The Caves and Waterfalls of Luang Prabang

January 12, 2009 - 12:48 am No Comments

It’s amazing how quickly the temperature drops when the sun goes down and how quickly it warms up again in the morning. While it’s frigid at night, each day is perfect.

Tuk-Tuk Driving By

Woman on a Scooter

Monk and a Motorcycle

Zooming Tuk-Tuk

We started our day by making it down to the dock on the Mekong to catch our ride to the caves at Pak Ou. Wasn’t really a dock, though. More like a section of mud and rocks on the riverside where all the boats are tightly crammed next to each other.

The ride up the Mekong was frigid. It was early morning, and the light fog hadn’t quite burned off yet. The seats on the slowboat were covered, and a chilly breeze blew through. The hour-long ride was a little uncomfortable.

Slow Boat on the Mekong River

Slow Boat Captain

Boat on the Mekong River

Along the way, we stopped at Ban Xang Hai, better known as “Whisky Village.” Wouldn’t you know it, but walk through the “traditional” village was an exercise in souvenir hocking. Stands on both sides of the path sold scarves, bracelets, elephants, and assorted Cambodian trinkets.

Bottles at Whiskey Village

Tapestries for Sale

While they all wanted to sell you something, the village was filled with lots of very cute, very happy kids.

Boy from the Whiskey Village

Girl from the Whiskey Village

Girl from the Whiskey Village

I know why there are so many black and white photos of people in Southeast Asia. Many of the people in these villages wear Disney or other souvenir sweatshirts and t-shirts with the most awful colors splashed all over them. Black and white photos subtract the colors and make these people seem more traditional and timeless.

Back in the boat, we continued on to the caves. In the Mekong, water bottles and plastic jugs tied to ropes marked the spots on the river with shallow rocks.

Arriving at Pak Ou Caves

Slow Boats Docked at Pak Ou Caves

After parking the boat, we were led up a steep staircase and accosted by kids selling bracelets, cookies (I didn’t see my Oreos), and LIVE CHICKS chirping away in miniature teak cages. What tourist is going to buy one of those?

Kids with Chicks

The caves were underwhelming. They are very shallow and unlit and were filled with thousands of miniature Buddha figurines, but it wasn’t anything special.

Pak Ou Cave

Golden Buddhas in Pak Ou Cave

Golden Buddhas in Pak Ou Cave

My skinned knee has made some of these activities difficult. It has disgustingly scabbed over and become oozy, making my daily walks a little uncomfortable, especially when wearing jeans. Unfortunately, jeans are a necessity when it’s frigid in the mornings or when we need to go inside wats. I don’t have cool cargo Transformer pants like Doug. If I can get through 24 hours without having my oozing scab stick to the inside of my jeans and rip off, it’s a good day.

On the way back to the boat, the same kids badgered us again to buy chicks. Do they think that the cave somehow inspired me to buy a chicken? I wonder if it’s possible to go anywhere in Southeast Asia without being surrounded by young children and their mothers selling crappy souvenirs.

Slow Boat Captain

Hot Chili Squid Chips

The boat ride back was a lot more pleasant. The sun had burned of the fog and was now filling a perfectly clear sky.

We got back just in time for a quick crepe lunch and a ride to the Kuang Si waterfall just outside of town. We shared a minivan with seven other silent tourists.

The waterfall was the best we’ve seen so far in Southeast Asia. A path through the jungle took us to several different levels, each one photogenic.

Kuang Si Waterfall

Rooty Tree Trunk

Kuang Si Waterfall

Kuang Si Waterfall

Kuang Si Waterfall

Kid at Kuang Si Waterfall

At a picnic table next to the water, a group of Australian backpackers was feeding a dog chicken bones from their lunch. I didn’t want to butt in, but I couldn’t help myself.

“You shouldn’t feed the dog chicken bones.”

“Ya, we know, but he just looked so cute and so hungry. Look at him, he’s starving.”

“Better starving than dead, don’t you think?”

“Well, if he’s starving, he was going to die anyway.”

You can’t argue with idiots. Just before leaving, Doug climbed a tree and did a spectacular dive into one of the waterfall’s turquoise-blue lagoons. Well done!

The parking lot for the waterfall is filled with souvenir stands and kitchens, all selling and serving the same crap. You’ll never here as many sabaidee’s as you do when you approach a row of souvenir stands.

Meat on Sticks

On way back from waterfalls, we stopped at a “traditional” Hmong village that was (surprise!) filled with chickens and souvenir stands and cute kids who want your money.

After returning to town, Doug and I skipped down (not literally) to the Mekong and witnessed a magnificent sunset with almost no one around. Screw you, Lonely Planet!

Sunset Over the Mekong

We grabbed a decent dinner at a restaurant cleverly named “The Pizza.” Then a Lao massage, slightly disappointing since all they do is push their fingers into you. Doug and I prefer rubbing.

We came home tonight to find our room smelling like rancid ass. After some sniffing around, I deduced that the rancid ass smell was coming from our bathroom/shower hybrid, and not our stuff. Which is good, since Doug and I are on the road together for another few days.

Luang Prabang has been hyped up by friends and travel guides alike for its undiscovered beauty, but I’m afraid it has been discovered. Seemingly skyrocketing prices along with tourist booking offices and souvenir stands ad nauseam are a testament to that. There is still a charm and beauty to it, but im afraid it’s well on it’s way to being spoiled by commercialism.

Off to Siem Reap in the morning on a Vietnam Airlines flight that I booked here through a travel agent but strangely cannot find on any travel web site, not even the Vietnam Airlines site.

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