A Memorable Birthday in Luang Prabang

(Laos trip: April 21st – May 2nd, 2009)

Note from my travel journal on April 29th 🙂

This year, I decided to spend my birthday far from the usual birthday routines: party, dinner, wine and cocktails, disco lights, etc etc. This time, I spent my birthday in Luang Prabang, Laos. A city that I’ve never been, a country that I’ve never visited before…

For my birthday, I’ve made a plan to visit Pak Ou Cave and Kuang Si, the biggest waterfall in Luang Prabang. Let’s get wet, baby!!! 🙂

How to go to Pak Ou Cave?

Well, there are a lot of travel agents arranging a half day tour to this cave. One can go to the “Falang Place”, which is Sisavangvong Road and pick one of the agents there. I bought the half day tour ticket (70,000 Kip) from Lao Discovery Tour. Actually it doesn’t matter which agent you choose, because you’ll end up on the same boat together with people who bought theirs from the other tour agents anyway! 😀

It takes about 1.5 hour by slow boat to get to the cave. The boat strolls down the Mekong River, slowly… and the machine is roaring loudly. Thank God I brought my ipod!
The water of the Mekong River isn’t clean. It looks like a chocolate milk, yet it doesn’t smell, unlike the Ciliwung River in Jakarta :p. And the scenery is just beautiful.

At first, we stop at a small village where they made “Lao Lao”, Lao rice wine which contains 15 % of alcohol and 50% of alcohol. I try both and almost choke when sipping the 50% of alcohol one! It is so damn strong! I wonder who could drink such thing?

There are some small shops selling hand-woven scarfs. It’s one of the activities that generates income for the locals here.

We continue our trip by boat and finally we reach the famous Pak Ou Cave. In front of the cave lays a beautiful lime stone cliff. Very pretty.

Pak Ou Cave or Tham Thing or Thousands Buddha Cave itself is located inside a cliff at the bank of Mekong River. Interesting, isn’t it? 😉 There are aprroximately 4,000 Buddha statues in this cave, as the locals say. The statues are scattered everywhere, in different sizes and types. It’s hard to take pictures without a tripod (and yes, stupidly, I forget to bring my tripod!).

The cave looks amazing. Actually, there are two caves in this area. The lower cave is bigger, but easier to reach. The other cave is located on the top of the hill, so it’s a bit tiring to go up. You have to climb up some stairs, but don’t worry… it’s doable :). On the way up, there are some little girls selling small birds in the cages. These small girls are extremely cute, it’s very hard to say NO to them. Yet, I managed to say, “No, thanks”, because somehow I think, after I release the birds, they might return to the owner and she/he will sell them again! :p

The sun is steaming hot, we’re all sweating like pigs! However, when we reach the cave at the top of the hill, suddenly the air gets cooler. There’s a big gate at the mouth of the cave, once we get in, we can feel the air is a bit damp. Walking further in, the light becomes lesser and lesser until it’s pitched dark. Hmm.. scary. I can’t see anything. There are some Buddha statues in the cave, but it’s too dark to see, so I decide to walk back to the main entrance.

The locals still use these caves to pray. At one corner, there are some flowers and incense sticks at the feet of a big Buddha statue. It must be nice to pray here, in the cave, overlooking the Mekong River with a clear blue sky above, far from the civilization. So peaceful and quiet.. what a magical place to contemplate… (would be perfect without tourists around.. and that includes me, as I’m a tourist, too!) 😀 Lol.

The next destination is Kuang Si Waterfall. Since it’s too hot outside, I tell Jeff, my friend whose also traveling here, to go to the waterfall later in the afternoon. I’ll be cranky when the temperature is too hot and I don’t want to be cranky on my birthday. Hehehe.. I just want to relax and enjoy the day, even though the temperature is 36-37 degrees Celcius outside! And.. no breeze whatsoever. Ouch!

When the sun gets friendlier, we rent a tuk-tuk to go to the Kuang Si Waterfall. We bargain the price and manage to agree at 130,000 Kip/return. It takes us 1 hour to get there from the “Falang Place”. The tuk-tuk for waterfall is different from the “normal” tuk-tuk. This one is actually a mini bus, like a Honda Carry. We realize later the day that there’s no way for the “normal” tuk-tuk with two seaters only to go to the waterfall, since it’s a looooong way and the roads are ups and downs.

On the way to the waterfall, I ask the tuk-tuk driver to stop at Hmong Village first. Hmong Village is famous for its hand-woven scarfs and other handicrafts. It’s a small village, whereas the old ladies still wear traditional costume. Very nice. Some young girls also wear traditional costume with a colorful hat, however, I think these girls do it only to attract tourists. During my travel in Laos, I’ve never been “attacked” by the locals whose trying to sell things, but this time, I experience it! The girls and the mothers are very persistent in selling their stuff until at one point they become too pushy. They’re very materialistic, too. I take some pictures of the girls and they react, “You take photo of me, you buy my stuff”. Omigod. There’s nothing free on this planet, even in such a small village in Laos!

A cute girl whose dressed up in traditional costume even gets a bit hostile to me. She forces me to buy her stuff. I would buy, if the stuff is good. But, she sells old souvenirs, you can tell from the condition. In the end, I agreed to buy a small wallet. Unfortunately she doesnt have a change and I don’t have small bills. She forces me to buy a bracelet for a change. When I say, “I don’t want the bracelet”. She frowns. I give her some money in the end as a token, because I take some pictures of her. Knowing that I don’t buy anything, her mother yells at her. Damn, she’s scary. Actually, I feel bad for her, but I don’t like the way they force me to buy their stuff. That’s not nice. People in the night market are so much nicer! They never force you to buy anything from them!

I love the kids in the village. Omigod, they’re so cute! They’re running around barefooted. One boy is wearing an underwear only, showing his thin body and a colorful necklace hanging on his neck! Hahaha… so cute! Another boy, around 5 years old, playing with baby ducks happily :D. A bunch of girls get so excited by me taking pictures of them. These girls aren’t the ones that sells souvenirs. They’re very cute and even waving at me when I have to leave. Oh… they’re such lovely angels!

We then continue our journey, passing by the mountains, the air is getting cooler and fresher. Finally, we reach the area of Kuang Si waterfall. There are two paths to get to the waterfall: the trekking path and the asphalt. We’re not sure which one to choose, but the guard at the main entrance pointing at the asphalt path, so there we go. The path is very clean. It’s surrounded by huge trees, it feels like in a forest. So nice!

We go straight following the path until we get into a square. We continue walking and there we find a bridge on top of a blue lagoon!!! Whoaaaaaa!!! SOOOOO PRETTY!!!
And when I look on the left side, there is the… WATERFALL!!! Wowwww… The waterfall is so high and stunning. Am glad we make it here! Am I in paradise?

We walk up as we want to see the top of the waterfall. Some people say that we can swim at the top. Ok, if you’re not ready for a non-stop steep climbing in the middle of a forest, I would suggest you to stay at the bottom of the waterfall. But, if you really want to go up, don’t forget to bring two bottles of mineral water with you. You’ll need it. Trust me.
Plus, be careful if it rains, coz it’ll get slippery.
There’s a small lake at the top. We’re not sure how to go to the top of the waterfall. Didn’t realize that we actually already at the top! Hahaha…

Some “Falang” (read: foreigners) swim at the bottom of the waterfall, even though there’s a sign saying: “Do Not Swimming Area”. (I’m sure they mean: Don’t Swim Here). I’m actually well prepared with bikinis, but then I decided not to swim. I believe, the sign wouldn’t be there with no meaning, right? 🙂 I’d rather play safe, especially when traveling! 🙂

After the adventurous journey to the top of the waterfall, we head back to the city center. I pay a visit to the small school that Wang Tho showed me a few days ago, chat with the teachers and Phou Vid, a novice from the temple of Wat Sop (wat means temple). Surprisingly, Phou Vid remembers me! He says, “We met yesterday. You took pictures of me”. Wow, good memory, young boy! 🙂

Phou Vid speaks very good English compared to the other novices and monks. And it seems he enjoys chatting with strangers, too! He’s so young and nice. Say, the English teacher, says that Phouvid was his student, but now he’s taking Spanish and Japanese language classes. Wow! Good for him! And please note that he’s only 16 years old!
He becomes my good friend in Luang Prabang. I ends up chatting with him almost everyday during a week of my stay there :).

Today, I try a special dish for dinner from Luang Prabang, in which can’t be found elsewhere in Laos. It’s called Khai Phan. It’s seaweed from the Mekong River. When you eat it, don’t think of the river, coz then you’ll lose your appetite :p. Hehehe… But I really like Khai Phan. It’s spicy! And.. they serve it with chili paste, too… When I taste the chili paste… errr… I thought, “There’s something unusual in this paste”. A taste that isn’t familiar to me. As a vegetarian, I have to be very careful with what I eat and order. I ask the waiter and find out that the chili paste is actually made of a…. BUFFALO SKIN!!! YUCK YUCK YUCK!!!!!!

And this dish is under the Vegetarian List in their menu!!! Damn!

I guess I just get a birthday surprise from the restaurant. BINGO! 😀 Hahaha…

What a lovely birthday I have :). I feel so lucky and blessed. Thank you, God for all the adventures and nice places that I’ve been all these years. I hope to see more of Your artworks 🙂 and appreciate more of every dust I step along the way…

Luang Prabang, April 29th, 2009.

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