LP- Day of Excursions

I have to start this post off with the fact that I'm currently writing on a junk in the middle of Halong Bay with limestone karsts silently looming all around me. Amazing.

But back a few days to Luang Prabang. So, since my time was limited in Laos, I wanted to pack as much in as possible. I knew I wanted to see the waterfalls nearby which I'd read about, and then I wanted to try to get some time actually out on the Mekong if possible, since I elected not to do the slow boat. Et voila! One of the recommended travel agencies right in town offered two half day trips that you could do all in one day. Both for about $16! Wahoo!

So, 8am I scurried the few blocks over to their office to check in for the trip out to the caves at Pak-Ou. This consisted of a ride in one of the little, slow longboats up the river for about an hour, a stop in a village where they make the Lao-Lao whiskey, then a stop at these two caves that have tons & tons of statues of Buddah, and then a zip back down river. Wen we set out early that morning, 6 ppl per boat, it was chilly & foggy. As we putted up river, it got downright cold. While beautiful, I was sorta huddled up in as much of a fetal position as I could get while still sitting on the mini-chair. The scarf I'd bought a few days before was sitting uselessly in my pack, but my travel towel helped keep me from freezing. By the time we reached the little village, the sun was starting to break through, and so it was a relief to get out and stretch a bit in the sun. Again with these villages we stop at- interesting, sure, but just so sad & desperate. This one was a bit higher end than the Karen one before, with some actual interesting architecture, and even a Wat! Oh, and I did end up giving some brew a taste, out of a surely-dirty shot glass. It actually tasted more like sake, but then again it was pink, and not the clear stuff she was trying to get me to try second, which was prob the whiskey. Anyway, the next part of the ride was better as it was a bit warmer, and also more interesting, geography-wise. We then pull up to the caves, and climbed the steep white stairs towards the lower cave. Surprise! You actually had to pay an admission fee to visit the area. It was only like $2, but still, slightly annoying. The lower cave was cool, and yes, there were millions of Buddhas of all shapes and sizes. The views out of the cave were fab as well. Then I climbed yet higher to get to the upper cave. This one was much deeper, so much so that it was nearly pitch-black in the back. Thank goodness some had their iPhones lighting the way! Anyway- after a purchase of a bundle of freshly boiled peanuts (which weren't like the nasty black ones we have in the south), we hopped back on the boat for the quick ride home, which was so lovely I snoozed a bit.

After a quick riverside lunch, I hurried back over to the office to meet my mini-van for the trip to the falls. Unfortunately, they seemed to have overbooked, but didn't want to admit it. They kept trying to squeeze me & two Korean girls into one of two vans that were already packed. Finally, after 40(!!) incredibly frustrating minutes, the three of us got into a private van, and headed up into the hills. So gorgeous, and I really wish I had just rented a scooter & done this part myself! Anyway, we pull up to the parking lot which is surrounded by shops & such, pay another $2 entry fee, and headed up a path towards the falls. I missed a sign that would've brought me to the top first, so I actually missed the highest part of the falls, but no matter- what I saw was absolutely gorgeous!!! Something about the stone & water makes for bright blue pools with white rock cliffs. Even the little off-shoot streams were crystal clear. There were a series of pools & cascades, all nestled in the woods, and it was just incredible. I kept thinking it looked like something Disney would've created, except it was natural! One of the deeper pools had a rope swing set up, and when I first go there, nobody was really doing it yet. Then two girls went up there, and I asked if the Korean girls were going to do it. They said yes, and I asked the two who had just done it how it was (great, obviously), so, off I went! Unbelievable scary, but so fun! It wasn't that high, but climbing out the tree trunk to get the rope was the tough part. Once you got in, the water was cool yet refreshing, and at this point a crowd had gathered & we all were watching & cheering each other on. Lovely afternoon, only slightly marred by two crazy Asian girls who decided to do the jump, yet didn't know how to swim. Idiots. Luckily for them, there were some lifeguard-types in the crowd who realized they were having problems & jumped in to get them. Such good citizens- I stayed safely perched on my rock during the rescue, as we all know my swimming skills are pretty basic.

After our allotted time, it was back to the bus, and yet another stop at a village. This one was a Hmong village, which was maybe the saddest one yet. They basically have the children do the selling (not that there is much to sell, plus I think many adults were busy with the hog slaughter going on in the back), and its really quite difficult to say no to or bargain with an adorable 5 year-old. So, some useless trinkets were purchased for ~$1.

All-in-all, I could have probably done both excursions on my own (and skipped the villages), but it was nice to meet some people & have the confidence I was going the the right places.

FYI- I'm now in Hoi An, and wifi has been spotty. Facebook also seems to be blocked here, so I'm not sure when this will get posted. I'll try to add photos later. Cheers!