Thursday, November 11, 2010

Nong Khiaw and 100 Waterfalls Trek

From Luang Prabang, we took a side trip to a small town called Nong Khiaw. The main purpose for us to go there was the 100 Waterfalls trek, which has purportedly only been explored since 2008, meaning it is still somewhat off the main tourist routes. The town itself ended up being incredibly beautiful with great river and mountain scenes. There were a lot fewer tourists there, although still enough to get together a nice group for the trek and enjoy dinners along the river. After arriving, we took some time to walk around the town and the side alleys to explore a little.

Main Street Nong Khiaw

Heidi (from Austria) at Local Shop

 Our Bungalow ($8/night)

Local Hut and Backyard

Blue Sky, Green Mountains, Muddy Mekong = Laos

Nong Khiaw River View 

 River View

During the hottest part of the day, we had to relax in one of the restaurants near the river to stay out of the heat. When the evening started setting in and the sun started coming down, we went out along the river area and it was really beautiful. By chance, there was a small wedding party going on and the groom's brother came over to us and talked to us for awhile so he could practice his English. A lot of the local kids were curious, too, and came by looking to play games or take a look at our cameras.

Wes and Phil with Groom's Brother

Xue'en (from Singapore) Drawing Portraits for Kids

 Welcome to Laos

Cute Kids 

Sunset over River

 River Activity at Sunset

The next day, we set out for the 100 Waterfalls trek. To start the trip, we took a boat along the river to a nearby village. We spent some time walking around the village and meeting some of the locals. Our guide, a local Laotian named Home, took us to some of his family in the village. Home's Dad also came along for the trip and provided a lot of colorful commentary along the way. Home spoke perfect English with a slight British accent and was one of the best guides we had during our two month trip.

 Cruising on the Boat

 Passing Some Locals

Village Area

The Local Village Paddy Hat Maker

We departed from the village and hiked up to the 100 Waterfalls area. It took a couple hours, but we saw a lot of beautiful sites along the way. When we were hiking, Home's Dad would show us a lot of interesting tricks using items from the jungle. He showed us leaves that would turn into a dark red dye when you rubbed them together, how to make a tuning fork type instrument with bamboo, which herbs could be eaten, and how to make other various crafts. He provided a lot of entertainment despite not being able to speak much English.

Water Trail

Home Leading Way up Mountains

Local Micro-Hydro Power

 Walking through Rice Paddies

 Planting Rice

The Power of Natural Red Dye

 Home's Dad Demonstrating the Red Dye as Lipstick

How to Make a Water Buffalo from Bamboo

The actual "100 Waterfalls" part of the trek is a one hour hike up a series of waterfalls. Most of the falls are small, but they stretch on for a pretty long while. Surprisingly, it's a pretty smooth hike up and the rocks aren't slippery or anything. It's a lot of fun climbing up and there's a nice payoff at the top with a bigger waterfall to take a rinse in.

 Hiking up 100 Waterfalls

A More Difficult Stretch

 Phil, Home, Home's Dad, and Wes

 Shower at Top

At the top, Home and his Dad prepared a traditional Laos meal, served on large leaves and including sticky rice, Laap, egg, and vegetables. You eat it by rolling up some sticky rice and grabbing some of the other food with the sticky rice between your fingers. We really enjoyed the Laap, which is kind of a spicy minced meat dish, throughout our time in Laos.

The Lunch Spread

 Digging In

After lunch, we headed back to Nong Khiaw. We were planning to catch the bus back to Luang Prabang that night, but missed it. Staying another day in Nong Khiaw wasn't so bad, but the next day was extremely rainy and we weren't able to do much in our remaining time there. We did have some nice views again in the evening and through the rain. Phil took some great pictures that I'll share below.


 Evening Time in Nong Khiaw

  Sunset Over River

 Heavy Rains near Bungalow

Rain and Fog on River Bend

Not everything was perfect in Nong Khiaw. Bullfrogs staking out territory in our sink, big spiders in our bathroom, and an incredibly packed ride back to Luang Prabang made the trip more interesting, but for the most part our time in Nong Khiaw was amazing and was well worth the visit. It's such a picturesque town full of friendly people that I would recommend it to anyone traveling through Laos.

 Be Careful Before Sitting Down

18 People Packed into a Small Bus 

Thanks for Coming!

Monday, November 1, 2010

Luang Prabang

Our first major stop in Laos was Luang Prabang, the final destination for the slow boat trip and a great starting point for exploring Laos. Despite being one of the larger cities in Laos, Luang Prabang is still a pretty small city, with a couple main streets to see and some scenic views along the Mekong River. There is a lot of French influence in the city due to the colonial days, but there are also many Buddhist temples. Since Laos is still under pretty tight control of the government, everything closes down at 11:30pm in Luang Prabang and throughout the country. However, Laos is best for its unspoiled nature instead of its nightlife, so full nights of sleep were probably in our best interest anyway.

Main Street in Luang Prabang by Day

 And By Night

 Buddhist Temple


Another Temple

Monks' Quarters

One of the main draws near Luang Prabang is the Kuang Si Falls about an hour or so outside of town. Utilizing the primary form of transportation in Southeast Asia, namely a tuk tuk or some variation thereof, we headed out to the waterfalls for a day. There are several cascades of waterfalls at Kuang Si and you can go swimming in some of the deeper pools or take a swing on the rope swing. The water was so clean and was a perfect green-blue color. When we were standing around in the water, we were treated to the surprise of having little fish nibble at our feet. Those fish are actually used all over Southeast Asia as a kind of foot massage. People put their feet into tanks full of these fish and let the fish feast on all the dead skin and other impurities festering on their feet. We got the real deal in these waterfalls and didn't have to pay a dime for a massage, leaving us one step ahead of those suckers who paid a whole $4 in town.

Rural Road to Kuang Si Falls

 Waterfall Cascades

 More Cascades

Kuang Si Falls

 Wes on Rope Swing

 Phil on Rope Swing


That night, we hiked up to a Buddhist temple on Phousi Hill in the center of the town for the sunset. As a high point in the city with a view over the Mekong River and the jungle and hills in the distance, Phousi Hill has some of the best sunset views that we saw on our trip. I always take too many pictures for sunsets and can never sort out which ones are the best, so here are a few that I painstakingly narrowed down from all the pictures Phil and I took.

Wes on Path up Phousi Hill

 Buddhas Guiding our Way

Double Rainbow!!

Mr. Philip Dawsey

 Humidity 1000, Wes 0

Sunset and the Mekong River

The Painted Sky

Sunset Reflected on Mekong 

Big Sky

One of the cool things in Luang Prabang is the night market. I've been to nearly a billion night markets during my time in China and have become bored of all the typical counterfeit clothing and miscellaneous junk sold at most night markets. However, the one in Luang Prabang is really unique and has a lot of handicrafts made by local Laos people. There is also a side alley with some great street food, where we partook of barbecued meat, noodles, and delicious fruit shakes.

Wes Negotiating the Purchase of Some Wares

 Food Alley and Wes Bald Spot

 Chowing Down on Some Chicken

 Grilled Fish (My Favorite)

Throughout all of Laos, one of the main things we ate was sandwiches, which might seem strange being in Asia. However, due to the French colonial influence, there were sandwich stalls everywhere selling baguettes and crepes that were pretty good. Another great thing in Laos was the fruit smoothies that were made from some of the freshest fruit you could possibly eat. With the price being anywhere from fifty cents to a dollar for one of the fruit shakes, we were drinking them pretty much with every meal.

Laotian Baguette

That wraps up our stay in Luang Prabang. For more pictures, see picasa: