Tag: Luang Prabang

Kouang Si Falls

We enjoyed a few amazing days taking in the laid back vibe of Luang Prabang. It is a lovely place to wander the markets, cruise around on bicycles, or just relax in the surprisingly modern and trendy restaurants and cafes. But the real highlight of our stay in Luang Prabang was a visit to Kouang Si Falls.

Biking around Luang Prabang

Wats on bikes

All the tuk-tuk drivers in town fight for your business to take you out to these falls. We were lucky that we were able to wrestle up a group of people which made it much less expensive, and lot more fun (yep, friends from the slow boat). After the negotiation was settled and we’d piled into our snug transport, we had 30+ minutes of windy, bumpy roads to get out to the falls. When we arrived, hot and sweaty from the cramped conditions and the general steaminess of the country, hanging out by water sounded like a pretty fantastic idea.

The gorgeous drive up to the waterfalls

On the short walk through the woods to get to the falls, we were greeted by the completely unexpected opportunity to see dozens of bears living in a protected (and fenced) area of the forest. I believe they were rescued bears and though they looked like our black bears, they were in fact Asian black bears! Regardless, they were a quite a surprise that we very much enjoyed.

Asian Black Bear!

Bears of the world

So just when we thought it couldn’t get any better than randomly seeing bears on our hike in, we arrived at the first set of falls. Now I’ve seen a lot of waterfalls in my life, but there aren’t too many that can match Kouang Si for water color. These falls were the most amazing blue-green and the best part is, they are perfect and inviting for swimming. Within minutes we had left our hot, sweaty selves behind and plunged into the beautiful turquoise blue. If swimming and floating was too boring, there were the options of rope swings and cliffs to dive off of.

So inviting...

Layer after layer of blue-green falls

Prepping for a rope swing

Our friend, James, heading for a face-first impact

From where we swam, it was just a short walk up to the source of the falls – an incredibly tall and impressive main fall. If you are feeling particularly ambitious, you can hike to the top of that as well but luckily Ted (who likes to climb to the top of everything) had just broken his flip-flops on the mini-walk to the source of the falls, so I got out of a longer excursion that day.

The upper falls

As the afternoon clouds rolled in and rain seemed evident, we managed to pull ourselves away from the amazing oasis, said goodbye to the bears, and piled into our rickshaw back to town. It was a pretty fantastic day.


One activity we did not anticipate encountering in Luang Prabang (or really anywhere in Laos) is bowling, but low and behold, it’s all the rage here. It probably helps that it’s the only institution open past 11pm (and they’re open and serving BeerLao until 3am!). I’m not a huge fan of bowling, but when the bar closed and our Slow Boat friends were headed that way, we hopped in the tuk-tuk for the ride.

Who'd a thought?!

Riding with the kids to the alley

Cleaner and nicer than most bowling alleys I've ever been to!

Late-night bowling party

Eating Our Way Through Luang Prabang

Luang Prabang is a lovely little town in Laos that is unlike anything we expected to see in one of the world’s poorest counties. Once upon a time, Laos was a French colony and the French colonial legacy is very much alive and well in this little place along the Mekong River. Though it’s most notable in the architecture, you also can’t help but notice that some of the most popular street foods bought and sold are freshly-made baguette sandwiches. Mmmm!

French-influenced architecture

And speaking of surprising food encounters, we had quite a few unique and unexpected eating experiences in our few days there. For instance, just around the corner from our hostel we stumbled upon the welcome oasis that is JoMa Café. Now, JoMa is nothing more than a coffee shop – a traditional, run-of-the mill American-type coffee shop. But please remember, we are in a developing country that didn’t reopen to foreign tourists until 1989. It was pretty remarkable to go in and order a bagel breakfast sandwich and a latte and enjoy life’s little luxuries in air-conditioned comfort while reading the newspaper! Though expensive and far from an authentic cultural experience, we loved our little JoMa Café and found ourselves there most mornings.

JoMa java!

To counteract our unadventurous breakfasts, we had some pretty traditional dinners – including at the night market. Luang Prabang’s night market is incredible. Yes, it’s a tourist market and not a local hang-out, but the variety of products and the vibrancy of colors is something to behold. I challenge you to walk through it and not buy something. And Laos is home to non-aggressive salespeople, which was a welcome relief to us after time spent in other countries. From umbrellas, to shoes, to wallets, and artwork – we definitely had to find more room in our backpacks after this spot.

Luang Prabang's night market

Colorful umbrellas at the night market

Colorful patters

The night market also features amazing eating that entices travelers with such deals as $1 for everything you can fit on your plate. Remarkably we turned that down and opted for Mekong fish-on-a-stick. We wouldn’t have picked it ourselves based on sight, but after being treated to a bite by a friend from the slow boat, we were sold. And we topped that off with these delicious coconut rice cakes that just melt in your mouth.

Mekong River fish-on-a-stick!

All-you-can-eat for $1!

Delicious coconut milk rice cakes

On another evening away from the night market, we ate some BBQ. Laos-style. This involved a bucket of coals brought to our table, covered with an interesting frying apparatus that allowed for simultaneous cooking of soup, noodles, veggies, egg, and three different kinds of meat! So there we were BBQ-ing our own meal at the table – very unique, and delicious, indeed!

Multi-function grill!

Excited for this meal! Lao Lao Garden BBQ

From fancy coffee shops where you least expect them, to fish-on-a-stick that exceeds all expectations, we learned that our presumptions about this quiet little Southeast Asian country were continuously going to be turned upside down.

Picture of the Week

Luang Prabang is set in a beautiful location, with lush green mountains in the distance, and the mighty Mekong passing right through downtown.  In the middle of the city is Chomsy Hill – a short climb up reveals 360 vistas of this beauty.  A few photos:

Views from Chomsy Hill

Quaint Luang Prabang

Chomsy Hill vistas

The Slow Boat

Though we weren’t quite ready to leave Thailand yet, we’d worked ourselves up to the northern border with Laos, so we decided to cross it.

After a quick boat across the Mekong River from Thailand to Laos (and our first of many baguette sandwiches – a culinary staple left from the days of French rule), we had another much longer boat ride ahead of us – from the border town of Huay Xai to the French colonial city of Luang Prabang. Until very recently, the only way to travel between these two cities was by boat. However, there is now a new highway connecting the two places providing a faster (10 hour overnight bus ride vs. a 2-day boat ride) and more financially intriguing option. But though the highway certainly has some factors in its favor, the boat ride is a helluva lot more fun.

River-cruising slow boats

So that is how we found ourselves on the “slow boat” with 68 other travelers and 5 locals heading down the Mekong, the largest un-dammed river in the world. There is indeed a “fast boat” alternative, but people are regularly killed on these dangerous journeys. One must wear a helmet while the driver dodges rocks, rapids, and whirlpools, and they are so incredibly fast and dangerous that the guidebooks strongly advise against them due to the frequency of accidents. Ummm…no thanks.

One of the five locals on our boat

We looked something like this as we cruised down the river

As the slow boat is no longer the fastest or least expensive option, the appeal is the experience itself. The two-day boat ride with an overnight stop in the remote village of Pak Beng was quite a treat. It is pretty fantastic to be cruising along one of the world’s most famous and mighty rivers with nothing to do that day but appreciate the scenery. On the boat, we cruised through dense, lush, green forest, witnessing fantastic unique-shaped mountains, temples built into sheer rock walls, remote villages inaccessible by road, and even elephants coming down to the river to drink! It was a great way to get introduced to the landscapes and the pace of life in Laos.

Mekong River vistas

Wicked cool mountains along the Mekong

Cruising the river

Though this may all sound idyllic and serene, what I have yet to mention is that the average age of our fellow boat riders was approximately 23, and having two days to cruise down a river is an excellent opportunity to drink a lot of BeerLao. So as you can imagine, the slow boat became a bit of a booze cruise as the day went on. The good news is that we both like to drink beers too and the great part is that we met incredibly fun people from all over the world that we proceeded to run into throughout the rest of our time in Laos. Even if we didn’t say a word to one another on the boat, recognition of being on the same vessel was grounds for striking up a conversation when we crossed paths 2 weeks later!

68 of our new best friends

Partying with our new friends

When we rolled into Luang Prabang late in the afternoon on our second day of cruising, we felt like seasoned riverboat travelers. The slow boat was certainly an experience – definitely not a cultural one nor necessarily one we’d need to do again – but ultimately a great time.

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