Kuang Si Falls

Picturesque and very accessible – Kuang Si falls, 29 km south of Luang Prabang, has become a popular attraction outside of the world heritage city.  Surrounded by lush forest, the falls is 3 tiered, all picture perfect.

The breathtaking main falls is 60 meters high while the rest, equally stunning, are 1-3 meter cascades that creates small aquamarine pools.

The water invites especially on a hot day, many take a dip, some even take to jumping off trees for some thrills.

A forest trail leads the top of the falls where you’ll find the source of the Kuang Si in a stream.

The surrounding area was developed into a lovely park with bridges, a picnic area with tables and even a changing room for those wanting to swim.  My journey to Kuang Si wasn’t as easy as taking a tuk-tuk to the entrance of the park.

It started when a van picked us up and dropped us off (an hour later) at a Hmong community.

There we learned the difference between the Hmong as compared to the rural Lao lowlanders.  To get to the falls, we trekked through paddy fields and pineapple gardens before entering a rain forest.

Halfway through our trek, we stopped for a simple Lao lunch prepared by the outfitter.

About 3 hours later, the hilly trail took us to a stream that we soon realized was the stream feeding the Kuang Si.

The view from the top looking down the pool below was spectacular.  Expecting to approach the falls the regular way from below, the realization of ending at the top was a wonderful surprise and quite memorable, truth to tell.

I made this trek 4 years ago with Green Discovery.  Spare an extra day for this if you can, it’s worth the effort.

A Leisurely Stroll Through Luang Prabang

Credits: Papers by Sahlin Studio’s Sweet Story Telling papers, Creativity by Crystal’s Room Collection Solids; Elements by Sahlin Studio Sweet Story Telling Kit.

It was a beautiful ordinary day.  No agenda, we just played it by ear, went with the flow.  The plan was to leisurely walk the streets and see where it takes us.

The serene atmosphere of this enchanting city begs for nothing more.  Having strolled down these streets before, it was interesting to see new ventures turning up while many stayed the same.

Luang Prabang lies in the heart of the mountainous region of North Laos.  Also known as the jewel of Indochina, the ancient royal city sits between the junction of the Mekong and the Nam Kahn Rivers.

And our nice little boutique hotel, Villa Deux Rivieres is situated somewhere near the junction in Kingkitsareth Rd.

Monks with their signature umbrellas in Sakkarine St. — a quieter part of town.

Great location as it really is just a short walk away from many places of interest and the main street, Sakkarine,

The busier street of Sisavangvong has more tuk-tuks and motobikes lining the streets.

which turns into Sisavangvong St. if you walk further.  We spent a lot of time in Sakkarine St. browsing, sometimes buying from the many little shops or relaxing in several of the cafes lining the stretch.

Café Ban Vat Sene across the charming Wat Sene and Le Banneton with its wonderfully crusted breads are our favorites hang-outs.  We sat outdoors and enjoyed the cool air and the easy going vibe of the town.

Those breads lured us to Le Banneton

Caruso Lao never fails to lure me in each time we walk pass it.  Beautiful stuff on display, a bit pricey but well worth the workmanship, me think.

And look what I have displayed at home.  There could have been more, if freight wasn’t so ridiculously high.

Comprising this enchanting little city are ancient structures, a Royal Palace, a National Museum,

Wat Sene along Sakkarine Rd.

and a concentration of golden temples they call Wats, all thirty-four of which have been listed for preservation.

Luang Prabang, a UNESCO World Heritage Site since 1995, is undoubtedly rich in cultural heritage and has both historical and natural sites to boast.

Traditional wooden dwellings and old colonial style houses fused into a distinct cultural tradition with beautiful landscapes that surrounds.  Mount Phousi perched in the middle of town showcases stunning views of the surrounding temples and hills.

It is a city where time seemed to have stood still.  The old town (their historical district) in particular has an old world charm,

reminiscent of the 1940’s where bicycles dominate and colonial style interspersed with traditional houses line the streets with some vintage cars even.

Small enough to explore by foot, we started our stroll at our hotel in Kingkitsarath to the bank where Khan and Mekong meet. The street, as in many in Luang Prabang, becomes Khem Khong or Mekong Rd at some point.

At the confluence, a path led to the river below where a wooden bridge stands.  Across is a handicraft and weaving village that one can explore but we didn’t venture out there anymore.

Instead, we continued on Khem Khong to get to Wat Xieng Thong – perhaps the most magnificent but definitely the most important and impressive of Lao temples.  There is a cluster of  ancient buildings dating back to the mid 16th century.

At the back of Wat Xieng Thong is a tree of life mosaic in colored glass.  Anyone with a keen interest in Lao history should not miss the religious artworks and artifacts housed here.

When it was time for lunch, we went for L’Elephant, an institution in its own right in Luang Prabang.  Menu was mostly French.

For starters we had a refreshing Carrot and Orange Salad and a superb Escargot baked in Garlic and Parsley Butter – cooked the way we like it.  For main, I had the Mekong Perch in Coriander Sauce and A had Stuffed Roasted Boneless Quail.  I say fine dining at its best in Luang Prabang.

The laid back, open-air atmosphere with high ceiling fans half expects you to see Rick Blaine come out and entertain.

In between lunch and a traditional lao massage, we explored more of Khem Kong, definitely a very quiet street where many upscale hotels are located.

Khem Kong facing the Mekong

 One of many roadside restaurants with a view of the Mekong or the Nam Khan

We then visited the Haw Kham, which is now known as the National Museum.

Once the Royal Palace, the building is a fusion of Traditional Lao and French design.  It houses an impressive collection of royal memorabilia and religious artifacts.

Every night, Hmong people come dowm from their villages in the mountains to sell their hand-made products,

typical Lao arts and crafts that include appliquéd blankets, silver jewelries, embroidered bags and a lot more.

A short walk-through here is more than adequate if a bargain hunter you are not.  They  have interesting and tasteful designs at a bargain, the quality is another thing though. But I guess you get what you pay for.   🙂

Many of the stalls here sell Lao street foods but we had our eyes set on Mango Tree in a quieter part of Sakkarine St.

Suffice it to say that dinner was fabulous.  Superb Lao dishes plated beautifully and served in a casual garden setting.

An extraordinary meal to cap an ordinary day, I must say.

So tell me, how can you not fall in love with Mekong’s jewel, its beautiful people,

its heritage and its shabby chic French fused Lao architecture that is so uniquely Luang Prabang?

Useful Info:

Villa Deux Rivieres
Kingkitsarath Rd., Ban Khily
Luang Prabang, Laos
+856 207737 8575
 
Cafe Ban Vat Sene
Sakkarine Rd.,
Luang Prabang, Laos
+856 71 252 482
 
Le Banneton
46 Sakkarine Rd., (opposite Wat Sop)
Luang Prabang, Laos
+856 21 217 321
 
 
L’Elephant Restaurant
Ban Vat Nong
Luang Prabang, Laos
+856 71 252 482
 
 
Mango Tree
Sakkarine Rd.,
Luang Prabang, Laos
+856 71 253 750

Wat Xieng Thong
Khem Khong Rd.,
Luang Prabang, Laos
Admission: 20,000 kip
 
National Museum
Sisavangvong, Luang Prabang
+856 71 212 122
Admission: 10,000 kip
 
 
 

Early Morning Alms

I am not a morning person and waking up early can be such an effort.  Laos somehow has managed to get me up at the crack of dawn, and for good reasons.  When we snuck out of our hotel’s gate fence one early January morning, the streets were still quiet with only street lamps lighting our way to Old Town, as Luang Prabang’s historic district is called. Here, the day seemed to have started already.

Villagers found their spot, kneeling on mats, waiting with a basket of sticky rice, fruits or sweets.

Vendors likewise positioned themselves near tourists, waiting for an opportunity to sell.

We sat at a corner with our camera watching the day progress.

Every morning, between 5 & 6AM, the monks of Luang Prabang’s 30 or so temples collect alms from the kneeling pilgrims and some early rising tourists.

Barefoot, they parade through the picturesque streets single file from oldest to youngest in their burnt sienna robes carrying alms bowls over their shoulder.

Alms giving have been practiced here every morning as townsfolk provide the monk’s daily sustenance for hundreds of years now.  They say that the monks are only allowed to eat food given to them in the morning of each day hence the daily ritual.

Those that give, they also say, earn merits for the good deed.

Cultural aside, this century old tradition is a spectacle on its own – waves of mandarin clad monks flood the streets contrasting the green trees and traditional white structures.  And as soon as it has started, it is over, and people start going their way.  We head for breakfast.

Café Ban Vat Sene.  We had coffee and dessert here last night and were instantly drawn to the place – the atmosphere relaxed with a Parisian café vibe.  But you see a lot of those as Luang Prabang has a natural laid-back atmosphere with a large French influence from architecture to restaurants and bakeries.  The cool January air summons us to sit outside for breakfast and watch the last of the procession.

They make wonderful French breads– baguettes, croissants, pain de campagne… with homemade jams

and a freshly brewed pot of coffee – my day has officially started.

Useful Info:

This religious ceremony is one of Luang Prabang’s major attraction, tourists must learn to be courteous and respectful of this tradition.  Please click here to know what and what not to do.

Cafe Ban Vat Sene
Open daily from 6am – 10pm
For reservations, call: +856 71 252 482

Route 13

Credits:  Papers by Creativity by Crystal’s Room Collection, Art & Soul Papers by Sahlin Studio, Story Telling Paper by Sahlin Studio.

Flying, albeit relatively expensive, is the easiest way to Luang Prabang.  But you miss all the stunning scenery along the way.  Nestled between the Mekong and Nam Khan Rivers, surrounded by mountains, getting there takes some effort via an 11-hour bus ride from Vientiane.  From Thailand, it’s a 2-day slow-boat.

We chose to take Route 13 because it was cheaper, the scenery – stunning and we wanted to stop at Vang Vieng even for just a day (although a day isn’t really enough).  From there, it still takes 7 hours on a meandering, poorly paved road leading to the ancient city, also a UNESCO World Heritage Site.  The remarkable landscape makes the exhausting experience worthwhile.

We break the trip for lunch and there I had my bowl of delightful beef noodle soup as I had planned, remembering how good that bowl of soup was in 2007.  Lining up for that bowl, I watched with interest how they assembled the dish right before us.  First the fresh noodles, then the beef, the vegetables and at the end of the line sits a huge pot of soup ever so gently simmering under a slow fire.  The lady ladled up soup almost to the brim and handed it to me.

I devoured it with gusto.  It was as I remembered it to be, pretty damn good soup.

From that time till we reached Luang Prabang, we stopped a couple of times.  The entire bus tensed up when we realized that it was having problems with its brakes

– made even scarier when the air became dense with fog, which kept me awake and praying the rest of the trip.  We inched our way to the city and finally breathed a sigh of relief when we saw signs of city lights just around the bend.

It took us nine hours… but all is well that ends well.  Luang Prabang is worth it, I promise.

Not far from our nice little boutique hotel, just across The Apsara, is a sidewalk eatery I stumbled upon on my earlier trip.

It serves a mean Laotian-style BBQ that is a much like but not quite shabu-shabu.

It’s a cross between that and a Korean BBQ where the meat is grilled on the griddle while the soup is simmering on the same griddle.  As the meat cooks, the fatty juices drips on to the soup and I don’t have to tell you how divine that soup gets the longer it simmer and the more drippings it gets from the meat.  Brilliant.

And just like that, Luang Prabang has charmed me once more, today’s dreadful last stretch erased.

Getting There:  Click here for more options.

Summing Up the Year That Was

I am blessed.  Blessed to be able to explore the world, albeit not as extensive as I want to but I’ve had some fair share of adventure and fun last year.  So I’m not complaining.  Last year was a good mix of local and international travels, small and big trips. Rounding them up, there were highs and lows, great satisfactions and some disappointments.  Here’s a run down of my best and not so best experiences of 2008.

The Disappointment

waitingdonsol

Donsol – in pursuit of the elusive whale sharks (Feb)

We were ready to jump anytime but the whale sharks were scarce.  There were way too many boats, way too disorganized and so we caught a glimpse of its… tail.  Oh well… this calls for another trip sometime in the future.

One Miserable Climb

pulag-rained-out

Mt. Pulag – rained out! (Feb)

We started the trek with just overcast clouds, then it drizzled and when we reached the campsite, it poured.  It let up a bit just so we can go to the loo and cook our dinner.  Then it started again.  Rained the whole night and the whole day, next day.  Needless to say, the summit was foggy and really, really cold!  No sunrise, just slippery, flooded trails.  Good thing this was not my first time here and I’ve seen a glorious sunrise in 2002.  But we still had fun.

My Favorite Asian Destination (thus far)

luang-prabang

Luang Prabang, Laos (Mar)

The jewel of Indochina and a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Surrounded by mountains at the junction of the Mekong and its tributary, the Khan River, Luang Prabang to me is a city where time stood still.

It was a wonderful 5 days of various adventures. One day was spent trekking to the Kwang Si falls, another learning to cook Lao dishes. There were a lot of walking, eating (Lao and French meals), sunset cocktails and we even had a taste of a traditional Khamu massage. It was fantastic.

A Delightful Road Trip

ugo-display

Viaje del Sol (Apr) – a blend of good food and the arts.  From Kusina ni Salud (for dinner) to Ugu Bigyan (for lunch and his potteries) to Carlito’s (for coffee, mangoes and his sculptures) in one weekend resulting to another follow-up weekend.  This time, we stayed in Casa San Pablo, checked out Kinabuhayan Café, and had a satisfying lunch at Sulyap Gallery Café, a restaurant cum antique gallery.  There definitely will be a 3rd trip to this Viaje del Sol sometime in the future.  Perhaps we’ll try a meal at Kinabuhayan Café, try that famous buko pie locals are raving about and do an overnight at Sitio de Amor.

Wonderfully Surprised

dolphins

Dolphins Galore at Puerto Bay (May)

Didn’t even know that they had a lot in Puerto Princesa, Palawan.  There were tons of ’em.  What we didn’t see in Donsol, these dolphins made up for.  We didn’t even need a spotter as they were all over the place.  Never saw so much in my life.  Tons and tons of them.  Hope to dive there someday.

A Junk Experience

halong-bay

Cruisin’ Halong Bay, Hanoi (Jul)

When in Hanoi, one must experience cruising along Halong Bay in a junk at least once. A UNESCO World Heritage site, the bay features calm water and thousands of limestone karsts and islets in various shapes and size.  Something like Palawan.

A Star-strucked Moment

bobby-chin

Dinner at Restaurant Bobby Chinn, Hanoi (Jul)

Even if he wasn’t around, I was excited to be there.  Totally am infatuated with this celebrity chef of Travel and Living’s World Asia Café series.  And the food did not disappoint.  Maybe because I’m so infatuated. Hee Hee! Expensive but superb.  Sorry but no photos of the food and the place except from across the street.  It was a treat from DBF to cap our Hanoi adventure and we agreed no cameras, besides the place was too dark to get even one decent photo.

Great Amusement

honoi-traffic

Watching the traffic of Hanoi at the Old Quarter (Jul)

We spent hours atop a restaurant sipping beer, relaxing and watching the traffic below with amazement.  The chaos of Vietnam traffic just amused us no end.  Watch and be amused.

The Best Reunion Ever

sf-reunion

A San Francisco get-together with my high school buddies (Aug)… some I haven’t seen in 26 years.  It was a trip down memory lane but more importantly, it was literally a food trip as well.  Our friend and classmate, JT, now a chef cooked a superb dinner for us!  They’re actually planning another one this year… a US trip 2 years in a row is out of my budget if I want to explore other new places as well, so boohoo for me.

A Cove Truly Breathtaking

anawangin

Anawangin Cove (Sep)

This could pass as my runner-up for the Most Miserable Climb too.  I am a clumsy person and more often than not, I fall and hurt myself.  So during the trek I was already asking “why do I do this to myself”? when I banged my knee in the course of what I thought was an easy trek. I’ve seen beautiful pixes, read and heard so much about this “not so secret” place and finally am hours away from it. Thrilled and excited as I started the 7.3 km trek to Anawangin Cove, I was 3rd to arrive at the saddle (which had an awesome view of the cove, by the way). Not bad, if I may brag… Many months of lifting, walking on a machine (that goes nowhere), puffing and pushing is finally paying off.  THEN… without warning, I slipped and fell about 30 minutes through our descent, all because I was not paying attention to the trail. It was agony from then on. Let’s just say that I trudged downhill, passing rocky streams for another 2+ hours before I reached the camp… From 3rd to last! Thirsty, tired and in pain but dampen my spirits it did not as it was indeed so BREATHTAKINGLY BEAUTIFUL! Picture this, Agojo (imagine pine trees as it looked so much like it) forest on the beach with a meandering fresh water stream that flows out to the sea. And that is why I keep doing this to myself.

An Adrenalin-filled Birthday Weekend

rafting-chico

Rafting the Chico (Oct)

Been doing this for almost a decade but never on my birthday.  So that’s new.  If you’ve never tried this, you should!  You will experience one heck of a weekend, a totally worked out upper body, and the thrill of a lifetime.  Contact Anton Carag of AEPI for bookings.

An Incredible Underwater Experience

2-mantas

Mantas and Sharks up close in Yap (Nov)

Amazing… is all I can say.  An experience of a lifetime.  Read more about it here.