river yet again. I had a banana pancake with honey. We had nothing else to really do so I got an ice-cream and we took a taxi to the airport. The airport was very small. We checked in, spent our leftover money at the gift shop and then waited for 2 hours (playing cards in the mean-time). We had a small plane with no life jackets and no oxygen masks. We got a snack which was a roll and some chicken/veg thing - it was so tasty I wanted about 50 more of them - and a small piece of cake with free drinks. We arrived in Hanoi earlier than expected at 5:50 pm at 22 degrees.